Vice Admiral David Shackleton, AO, RAN, Chief of Navy

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David Shackleton was born in the UK in 1948, and joined the RAN in 1966. He served almost continuously at sea from 1967 to 1979 aboard a range of HMA Ships, as well as undergoing training in the USA and exchange service with the Royal Navy in the UK.

He saw Vietnam service in HMAS Perth while qualifying as a seaman officer, and subsequently qualified as a warfare officer, specialising in combat systems and aircraft direction. While in command of HMAS Brisbane in 1992 he led a major RAN Task Group deployment to south East Asia.

His shore and staff postings have included being a member of the Directing Staff of the RAN Staff College, Project Director for acquisition of the Maritime Intelligence Centre, Director of Operational Requirements for the JORN radar system, and the inaugural Chief Staff Officer C3I to the Maritime Commander. In 1993 he was appointed Director General, Naval Policy and Warfare, responsible for development and coordination of strategic policy for the RAN.

Commodore Shackleton joined the former Defence Acquisition Organisation in September 1996 as Director General, Information Management. Following the Defence Reform Program in July 1997, he become the first Director General, Command and Support Systems, responsible for development and acquisition of all of Defence's major command and intelligence information support systems and major operational headquarters.

On promotion to Rear Admiral in July 1998, he took up the position of Head, Capability Development, with responsibilities for sponsoring all new major capital equipment requirements initiatives for the Australian Defence Force.

He was promoted Vice Admiral and appointed Chief of Navy in July 1999. Vice Admiral Shackleton spoke to ADM's Canberra correspondent, Daniel Cotterill, in early March.
ADM: Are you satisfied with the White Paper's treatment of Navy?

Shackleton: I don't think happy is the right word. The Navy outcome in the Defence White paper was a thing that Navy contributed to as part of the overall Defence process of advising government of options to meet the strategic direction that it wanted to go in. It is fair to say that the advice was listened to, and the outcome is pretty well as proposed. I think it is fair to say that the White Paper contains a lot of good new initiatives, but there is nothing in that White Paper that takes the pressure off the organisation to perform effectively and efficiently. While there is substantially increased spending in some areas we are still going to have to change and adapt as an organisation in order to take the benefits of it.

ADM: How will Navy deal with the capability gap left once HMAS Brisbane retires later this year?

Shackleton: Brisbane pays off in October this year, and she is the last of the Charles F Adams class that have been so successful in this navy. The SM-1 missile system is still in service, fitted to the FFGs, but there is no doubt that the SM-1 system is nearing the end of its service life for a variety of reasons. It was designed against threats which have now largely become superseded by other capabilities. We will be looking at how to improve the survivability of our platforms in the interim until we are able to get more seriously into what is presently known as an air warfare destroyer.

ADM: Could the FFGs be retrofitted with the SM-2 missile as a stopgap? If so, what would be the cost and schedule implications of such a move?

Shackleton: The simple answer is yes. So far as absolute costs I don't know. It may well involve modifications to launcher systems, fire control channels, and command and control systems. I think in the end whether we decide to fit SM-2 will be driven by cost, risk and our assessment of where we might be in the future. It is fair to say that we are looking at it.

ADM: What does Navy need from Australian industry?

Shackleton: A lot, frankly, is the answer. I would envisage that a very large majority of the ships we are going to buy for the Navy, and there are 29 ships in the White Paper over the next 10 to 12 years, will be built in this country. What is important to me is that we have an ability to build ships in this country - not because building ships per se is the critical factor, but because the intellectual property that you need to have in order to build is so important because we want to change our ships. We want to have them designed for whatever unique purposes and requirements we have here in Australia.

What is important to me is that the way we go about this allows us to not only build those ships in this country, but to support them in this country. That means that industry, Navy and the Defence Materiel Organisation, build up a clear understanding of how we are going to do it.

The support requirements are very much in my mind as we start to go forward into the construction phase. It would be really nice to get away from the boom and bust cycle of shipbuilding and construction, because it is not simply the cost of setting up a new shipyard in terms of dockyard infrastructure, it is the design infrastructure, it is the smart people that you have to have to design ships and understand all the costs that go with running a complex warship.

ADM: Do you feel Navy, or the Commonwealth as a whole, has a role to play in shaping the outcomes of the current industry consolidation?

Shackleton: I think it would be quite wrong for anybody to believe that Navy is going to push any particular line when it comes to who should get what kind of work, because in the end commercial propositions have to be judged for what they are. I think there is a balance between lots and lots of competition and getting to a sensible state where industry and Defence can relate to each other long term. The cost of competition itself is not inconsiderable, and industry understands that too. What we want to do is get to a point where industry and Defence come to an understanding of what we can and can't do, what we will and won't pay for, and what kind of relationships we will and won't have. We want to establish where we can a long-term relationship for the construction and support, not only of the hull and the mechanical components, but the complex systems that go with it.

ADM: Are you happy with progress on the Collins-class submarines?

