Royal Australian Navy

Royal Australian Navy
Active 1911–present
Country Australia
Type Navy
Size 14,215 Permanent personnel[1]
8,493 Reserve personnel[1]
47 commissioned ships
3 non-commissioned ships
Part of Australian Defence Force
Headquarters Russell Offices, Canberra
Motto(s) Serving Australia with Pride
March "Royal Australian Navy"
Anniversaries 10 July
Commander-in-chief General Sir Peter Cosgrove
As Governor-General of Australia
Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell
Vice Chief of the Defence Force Vice Admiral David Johnston
Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan
Deputy Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Mark Hammond
Commander Australian Fleet Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead
Naval Ensign (1967–present)
Naval Jack
Aircraft flown
Reconnaissance Sikorsky MH-60R
Trainer Bell 429 GlobalRanger
Transport NHIndustries NH90

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is the naval branch of the Australian Defence Force. Following the Federation of Australia in 1901, the ships and resources of the separate colonial navies were integrated into a national force: the Commonwealth Naval Forces. Originally intended for local defence, the navy was granted the title of 'Royal Australian Navy' in 1911, and became increasingly responsible for defence of the region.

Britain's Royal Navy continued to support the RAN and provided additional blue-water defence capability in the Pacific up to the early years of World War II. Then, rapid wartime expansion saw the acquisition of large surface vessels and the building of many smaller warships. In the decade following the war, the RAN acquired a small number of aircraft carriers, the last of these paying off in 1982.

Today, the RAN consists of 47 commissioned vessels, 3 non-commissioned vessels and over 16,000 personnel. The navy is one of the largest and most sophisticated naval forces in the South Pacific region, with a significant presence in the Indian Ocean and worldwide operations in support of military campaigns and peacekeeping missions. The current Chief of Navy is Vice Admiral Tim Barrett.


The Commonwealth Naval Forces were established on 1 March 1901, two months after the federation of Australia, when the naval forces of the separate Australian colonies were amalgamated. A period of uncertainty followed as the policy makers sought to determine the newly established force's requirements and purpose, with the debate focusing upon whether Australia's naval force would be structured mainly for local defence or whether it would be designed to serve as a fleet unit within a larger imperial force, controlled centrally by the British Admiralty.[2] In 190809, the decision was made to pursue a compromise solution, and the Australian government agreed to establish a force that would be used for local defence but which would be capable of forming a fleet unit within the imperial naval strategy, albeit without central control. As a result, the navy's force structure was set at "one battlecruiser, three light cruisers, six destroyers and three submarines".[3]

On 10 July 1911, King George V granted the service the title of "Royal Australian Navy".[4] The first of the RAN's new vessels, the destroyer Yarra, was completed in September 1910 and by the outbreak of the First World War the majority of the RAN's planned new fleet had been realised.[3] The Australian Squadron was placed under control of the British Admiralty,[5] and initially it was tasked with capturing many of Germany's South Pacific colonies and protecting Australian shipping from the German East Asia Squadron. Later in the war, most of the RAN's major ships operated as part of Royal Navy forces in the Mediterranean and North Seas, and then later in the Adriatic, and then the Black Sea following the surrender of the Ottoman Empire.[3]

In 1919, the RAN received a force of six destroyers, three sloops and six submarines from the Royal Navy,[6] but throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, the RAN was drastically reduced in size due to a variety of factors including political apathy and economic hardship as a result of the Great Depression.[7] In this time the focus of Australia's naval policy shifted from defence against invasion to trade protection,[8] and several fleet units were sunk as targets or scrapped. By 1923, the size of the navy had fallen to eight vessels,[7] and by the end of the decade it had fallen further to five, with just 3,500 personnel.[8] In the late 1930s, as international tensions increased, the RAN was modernised and expanded, with the service receiving primacy of funding over the Army and Air Force during this time as Australia began to prepare for war.[8]

Early in the Second World War, RAN ships again operated as part of Royal Navy formations, many serving with distinction in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and off the West African coast.[9] Following the outbreak of the Pacific War and the virtual destruction of British naval forces in south-east Asia, the RAN operated more independently, or as part of United States Navy formations. As the navy took on an even greater role, it was expanded significantly and at its height the RAN was the fourth-largest navy in the world, with 39,650 personnel operating 337 warships.[8] A total of 34 vessels were lost during the war, including three cruisers and four destroyers.[10]

After the Second World War, the size of the RAN was again reduced, but it gained new capabilities with the acquisition of two aircraft carriers, Sydney and Melbourne.[11] The RAN saw action in many Cold War–era conflicts in the Asia-Pacific region and operated alongside the Royal Navy and United States Navy off Korea, Malaysia, and Vietnam.[12] Since the end of the Cold War, the RAN has been part of Coalition forces in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, operating in support of Operation Slipper and undertaking counter piracy operations. It was also deployed in support of Australian peacekeeping operations in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.[13]

RAN today

Command structure

The strategic command structure of the RAN was overhauled during the New Generation Navy changes. The RAN is commanded through Naval Headquarters (NHQ) in Canberra. The professional head is the Chief of Navy (CN), who holds the rank of vice admiral. NHQ is responsible for implementing policy decisions handed down from the Department of Defence and for overseeing tactical and operational issues that are the purview of the subordinate commands.

