There is a renewed air of confidence and sense of purpose in the Royal Australian Navy.

It’s due in part to a wider public awareness of Australia’s dependence on Navy to protect our borders and international supply lines, ongoing deployments in the Middle East, increasing pressures in the South China Sea and closer to home, Navy’s conspicuous service evacuating coastal areas during the recent bushfires. These have all led to a greater understanding and appreciation of the role Navy plays in the defence of Australia.

Meanwhile, the Government has approved a $90 billion Continuous Shipbuilding Program that will introduce new surface vessels and submarines with greatly enhanced capabilities (see ADM October 2019, Mission Control, we have Ship Zero). The vessels chosen are well considered and destined to lift Navy’s ability to operate effectively and safely in the defence of Australia. Working with the best available equipment contributes to confidence among its officers and sailors that they have the tools they need to do their job well.

The benefit of this investment will be felt Australia wide. If the goal was simply to acquire the latest military hardware, the planners could have filled their shopping baskets in offshore shipyards at much lower cost. The Continuous Shipbuilding Program creates new opportunities for Australia’s Defence Industry (through investment in manufacturing, technology transfer and foreign military sales), and upskilling the workforce. A strong local Industry that can build, maintain and update platforms strengthens Navy and contributes to its resurgence.

Investment decisions are not made in isolation. Nor does Navy operate in a vacuum, entirely separated from land, air, space and cyber domains. A commitment to joint force design and integration within the office of the Vice Chief of the Defence Force ensures closer integration across all services of the ADF – and with the forces of allied nations. This has heavily influenced equipment choices and strategies with a structured approach to new acquisitions that extends throughout the Capability Life Cycle.

A networked joint force
Commodore David Mann, Director General Surface Combatants and Aviation, sees many parallels between the impetus for a fifth generation Air Force and Navy’s goal to build a Next Generation Navy.

“Our ships and crews are dealing with the challenges of ever-increasing tempos and complexity in the maritime environment. They must be more capable and better informed. As the RAAF emphasises stealth capability and sensor fusion, Navy is moving to achieve closer integration of sensors and effectors across the fleet. We are taking steps to improve seaworthiness and preparedness to respond where and when needed. Improved preparedness would not be possible without the enduring support of Australian Defence Industry and the transformational partnerships described in the Navy Industry Engagement Strategy,” CDRE Mann said to ADM.

CDRE Mann places strong emphasis on synergy.

“I characterise the Next Generation Navy as a far more effective and resilient force. In isolation, each change we make, each initiative we undertake, on its own may be a small contribution, but the whole will be far greater than the sum of its parts; because each step is driving us toward that one common goal: a Navy that is ready to respond to whatever Government and Chief of the Defence Force ask of us.

“As we move toward a fully integrated joint force, we must change the way we develop, acquire and sustain combat systems. We are already seeing this with our approach within the surface fleet where we’re moving to integrate more closely with Air Force, Army and allied forces,” CDRE Mann said.

Australia is the first nation outside the US to receive and successfully test Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). This combines data from multiple sensors into a single, real-time, composite picture. Targets can be detected by any CEC-equipped ship or aircraft; and can be fired upon by all other CEC-equipped ships in the fleet. The ability to intercept a threat, once any ship sees it, will provide a longer range, cooperative and layered air defence.

Defence is seeking to integrate CEC (and CEC-like systems) with other ADF capabilities, including the RAAF E-7A Wedgetail, and more broadly into the joint force through the Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) system. The F-35 Lightning II and the Super Hornet are also essential components in this integrated force, able to identify threats and provide targeting data for ship-launched missiles.

CEC will form part of the Australian Joint Integrated Fires Capability that will transform the ADF into a fully networked joint force. It will also improve interoperability with allied forces by enabling CEC-capable ships and aircraft to share targeting data and fire control solutions.

“CEC is already a standard feature in three Aegis combat management systems of the Hobart Class. Into the future this capability will be coupled with the interface developed by Saab Australia, and the CEAFAR phased array radar in the Hunter Class Frigates. Future iterations of the Aegis and Saab Australia Combat Systems will have an open architecture framework that will enable faster and easier integration of future upgrades.

“Current development of the Hobart Class reflects our intent for Hunter Class and beyond. Adding new features to existing capabilities will be like upgrading software in your smartphone. This will reduce cost to the Commonwealth and will help to keep our systems up to date,” CDRE Mann said.

While Navy has come a long way toward re-defining itself, it is a work in progress – fully supported at the highest levels of Government. The Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance delivered Navy’s third and final Hobart class destroyer, NUSHIP Sydney, in late February – see P30 for more.

It is not only the high-end surface combatant that will receive improved combat management system upgrades.
“The Government’s 2017 enterprise approach directed that other components of the surface fleet would also have the Saab Australia Combat System installed. This will enable Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessels, Supply Class Replenishment Ships, Canberra Class Amphibious vessels, and Romeo combat helicopters and unmanned systems to share their surveillance picture across the joint and allied forces over tactical data links. From a Navy perspective, this will be the realisation of the Fifth-Generation force, with many platforms, many sensors and many weapons combining to form an integrated maritime fleet,” CDRE Mann said.

