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Building a ‘thinking and fighting’ Royal Australian Navy for the 21st century

Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonans official launch of Plan Pelorus has provided an updated plan outlining the future role and capabilities of the Royal Australian Navy and the way in which industry, as a fundamental input to capability, can support the Navys mission within the joint force ADF of the future – with an important focus on developing a “thinking, fighting” and distinctly Australian response to the challenging geo-strategic environment.

With Navy undergoing the largest peacetime transformation of capability and platform in its history, the Royal Australian Navy is well positioned within the broader development of the 'joint force' Australian Defence Force and its transition towards a fifth-generation force. 

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Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, along with Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price officially launched the Navy Industry Engagement Strategy to support the development of a long-term, sustainable naval shipbuilding industry within Australia, with a long-term focus on developing a globally competitive industry that serves as an invaluable, fundamental input to capability. 

At the forefront of this is Plan Pelorus 2022Chief of Navy's vision for developing "a thinking, a fighting, an Australian Navy" supported by uniquely Australian and world-leading capabilities to ensure that Navy is capable of meeting the operational and strategic requirements established by government. 

Recognising the lay of the land

A key component of Plan Pelorus 2022 is the renewed focus on Australia's immediate region, the Indo-Pacific: "We live in an increasingly complex geo-political environment, within a dynamic Indo-Pacific region. The maritime domain is central to the security and prosperity of our nation. As resources become increasingly scarce, and the competition greater, all elements of national power must work together to achieve the desired outcomes for our nation, and those of our friends. Fuelled by technological advances and availability of information, the future is increasingly unpredictable."

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"Navy has a crucial role to play to support our government and we must continue to evolve and prepare for a myriad of operational possibilities. This is the basis of our 2022 Headmark. Clarity and alignment in our understanding of our Headmark will effectively guide our day-to-day actions," the planning statement articulates. 

For Chief of Navy and the government as a whole, Navy operating as a critical combined 'sensor-shooter' combination within the broader 'joint force' will serve as a major force multiplier for Navy and as the guiding development principles for the introduction of Plan Pelorus 2022.

Headmark 2022

This renewed focus is broken down into seven key focal points, each with an interlocking and overlapping tactical and strategic impact for the development of the future Navy, its operating capacity and strategic capability into the middle of the 21st century.

Plan Pelorus 2022 reflects a significant undertaking when each element of the statement is defined:

  • Workforce: We will be fully crewed at sea and staffed ashore, able to train for future demand, and prepared for continued growth.
  • Lethal: We will be able to deny, deter and defeat our adversaries in the face of evolving threats and challenges.
  • Integrated: We are integrated with the joint force and operate effectively with our allies and like-minded partners.
    Battleworthy: We will provide sea, air and cyber worthy platforms to the Chief of Joint Operations.
  • Sustained: Our resources are optimised to enable conduct of all our activities and our future commitments.
  • Persistent: We will be able to maintain a long-term presence away from our home ports.
  • Near region: Engaged across the Indo-Pacific; we meet all domestic requirements and work closely with our friends and partners in the near region.

Outcome focused

Delivering these capabilities goes beyond the standard capability definition, acquisition and sustainment cycles of traditional defence programs – the driving focus of developing a 'joint force' ADF serves as one of the key principles for supporting the integration of Navy's existing and planned capabilities, while also ensuring that the force is agile and responsive in the face of a rapidly evolving geo-strategic environment. 

These outcomes include:

  • OUTCOME ONE: Provide maritime forces for current operations, exercises, engagements and future contingencies;
  • OUTCOME TWO: Plan and deliver future maritime systems;
  • OUTCOME THREE: Assure the safety, seaworthiness and airworthiness of our systems;
  • OUTCOME FOUR: Effectively lead and manage our people and culture; and 
  • OUTCOME FIVE: Provide the required enablers and oversight to achieve Navy outcomes. 

VADM Noonan reaffirmed his strong commitment to partnering with defence industry to deliver Navy’s capability needs.

It is the Chief of Navy's intent that the implementation of a Navy Industry Engagement Strategy, one that directly supports Plan Pelorus, will provide an ideal opportunity to regenerate, refocus and ultimately strengthen Navy's relationship with industry and academia.

This strategy makes it clear that the Chief of Navy is focused on providing a clear direction of the RAN, and what its materiel needs and obligations will be in the future.

The Chief of Navy wants industry and academia to understand that what they are producing, no matter how big or how small, contributes to the bigger picture of Navy’s capability, and our national interest.

Together, the naval enterprise, industry and academia have an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to nation-building and, in doing so, build a maritime capability that will underpin the long-term security and prosperity of Australia and our region.

"When we get this right, it will lead to increased opportunities for technology creation, innovation and exploitation in our country. It will lead to an increase in Australian industry capability and capacity and will involve more Australians and more small businesses as we deliver and sustain leading-edge naval capability," Navy's official brief explained. 

VADM Noonan said, "Without industry we don’t go to sea, we don’t fly our aircraft, and ultimately we are unable to defend Australia and our national interests. My vision is for Navy, industry and academia to become better partners that focus on transformational relationships and shared awareness to enable the best possible outcomes for Australia."

Your thoughts

Given the geographic area of responsibility Australia will become increasingly responsible for and dependent on, is the RAN and the recapitalisation and modernisation programs currently underway enough for Australia to maintain its qualitative and quantitative lead over regional peers?

Australia is defined by its relationship and access to the ocean, with strategic sea-lines-of-communication supporting over 90 per cent of global trade, a result of the cost effective and reliable nature of sea transport. Indo-Pacific Asia is at the epicentre of the global maritime trade, with about US$5 trillion worth of trade flowing through the South China Sea and the strategic waterways and choke points of south-east Asia annually.

The Indian Ocean and its critical global sea-lines-of-communication are responsible for more than 80 per cent of the world's seaborne trade in critical energy supplies, namely oil and natural gas, which serve as the lifeblood of any advanced economy.

Traditionally, Australia has focused on a platform-for-platform acquisition program – focused on replacing, modernising or upgrading key capabilities on a like-for-like basis without a guiding policy, doctrine or strategy, limiting the overall effectiveness, survivability and capability of the RAN. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, or get in touch with This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Building a ‘thinking and fighting’ Royal Australian Navy for the 21st century
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