Beneath NHQ are two subordinate commands:

  • Fleet Command: fleet command is led by Commander Australian Fleet (COMAUSFLT). COMAUSFLT holds the rank of rear admiral; previously, this post was Flag Officer Commanding HM's Australian Fleet (FOCAF), created in 1911,[14] but the title was changed in 1988 to the Maritime Commander Australia. On 1 February 2007, the title changed again, becoming Commander Australian Fleet.[15] The nominated at-sea commander is Commodore Warfare (COMWAR), a one-star deployable task group commander. Fleet command has responsibility to CN for the full command of assigned assets, and to Joint Operations command for the provision of operationally ready forces.
  • Navy Strategic Command: the administrative element overseeing the RAN's training, engineering and logistical support needs. Instituted in 2000, the Systems Commander was appointed at the rank of commodore; in June 2008, the position was upgraded to the rank of rear admiral.

Fleet Command was previously made up of seven Force Element Groups, but after the New Generation Navy changes, this was restructured into four Force Commands:[16]

  • Fleet Air Arm, responsible for the navy's aviation assets
  • Mine Warfare, Hydrographic and Patrol Boat Force, an amalgamation of the previous Patrol Boat, Hydrographic, and Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Forces, operating what are collectively termed the RAN's "minor war vessels"
  • Submarine Force, operating the Collins-class submarines
  • Surface Force, covering the RAN's surface combatants (generally ships of frigate size or larger)


As of September 2017, the RAN fleet consisted of 47 warships, including destroyers, frigates, submarines, patrol boats and auxiliary ships.[17] Ships commissioned into the RAN are given the prefix HMAS (His/Her Majesty's Australian Ship).[18]

The RAN has two primary bases for its fleet:[19][20]

In addition, three other bases are home to the majority of the RAN's minor war vessels:[21][22][23]

Current ships

The RAN currently operates 47 commissioned vessels, made up of eight ship classes and three individual ships, plus three non-commissioned vessels. In addition, DMS Maritime operates a large number of civilian-crewed vessels under contract to the Australian Defence Force.

Commissioned vessels
ImageClass/nameTypeNumberEntered serviceDetails
Collins classSubmarine62000Anti-shipping, intelligence collection. Diesel-electric powered.
Canberra classLanding helicopter dock22014Amphibious warfare ships.
Hobart classDestroyer1 (2)2017Air Warfare Destroyer. Two more to be commissioned.
Anzac classFrigate81996Anti-submarine and anti-aircraft frigate with 1 helicopter. Two more were built for the Royal New Zealand Navy.
Adelaide classFrigate21985General-purpose guided-missile frigate with 2 helicopters. Four more ships have been decommissioned.
Armidale classPatrol boat132005Coastal defence, maritime border, and fishery protection
Huon classMinehunter61997Minehunting. Four active, two laid up.
Leeuwin classSurvey ship22000Hydrographic survey
Paluma classSurvey launch41989Hydrographic survey
HMAS Choules
(Bay class)
Landing Ship Dock12011Heavy sealift and transport
HMAS Success
(Durance class)
Replenishment ship11986Replenishment at sea and afloat support
HMAS SiriusReplenishment ship12006Replenishment at sea and afloat support. Modified commercial tanker.
Non-commissioned vessels
Cape classPatrol boat22015Cape Byron and Cape Nelson were leased from the Australian Border Force to supplement Armidales during classwide remediation maintenance. ADV (Australian Defence Vessel) ship prefix.
STS Young EndeavourTall Ship11988Sail training ship


Fleet Air Arm

The Fleet Air Arm (previously known as the Australian Navy Aviation Group) provides the RAN's aviation capability. As of 2013, the FAA consists of three active squadrons plus a fourth being activated, operating five helicopter types in the anti-submarine warfare and maritime support roles.[24] The Fleet Air Arm is based at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, New South Wales, and operates from the RAN's frigates, large amphibious warfare vessels, and large support ships.

