Rear Admiral Philip Spedding

Philip Spedding was born at Williamstown, Victoria and joined the RAN College, as a midshipman, in January 1982. Following graduation from the College in 1984, with a Bachelor of Science degree, he undertook seaman officer training at HMAS Watson and in the destroyer HMAS Vampire. Spedding was promoted Sub Lieutenant in 1986 and undertook twelve months exchange with the Canadian Navy in HMCS Saskatchewan where he gained his Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate.

He joined the destroyer escort HMAS Swan, based in Western Australia, in January 1987 and was promoted Lieutenant in January 1988. Swan operated in Australian waters as well as deploying to Southeast Asia as part of the RAN’s ‘rolling deployments’ to the region. In late 1988 he joined the staff of the Fleet Commander at Flag Lieutenant to Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair, and later Rear Admiral Ian MacDougall, which included service at sea when the Fleet Commander was embarked in the flagship HMAS Stalwart.

In January 1990 he joined the guided missile frigate HMAS Canberra but soon after commenced Principal Warfare Officer (PWO) training at HMAS Watson specialising in anti-submarine warfare. Spedding was dux of the course and was awarded the prestigious Sydney-Emden Prize (and also the Sword of Excellence as dux of the two PWO courses for that year). He then served in the destroyer escort HMAS Stuart and again in Canberra during 1991-92. In late 1992 Lieutenant Spedding was selected for exchange service with the Royal Navy and served in the frigate HMS Brazen. In early 1993 Brazen deployed to the Adriatic, for several months, as part of Britain’s Operation GRAPPLE supporting the United Nations Protection Force deployed to Yugoslavia following the outbreak of civil war in that country.

Following promotion to Lieutenant Commander in July 1994 he returned to Australia and was subsequently appointed to Fleet Headquarters as the fleet anti-submarine warfare officer. In late 1996 he joined the staff of the Directorate of Naval Officers’ Postings, in Canberra, as one of the staff officers controlling the postings for seaman branch officers. Lieutenant Commander Spedding was appointed in command of the patrol boat HMAS Townsville on 23 October 1998. During his time in command Townsville operated from Cairns conducting fisheries and border protection patrols in northern Australian waters as well as deployments to Papua New Guinea and the South West Pacific. During a period of extended maintenance, he was posted in temporary command of the patrol boat HMAS Warrnambool, and also trained as a standby Commanding Officer of the fast catamaran HMAS Jervis Bay.

After relinquishing command of Townsville on 10 May 2000 he returned to Canberra where he served briefly in the Navy Capability Analysis and Alignment Branch before becoming one of the inaugural Navy course members at the newly formed Australian Command and Staff College (ACSC), at Weston Creek, in 2001. The Australian Command and Staff College replaced the previous three Australian single service staff colleges and also had many overseas course members undertaking the ten month course. Spedding was promoted Commander midway through the course and was then selected to become a member of the ACSC Directing Staff commencing in 2002. He was also awarded the inaugural A.M. Synnot prize for the naval strategy component of the navy single service phase of the 2001 course.

In late 2002 he was appointed as the ADF Liaison Officer at US Central Command in Bahrain where he played a pivotal role in communications between the US Fifth Fleet and the Australian Task Group in the Arabian Gulf  during the 2003 Iraq War. On 27 November 2003 Commander Spedding was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his planning excellence as the Commander Australian Theatre’s liaison officer within US Central Command during Operation FALCONER; the 2003 Iraq War. Upon return to Australia in mid-2003 he resumed his duties as directing staff at ACSC before being appointed as Commanding Officer of the Anzac Class frigate HMAS Stuart on 24 November 2003.

