Semaphore: Australian Maritime Doctrine 2010

Semaphore Issue 6, 2010
Semaphore Issue 6, 2010

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Australian Maritime Doctrine
Australian Maritime Doctrine

Military doctrine contains the fundamental principles by which military forces guide their actions in support of national objectives. It helps planners and commanders approach dangerous, chaotic and unfamiliar situations with clarity of thought. It is based on rigorous analysis and a comprehensive understanding of the history of human conflict and national experience. In effect, military doctrine provides a basis for action founded in knowledge.
- Australian Maritime Doctrine: RAN Doctrine 1.[1]

Australian Maritime Doctrine stands at the summit of Australian naval doctrinal effort. At a fundamental level it explains what the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) does, and how maritime operations contribute to the overall ADF (Australian Defence Force) effort to protect Australia’s sovereignty, interests and values. First published in 2000, the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Russ Crane, AO, CSM, RAN, officially launched the latest edition of Australian Maritime Doctrine on 4 June 2010 in Canberra. The following is an excerpt from his speech:

It is an inescapable strategic reality that as Australians we live within a huge maritime realm. Unfortunately, not many of us are aware of it. We are surrounded by three great oceans that control our climate, provide much of the region's protein and generate most of the air we breathe. To put it simply, if the oceans die, we die.

Few people now travel by sea. Fewer still, appreciate how our maritime economy functions. Yet when flying into Sydney, we only have to glance down at Botany Bay container terminal to realise that our life’s blood still flows by sea. Our maritime sector is already worth more than $A48 billion a year, and this will continue to grow as mineral and energy extraction techniques improve. The value is already far larger than our agricultural sector. Truly, Australia's future prosperity lies within our offshore domain.

Then there is our broader maritime trade. Each year sees 27,000 ship calls in Australian ports. They annually exchange some 790 million tonnes of cargo with a value over $A300 billion. More important than even these figures indicate, however, is that we are an integral part of a global trading system. Globalisation remains primarily a maritime phenomenon, characterised by the constant free flow of ideas, capital, goods, services, information and people across national borders. It is a system on which every nation depends, one which continues to expand, but one which also remains extremely sensitive to disruption. Defending the conditions that allow the system to flourish and eliminating vulnerabilities is essential. A single container ship may be carrying the GDP of a small nation. A single oil tanker might hold the equivalent of Australia’s weekly oil consumption. Never has it been more true to say that our way of life is dependent upon good order at sea.

We are living in a maritime century. And the Asia-Pacific region is recognised as the globe’s strategic hub. There still remain the traditional threats of inter and intra state conflict, the preservation of fish stocks and maritime crime. But today we must increasingly deal with additional challenges ranging from pollution response, through to the control of people smuggling and the prevention of global terrorism. Many of these imperatives overlap. New economic and social pressures are potentially enormous, tensions will undoubtedly rise and, in a world desperate for clean water and energy, competition for access is certain. The protection of the ocean itself may well be a future task. Whether we like it or not, this means increasing strategic, operational and tactical complexity at sea. It also means greater future calls on Australia's limited security resources. As the 2009 White Paper reminds us: “We cannot have perfect knowledge of the future, and the range of uncertainties is disconcertingly wide”.[2]

Lawlessness and instability expand if not controlled. We, along with other responsible nations, can not afford to put areas of the ocean out of the rule of law. We do not have the luxury of saying it is all too hard. With the stakes so high, there is little or no room for discretionary involvement. Not only must we be able to enforce our authority in our vast ocean estate. We must also be able to deliver effects at a considerable distance from home. Not all situations will involve the projection of hard power. The spectrum of potential operations clearly requires flexibility of response. But no force is as responsive as a military force. So where does the Royal Australian Navy fit within this scenario? We have more than a century of independent and sovereign action at sea behind us. Traditionally, our men and women have been very good at doing their job. The ‘how’ of being a navy. Yet, perhaps better known as ‘The Silent Service’, we have not been so good at explaining the ‘why’. This is what Australian Maritime Doctrine does so well. It is the Royal Australian Navy's capstone work of doctrine. It brings together the key concepts and themes of sea power, places them in an Australian context and explains them in a clear and straightforward fashion. It effortlessly unravels the convolutions of the maritime environment for the general reader, providing a coherent story about why we need a balanced Navy. Australian Maritime Doctrine is a guide to understanding the unique nature of the Navy's contribution to Australia's national security. It shows why the Navy has made a difference in the past and why we can expect it to make a difference in the future. It also lays out the ways in which the RAN operates as part of a joint and integrated ADF. But equally important, it describes an outlook and culture which informs the 'world view' of most global navies. When it comes to existing and potential challenges to maritime security, we are not alone in our concerns.