LADS Flight

In addition to the helicopter squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm, the RAN operates an additional flying unit that comes under the operational responsibility of the Australian Hydrographic Service. The Laser Airborne Depth Sounder Flight contains the sole remaining fixed-wing aircraft operated by the RAN, and is based at HMAS Cairns in Cairns, Queensland.[25]

Clearance Diving Branch

The Clearance Diving Branch is composed of two Clearance Diving Teams (CDT) that serve as parent units for naval clearance divers:

  • Clearance Diving Team 1 (AUSCDT ONE), based at HMAS Waterhen in New South Wales; and
  • Clearance Diving Team 4 (AUSCDT FOUR), based at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia.

When clearance divers are sent into combat, Clearance Diving Team Three (AUSCDT THREE) is formed.

The CDTs have two primary roles:

  • Mine counter-measures (MCM) and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD); and
  • Maritime tactical operations.


There are currently several major projects underway that will see upgrades to RAN capabilities:

  • Project SEA 1180 Phase 1 will replace the Armidale-class patrol boat with twelve new Offshore Patrol Vessels to be constructed by Lürssen. Construction will commence in Q4 2018, with the first vessel to enter service in Q4 2021.[26]
  • Project SEA 1429 Phase 2 will upgrade the Collins-class submarines with state-of-the-art heavyweight torpedoes.[27]
  • Project SEA 1439 Phase 3 will upgrade the Collins-class submarine platform systems and improve 'reliability, sustainability, safety and capability'.[28]
  • Project SEA 1439 Phase 4A will equip the Collins-class submarines with the United States Navy Combat and Weapon Control System, as well as improvements to the combat system augmentation sonar system. Shore facilities relating to integration, training, and testing will also be upgraded. Expected to achieve Final Operating Capability in December 2018.[29]
  • Project SEA 1654 Phase 3 is a project to acquire a Sea Logistic Support and Replenishment Support vessel to replace the supply ship HMAS Success.
  • Project SEA 4000 Phase 3, under which the RAN will acquire three Hobart-class air warfare destroyers, built around the United States Navy Aegis air and surface combat management system. The vessels are to be based on the Spanish Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate.[30][31] As of June 2018, one is in active service and two are currently under construction.
  • Project SEA 5000 Phase 1, where nine Hunter-class frigates to replace the Anzac-class frigates. The vessels will be built in Adelaide by BAE Systems and will be a variation of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship to be operated by the Royal Navy.[32]

Future procurement plans include:

  • Twelve Future Submarines, under Project SEA 1000, to replace the Collins-class (up to 4,000 tons, potentially equipped with cruise missiles and minisubs).

Current operations

The RAN currently has forces deployed on four major operations:[33]

  • Operation Highroad: Australia's commitment to the International Coalition forces in Afghanistan;
  • Operation Resolute: border protection;
  • Operation Manitou: counter-piracy, counter-terrorism and maritime stability in the Middle East; and
  • Operation Accordion: support operation to provide sustainment to forces deployed on Operations Highroad and Manitou.


As of June 2011, the RAN has 14,215 permanent full-time personnel, 161 gap year personnel, and 2,150 reserve personnel.[34] The permanent full-time force consisted of 3,357 commissioned officers, and 10,697 enlisted personnel.[34] In June 2010, male personnel made up 82% of the permanent full-time force, while female personnel made up 18%.[35] The RAN has the highest percentage of women in the ADF, compared to the RAAF's 17.8% and the Army's 9.7%.[35]

The following are the current senior Royal Australian Navy officers:

Ranks and uniforms

The uniforms of the Royal Australian Navy are very similar in cut, colour and insignia to their British Royal Navy forerunners. However, beginning with the Second World War, all RAN personnel began wearing shoulder flashes reading Australia, a practice continuing today. These are cloth arcs at shoulder height on uniforms, metallic gold on officers' shoulder boards, and embroidered on shoulder slip-ons.

Commissioned officers

Commissioned officers of the Australian Navy have pay grades ranging from S-1 to O-11. The only O-11 position in the navy is honorary and has only ever been held by royalty, currently being held by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. The highest position occupied in the current Royal Australian Navy structure is O-9, a vice admiral who serves as the Chief of the Navy. O-8 (rear admiral) to O-11 (admiral of the fleet) are referred to as flag officers, O-5 (commander) and above are referred to as senior officers, while S-1 (midshipman) to O-4 (lieutenant commander) are referred to as junior officers. All officers of the navy receive a commission from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. The commissioning scroll issued in recognition of the commission is signed by the Governor General of Australia as Commander-in-Chief and the serving Minister for Defence.