Shackleton: Yes. It is a tough program. The program always was going to be difficult. I think what we have seen is that Australian people, using predominantly Australian tools, admittedly to a foreign design, can build a world-class submarine. And I might say that the quality of our [locally built] FFGs, HMAS Newcastle and Melbourne, are as good if not better than any other FFG in the world; that has been said to us by the folks that build them in the USA. Our submarines are as good as anybody else's in the world. We have had major publicity on the shortcomings, and I don't need to comment any further on that. But on the 14th of December we delivered Dechaineux and Sheehan to Western Australia, and we commissioned those submarines last month and they are pretty good. We know that we want to do more in relation to the combat system and its weapons, but we know what the problems are, we know what the answers are and we have a funded program to deliver them, so I'm pretty happy about them.

ADM: Are you satisfied with the handling of the procurement process for the new Collins combat system?

Shackleton: It is not a subject I can comment on to be honest with you. That is the Under Secretary Materiel's part of the world. Clearly, he is interested in meeting my needs as his customer, and our relationship in that matter is a mature one where we talk about it and discuss what is a very important issue. The answer to the implied question though is that we are going to take as long as it takes to come up with an answer that we can be satisfied really meets a bunch of competing issues in terms of performance, capability and those kinds of things.

ADM: To what extent should the department take into account wider issues including the political implications of the procurement of major systems when offering advice to government?

Shackleton: By and large the political implications of our procurements are set through the strategic connotations of the White Paper. We are in the business of looking at solutions presented by industry to Defence to meet a stated set of requirements. I think what industry has a right to expect from Defence is that we will make clear what those requirements are and what those caveats are, and they can then decide what kind of response they want to make. Somebody who is tendering and thinks that the rules have changed after the tender is in, undoubtedly has a right to feel a bit miffed. We are very conscious of our own credibility, and we would not want industry to feel that we would in any way, shape or form want to damage that.

ADM: The RAN is closely aligned with the US Navy - what do we stand to lose, operationally, technologically and financially, if we allow the relationship to grow distant or founder altogether?

Shackleton: I think we would suffer an awful lot in the context of our ability to work with what is undoubtedly the world's best navy. But you have to look at our geo-strategic circumstances and see that our policy is to operate closer to home, and go further away from home when the government determines that that is a good thing to do. But our major ally is the United States, and the Pacific Ocean is big and the US Navy is a significant element within that. It is no secret that we do try to build strong relationships with the US Navy, not least so that we can be interoperable with them. Not only in data links and other forms of communication but in logistic support chains, in doctrine and tactics so we can integrate seamlessly with them, and so they can integrate seamlessly with us.

We have invested a lot of our energies in learning to understand the Americans more, and helping them understand us more, so I think if we were to damage any of that it would be to our detriment. But I guess the other part of your question is, "Do we make decisions based on simply will it offend the USN if we buy something else?" The answer is no. We make our own decisions for our own reasons based on our own requirements. The USN does not pressure us to do things. We obviously consult and discuss with them as we are interested in what technological developments they are bringing into the future. But, equally, we are interested in what the British and the French and other countries are doing too. What is important to us is to understand where technology, doctrine and tactics are going and for us to make our own judgements on what the future for us might be and make a decision based on that. We want to do what is best for Australia rather than what is best for somebody else.

ADM: What processes will Navy go through to determine the specification for its new multi-role destroyers?

Shackleton: We have looked at operating concepts, we have been in discussion with Army and Air Force as to what kinds of things we would like to do, and it is everything from anti air warfare to ASW to command and control, perhaps land attack, perhaps enhanced helicopter support, those kinds of things, and we will now develop a concept of operations in more detail. That will be processed through the normal departmental requirements and assessment processes. There will be early involvement of industry to help us work out what you get for you money and what other options might be available over time.

ADM: Is Navy interested in operating UAVs off any of its surface fleet?

Shackleton: Absolutely. UAVs, and you would be talking about rotary lift UAVs, are here now and they will evolve over time. They are able to stay on task for significant periods of time, their sensor packages range from cameras to electronic warfare to acoustic to active radar to signal intelligence applications, and anything you can do to improve surveillance is good. I have no doubt that as we go forward and UAVs get smaller, and certainly as the power of computing goes up, Moore's law is still about right, and communications bandwidth improves and the technology for communications improves, we will undoubtedly find applications for them.

ADM: What progress have Navy and Army made in developing an amphibious force command structure and a robust concept of operations?

Shackleton: Quite a lot actually. We have Manoora and Kanimbla now in the process of coming on line and, frankly, doing very well. We are learning a lot, the modifications to those ships have been quite considerable and were pretty well thought through by the people who have done this. We have just installed the satellite capability end of a command and control system onboard Manoora which will give her high capacity communications and a quite reasonable onboard command and control capability. I think it is fair to say that we have now got a capability that we have not had for a long time and it is going to take time to learn how to fully exploit the envelope. Once you put good Army folks together with good Navy folks you can generally come up with a better answer than you can by discussing it in separate places. That is not to misunderstand where the Air Force fits in because we will always want AEW&C and we will always want fighter cover to be part of that equation.

ADM: At what point do you see the requirements definition process beginning for the replacements of Tobruk, Manoora and Kanimbla?

Shackleton: Sooner rather than later. Those ships are due to be replaced in 2015 so given that you are talking about 10 years for a ty
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