Since the end of the Second World War, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has demonstrated itself as a unique naval power in many ways. Historically, Australia had been first influenced by the United Kingdom and then, the United States. As time went by, Canberra had gradually adopted a more independent approach in terms of its naval development. Such changes and development triggered my interest in studying the RAN from a historical prospective, especially in the post-Cold War era. To identify how the RAN transformed itself in accordance with varying national interests and strategy is also one of my major concerns in this thesis. Therefore, this research in particular focuses on RAN’s overall strategy, force posture, missions and objectives, as well as future prospects and planning. Hopefully the readers can be inspired by my in-depth discussion and analysis on this subject.
Structurally, this thesis firstly analyzes the overall strategic environment Canberra faces and different threat perceptions the RAN holds. The responding measures by this Down Under country are hereby discussed. The second part describes the policies and strategies of successive Australian governments affecting RAN’s growth. RAN’s strategic concepts and their application in actual development are also evaluated. Thirdly, this work assesses the military capabilities and force structures of the RAN, qualitatively and quantitatively, in order to depict the real picture of this naval power in the Southern Hemisphere.
Last but not the least, the fourth part of this thesis provides my remarks and conclusions. Some future predictions and recommendations for the RAN are also included in this final section.
This thesis finds that RAN’s capabilities shall be significantly enhanced by 2020. The Australian fleet will be able to project its military power at least regionally, and to enjoy certain area command of the sea and air. Besides, there will be a new development of military thinking within the RAN, so that its strategic planning could be properly guided. According to a 2001 governmental publication, Australia''s Navy for the 21st century: 2001-2030, the RAN will upgrade its capabilities of maritime rapid response capability, amphibious operations and regional air defense in upcoming years. The RAN is expected to be competent enough to engage in not only regional operations, but also expeditionary missions with allies. For meeting these goals, the RAN as a “Fleet-in-Being” at present must be transformed to an “Enhanced Fleet” by 2015, and a “Future Fleet” by 2025. Such an evolution is apparently RAN’s roadmap for a “blue-water navy”, hoping that Australia will become an expanding naval power, rather than simply take up a pure defensive posture in the future.