Vice Admiral Russ Crane launching the new edition of Australian Maritime Doctrine in Canberra. (RAN)

Vice Admiral Russ Crane launching the new edition of Australian Maritime Doctrine in Canberra. (RAN)

Much has happened in the maritime domain over the decade since the first edition of Australian Maritime Doctrine was released. There is now far greater recognition of shared interests, and broader awareness of the need for cooperative approaches. The RAN is just one of many allied and friendly navies to have signalled its commitment to the US-inspired Global Maritime Partnership. The RAN is also fully engaged in the ongoing endeavours of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium and, more recently, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium to promote maritime security across the vast oceans that remain our bridges to the region and beyond. Anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and continuing coalition operations in the Gulf provide key examples of how navies are working together to assure the flow of goods and services to the world economy.

Yet notwithstanding these developments, the RAN’s doctrinal principles are enduring. This second edition of Australian Maritime Doctrine builds on the solid reputation established by the first and seeks to refine rather than rewrite. Sea control, sea denial and maritime power projection remain our key strategic concepts. The unique characteristics and attributes of sea power, such as access, flexibility, and sustained reach to name but a few, continue to inform our maritime operational concepts; guiding in turn our appreciation of the Navy’s military, diplomatic and constabulary roles. That these principles are enduring was recognised most recently in the 2009 Defence White Paper. And here we shift focus from the naval ‘why’ to its ‘ways’ and ‘means’. The maritime assets required for Force 2030, and that we are working so hard to successfully introduce, are not just naval toys. They are the essential constituents of Australian sea power. Each has a distinct part to play as part of a joint or combined maritime force:

  • Submarines excel in high-end warfighting tasks and provide significant deterrent value. Strategically potent, they can influence events ashore in their own right.
  • The flexibility and versatility of surface combatants will often make them a first choice response in a crisis. The sea control they generate creates the freedom of action essential for follow on access.
  • Amphibious forces can project hard or soft power throughout our region as circumstances dictate. They provide the maritime mobility and sustainment capability in joint operations.
  • Patrol combatants are daily at sea as a response force. They represent the visible face of Australia's efforts to control its maritime domain.
  • Support forces, whether logistic, mine warfare or maritime geospatial, represent vital force multipliers. They keep sea lines of communication open and will be necessary in any operation at a distance.
  • But most important of all are our people. It is they who generate the real capabilities that ships, submarines and aircraft represent.

Acting together, these are the tools by which the Navy can provide agile and adaptable maritime forces, responsive to political direction and matched to government requirements.

In sum, Australian Maritime Doctrine provides an authoritative guide to current naval thinking and is thus a vital component of the training and education of all the RAN's men and women. It has been written to appeal to the widest possible audience, not only those within the Navy and the ADF, but also to all those who have responsibilities for or are interested in Australia's national security and its instruments. It is fundamental to improving our knowledge of ourselves and our Service, and likewise a key element in our work to ensure that all Australians understand better the continuing importance to their nation of the sea and sea power.

I expect all the members of the RAN to read Australian Maritime Doctrine, and I urge them to discuss its contents with each other, with other members of the ADF and with the Australian public. The better informed we all are, the better able we will be to confront the strategic, social and technological challenges of the future. I commend this second edition of Australian Maritime Doctrine to everyone in this audience, but just as our Service evolves to meet the new challenges I have described, so too will our doctrine continue to change and develop. It is now with great pleasure that I officially launch, Australian Maritime Doctrine: RAN Doctrine 1.

An online version of Australian Maritime Doctrine is available at:

  1. Royal Australian Navy, Australian Maritime Doctrine: RAN Doctrine 1, Sea Power Centre - Australia, Canberra, 2010, p. 1.
  2. Department of Defence, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, Canberra, 2009, p. 28.

Sea Power Centre - Australia

Sea Power Centre - Australia
Department of Defence
Canberra ACT 2600