Naval officers are trained at the Royal Australian Naval College (HMAS Creswell) in Jervis Bay, New South Wales and the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.[37]

Commissioned officer rank structure of the Royal Australian Navy
Admiral of the Fleet Admiral Vice Admiral Rear Admiral Commodore Captain
Commander Lieutenant Commander Lieutenant Sub Lieutenant Acting Sub Lieutenant Midshipman


Chaplains in the Royal Australian Navy are commissioned officers who complete the same training as other officers in the RAN at the Royal Australian Naval College, HMAS Creswell. RAN regulations group RAN chaplains with commanders for purposes of protocol such as marks of respect (saluting); however, RAN chaplains have no other rank other than "chaplain", and their rank emblem is identifiable by a Maltese cross with gold anchor. Senior chaplains are grouped with captains, and principal chaplains are grouped with commodores, but their chaplain rank slide remains the same. Principal chaplains, however, have gold braid on the peak of their white service cap.

Other ranks

Other ranks
Warrant Officer of the Navy Warrant Officer Chief Petty Officer Petty Officer Leading Seaman Able Seaman Seaman
(No rank) (No rank)

Royal Australian Navy Other Ranks wear "right arm rates" insignia, called "Category Insignia" to indicate speciality training qualifications.[38] The use pattern mirrors that of the Royal Navy, and has since formation. Stars or a Crown are added to these to indicate higher qualifications.

Special insignia

The Warrant Officer of the Navy (WO-N) is an appointment held by the most senior sailor in the RAN, and holds the rank of warrant officer (WO). However, the WO-N does not wear the WO rank insignia; instead, they wear the special insignia of the appointment.[39] The WO-N appointment has similar equivalent appointments in the other services, each holding the rank of warrant officer, each being the most senior sailor/soldier/airman in that service, and each wearing their own special insignia rather than their rank insignia. The Australian Army equivalent is the Regimental Sergeant Major of the Army (RSM-A)[40] and the Royal Australian Air Force equivalent is the Warrant Officer of the Air Force (WOFF-AF).[41]

See also



  1. 1 2 Defence Issues Paper (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. 2014. p. 29. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  2. Dennis et al 1995, p. 516.
  3. 1 2 3 Whitley 2000, p. 17.
  4. Stevens, David. "The R.A.N. – A Brief History". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  5. Dennis et al 1995, p. 517.
  6. Gillett & Graham 1977, p. 193.
  7. 1 2 Gillett & Graham 1977, p. 61.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Dennis et al 1995 p. 518.
  9. Gillett & Graham 1977, pp. 69–76.
  10. Gillett & Graham 1977, p. 93.
  11. Gillett & Graham 1977, p. 94.
  12. Dennis et al 1995, pp. 519–520.
  13. "Database of Royal Australian Navy Operations, 19902005" (PDF). Working Paper No. 18. Sea Power Centre. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  14. C L Cumberlege Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. "Top Stories". Archived from the original on 10 March 2007.
  16. Australian Maritime Doctrine. p. 124.
  17. "Current Ships". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  18. Frame 2004, p. 96.
  19. "Fleet Base East". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  20. "Fleet Base West". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  21. "HMAS Cairns". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  22. "HMAS Coonawarra". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  23. "HMAS Waterhen". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  24. "Fleet Air Arm". Royal Australian Navy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2013. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  25. "Laser Airborne Depth Sounder". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
  26. "Offshore Patrol Vessels". Department of Defence (Australia). Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  27. "Replacement Heavyweight Torpedo". Department of Defence (Australia). February 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  28. "Collins Class Submarine reliability and sustainability". Department of Defence (Australia). December 2017. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  29. "Collins Replacement Combat System". Department of Defence (Australia). February 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  30. Commonwealth of Australia (2009). Defence White Paper 2009 (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. pp. 70–74. ISBN 978-0-642-29702-0. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 September 2013. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  31. "Top 30 Projects". Defence Materiel Organisation. Archived from the original on 15 August 2013. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  32. Wroe, David (2018-06-28). "British frigate program to seed Australia's own warship industry, Turnbull says". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2018-06-28.
  33. "Operations". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  34. 1 2 Department of Defence (2011). Portfolio Budget Statements 2011–12: Defence Portfolio (PDF). Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-642-29739-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 September 2011.
  35. 1 2 "Defence Annual Report 2009-2010, Appendix 7, Table A7.3".
  36. 1 2 Navy, corporateName=Royal Australian. "News".
  37. "Navy Training: Officer Training". Defence Jobs. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  38. "Category Badges". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
  39. "Defence Leaders: Navy". Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  40. "Regimental Sergeant Major – Army". Archived from the original on 9 June 2012.
  41. "Warrant Officer of the Air Force".


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  • Frame, Tom (2004). No Pleasure Cruise: The Story of the Royal Australian Navy. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-233-4. 
  • Gillett, Ross; Graham, Colin (1977). Warships of Australia. Adelaide, South Australia: Rigby. ISBN 0-7270-0472-7. 
  • Whitley, M. J. (2000) [1988]. Destroyers of World War Two: An International Encyclopedia. London: Cassell. ISBN 1-85409-521-8. 
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