“This fleet integration aligns with Air Force’s fifth-gen aspirations through current data sharing capabilities and aligned future sensor and weapon procurements. The P-8A Poseidon, Triton and space capabilities, when integrated with the Navy’s Romeo combat helicopter and future UAVs, provide the joint force with extended surveillance and weapon coverage,” CDRE Mann concluded.

Emphasising Navy’s core values
Building a modern and progressive maritime force takes more than simply buying the latest ships and systems. Increasing sophistication is even more dependent upon highly trained and experienced crews to operate them. Keeping well trained and motivated people in uniform – to maintain an effective force – has become a top priority for senior leadership. There has been a particularly strong focus on two of the fundamental inputs to capability: Personnel and Organisation.

Leadership from the top has been felt at all levels of the organisation. Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan came to the job with a vision that extends far into the future and a clear understanding of what it will take to build a strong and resilient Navy. One example of this is Navy’s emphasis on its core values. These might seem anachronistic to young modern-day Australians, yet it continues to strike a chord with just the sort of people they wish to recruit. To quote their own value statement: “Honour is the fundamental value on which the Navy’s and each person’s reputation depends. To demonstrate honour demands honesty, courage, integrity and loyalty – and to consistently behave in a way that is becoming and worthwhile.”

VADM Noonan has identified growth of Navy’s workforce as its highest priority. Plan Mercator 2036 is his strategic guidance for the evolution of the RAN and transition to the Future Navy to 2036. Plan Pelorus 2022 (updated every four years) is driven by Plan Mercator’s longer-range strategic objectives. Chief of Navy’s intent to transition to the future force of 2036 is built on seven pillars: warfighting, capability programs, industry, logistics, facilities, workforce and seaworthiness.

According to Commodore Phil Spedding (Retd), “There are three hypotheses on which these plans are built: If we don’t “design” the integrated force we are committed to “after-market” integration. Simply delivering a large volume of force design guidance to Configuration Managers will not work. Cultural change is required to prioritise the integrated force outcomes.”

Re-invigorating the culture of the organisation couldn’t happen without effective leadership. A new branch, Future Navy Workforce, was stood up on 1 January this year, with Commodore Anthony Klenthis, CSC appointed as its first Director General. O6-level Directors have been appointed, responsible for Workforce Requirements, Workforce Strategy and Futures, Submarine and Underwater Workforce Development, and Surface and Above Water Workforce Development.

Future Navy Workforce
There are four main drivers that influence how Future Navy Workforce branch is developing and overseeing the transformation strategy.

  • Shortage of critical categories and mid-career ranks
  • Opportunities and challenges of the Continuous Shipbuilding Program and the Integrated Investment Plan.
  • Disruptive technologies that are reshaping the future of work and of warfare
  • Changes of expectations by demographic that affects what Navy must do to recruit and retain its workforce.

Captain Virginia Hayward, Director Navy Workforce Strategy & Futures, speaks with confidence about what has already been achieved in overcoming the declining number of uniformed personnel, and in the challenges that lie ahead.

“In 2007, Navy’s members were leaving on average after only six years’ service. The workplace churn was disruptive, and the capability loss real. But now, the average length of service has increased to eight years. Navy is facing the competitive nature of the Australian labour market head on – what Steven Hankin of McKinsey called The War for Talent. Young men and women going to sea today can look forward to working with state-of-the-art technology, doing a job that’s vitally important to Australia, having adventures that most people won’t experience in a lifetime, in a culture that promotes diversity and inclusion as a force multiplier. And that message has been heard: Workforce retention is at its highest levels since 1994,” CAPT Hayward said.

The Defence Total Workforce System presents a different way of thinking about how its people deliver capability; and for Navy, how it addresses workforce retention. In addition, the introduction of flexible work arrangements is creating a more inclusive, satisfying and flexible place to work.

The Workforce Transformation Plan details how Navy will meet its workforce objectives out to 2035: to fight and win at sea. This plan aims to reduce risk by setting the requirements, organisation, systems and processes that deliver the right people at the right time.

Workforce priorities
To recruit, train, and retain the people needed to serve in a future force, Navy is addressing four priorities:

  • identifying the needs and shaping the supply of recruits
  • sourcing the right people when needed
  • providing the right level of training
  • focusing on workforce flexibility, diversity and inclusion.

Navy is implementing a contemporary approach to generating a mission-ready force. It is based on Army’s Plan Beersheba Workforce Generation Cycle, which consists of three phases: Ready, Reset and Readying, and will be supported by the Crew Support and Readying Group.

During the Ready phase, sailors will be posted to positions in a seagoing or deployable unit. This is followed by the Reset phase where they will be posted to a shore-based role or a different service category for a specified period. This will improve their work/life balance by allowing them to plan for personal and family commitments. Finally, they will be posted to a fleet Readying position to undertake training that will be required for the next cycle.

An essential element of this program is that each member will work within a five-year career plan. This aims to remove the uncertainty associated with life in the Navy, giving personnel a clearer sense of where they will be and what they will be doing in the years ahead.

The practice of pressganging individuals into service may have achieved results in a naval force of the 18th century. Clearly, that won’t work today. The Royal Australian Navy has shown a progressive approach to meet the needs of maritime defence in the 21st century by acquiring current technology, while developing a socially aware and agile plan to meet its workforce requirements as well as the needs of its people.

This article first appeared in the April 2020 edition of ADM.

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