Stuart was deployed to the Middle East region (MER) in early 2004, arriving on 3 April and taking up duties in the Northern Arabian Gulf. Her main duties were to conduct patrols to prevent the smuggling of oil and other cargoes from Iraq but also to provide security for two offshore Iraqi oil terminals (the Al Basrah Oil Terminal [ABOT] and the Khawr Abd Allah Oil Terminal [KAAOT]) which provided much of the Iraq’s legally gained finance. Threat levels in the Northern Arabian Gulf were high and on the evening of 24 April 2004 the patrol boat USS Firebolt intercepted a dhow approaching KAOTT. A boarding party, in a rigid hull inflatable boat, from the US ship approached the dhow issuing a warning to the dhow’s crew to stay away from the oil terminal when a violent explosion tore the dhow apart and capsized the US boat. Soon after two other vessels approached ABOT and were fired upon - they also detonated explosives on board and it was now clearly apparent that a coordinated suicide attack was being made on the oil terminals by Iraqi extremists. At this time Stuart was positioned between Firebolt and the terminals and Spedding became the ‘On Scene Commander’ coordinating the continued protection of the terminals from further attack while rescuing surviving US personnel and providing them with emergency medical treatment. Regrettably three US personnel were killed, or died from their wounds, and they were recovered and also brought on-board Stuart.

Stuart departed the MER on 13 August 2004 and arrived back in Australia on 10 September after which she was employed in Australian waters including border protection patrols as part of Operation RELEX II. Commander Spedding relinquished command of Stuart on 11 May 2005 and was then appointed as Director Maritime Combat Development, within Capability Development Group, in Canberra. In the 2005 Queen’s Birthday Honours List he was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) ‘for distinguished service as the Commanding Officer of HMAS Stuart during Operation CATALYST and for inspirational leadership during a suicide boat attack on 24 April 2004’. Spedding was promoted Captain in January 2006.

In early October 2006 Captain Spedding was appointed as Commander Surface Task Group (Deployable Joint Force Headquarters). Just over a month later he, and his staff, embarked in HMAS Kanimbla to command the naval component of a joint task group sent to Fijian waters for Operation QUICKSTEP. This operation was enacted for the potential evacuation of Australian citizens from Fiji following a breakdown in Government control; which eventually lead to a military coup in early December 2006. Fortunately there was no requirement to enact a services protected evacuation of Australian nationals from Fiji and the task group returned to Australia in mid-December 2006. The operation was not without incident and in late November an Australian Army Blackhawk helicopter crashed, while on a routine training flight, with two army personnel killed as a result.

In July 2007 Spedding was appointed as the Commander of Combined Task Group 158.1 operating in the MER. These ships, from several nations, were responsible for the security of Iraqi territorial waters and the protection of the Iraqi oil terminals (ABOT and KAAOT) which were the single most important element of Iraq’s economic infrastructure. This was a complex task as hundreds of fishing and trading vessels operated in the area and, as had be seen in 2004, attacks on the oil terminals could occur. Captain Spedding was subsequently appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2009 Australia Day Honours List “for exceptional performance of duty as the Commander, Combined Task Group 158.1 in the Northern Arabian Gulf on Operation CATALYST”.

Returning to Australia in February 2008 he resumed duties as Commander Surface Task Group before undertaking studies at the College of Defence and Strategic Studies, at Weston Creek, Canberra during 2009. He was promoted Commodore on 9 December 2009 and appointed as the Director General Maritime Operations at Headquarters Joint Operations Command in Bungendore. Leading a small Navy team, he was responsible for the coordination of RAN fleet scheduling and exercises, and the provision of specialist maritime planning advice to the Commander Joint Operations.

Commodore Spedding became Director General Defence Preparedness, in Canberra, in February 2012. During October 2013 to May 2014 he was seconded as the Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force 633 on Operation SLIPPER in the MER. He then returned to Canberra to resume his duties as Director General Defence Preparedness. In the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours List he was awarded a Commendation for Distinguished Service (CDS) “for distinguished performance of duty in warlike operations as Deputy Commander Joint Task Force 633 on Operation SLIPPER from 29 October 2013 to 14 May 2014”.

In early 2015 Commodore Spedding transferred to the RAN Reserve, but soon after was appointed as Director General Australian Defence Simulation and Training Centre and J7 at Headquarters Joint Operations Command. In early 2016 he was appointed as Director General Navy Capability, Plans and Engagement within Navy Headquarters. This position was renamed Director General Navy Program Support and Infrastructure in 2017. In early 2020 Commodore Spedding ceased reserve service and became a consultant to the Department of Defence.

Philip Spedding returned to naval service in late 2020. He was promoted Rear Admiral on 23 November 2020 and appointed as Head Navy Future Infrastructure.