Navy’s newest officers will one day serve on nuclear-powered submarines

The Australian Navy’s newest officers enter the service at a time of its greatest growth since World War II and at its most lethal,the Chief of Navy told graduates at a ceremony on Thursday.

Vice Admiral Michael Noonan addressed 125 recruits at the Royal Australian Naval College,at HMAS Creswell in Jervis Bay — the first graduates since September’s announcement of a security partnership with the United Kingdom and the United States involving Australia’s acquisition of eight nuclear-powered submarines.

“Make no mistake,you have joined the navy at an extremely important time,” Mr Noonan said. “Our navy is in the largest growth period it has experienced since World War II and we will continue to grow in the months and years ahead. Our navy is more capable,more professional and more lethal than it has ever been.”

“Our navy is more capable,more professional and more lethal than it has ever been,” said Vice Admiral Michael Noonan.

“Our navy is more capable,more professional and more lethal than it has ever been,” said Vice Admiral Michael Noonan.Louise Kennerley

Mr Noonan said the conventionally armed,nuclear-powered submarines,the Hunter Class frigates and the Arafura offshore patrol vessels “will be with us soon and they will make us stronger ... and they will be yours to crew,operate and command”.

The graduates comprised 89 men and 36 women,including two mechanical engineers,11 maritime warfare officers and three weapons electrical engineers working on submarines.

This ceremony was the second this year,but there are plans to double the number of undergraduate groups to four by 2023,with February’s intake increasing to 225 recruits. There will also be two new classes,known as divisions,and one will be renamed.

Two will be named after highly decorated World War II sailors Lieutenant Commander Hugh Syme and Lieutenant Commander Leon Goldsworthy for their bravery defusing mines. A third division will be named after Joan Streeter who served in the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service and influenced government policy to encourage women to work in the navy.

The 125 new navy officers paraded in ceremonial uniform at sunset on Wednesday.

The 125 new navy officers paraded in ceremonial uniform at sunset on Wednesday.Louise Kennerley

On Wednesday evening,as dusk approached,a ceremony said to have links to Admiral Nelson was staged on the Quadrangle. The “Beat to Quarters and Ceremonial Sunset” was performed in front of graduates’ families and the college’s resident kangaroos.

Then on Thursday the graduates assembled in white ceremonial uniform on the manicured lawns of the college’s ceremonial area,called the Quarterdeck. They heard from Mr Noonan:“You will be the officers who lead us forward safeguarding Australia and our national interests,now and well into the future. You must remain agile and adaptive as the environment,technologies and the threats rapidly change around us.”

At a Senate estimates hearing in October,Mr Noonan said the navy had about 900 qualified submariners and a plan that was well under way to grow that to 2300 by the 2040s.

Following Thursday’s ceremony,Director General of Navy People Commodore Eric Young said the navy had grown from just shy of 14,000 people in 2018 to 15,000,with a target of 20,000.

“We were down to under 500 submariners in 2014,so we have had massive growth already in our submarine force,” he told theHerald. “We have the added benefit now of a new capability and we anticipate there will be a whole new segment of society who want to join and be part of that.”

Asked about staffing the nuclear-powered submarines,expected to be in service in 2040,Mr Young said the navy would need to be ready “well before that”.

“There are different skill sets,so we will work closely with our[AUKUS] partners. They will give us an indication of the skills required and the training they do,” he said. “We will start from scratch now to train from next year by exposing more people to that training pipeline.”

Navy recruits Rahal Dergham and Raine Alexa Dela Cruz in their ceremonial uniform at the HMAS Cresswell.

Navy recruits Rahal Dergham and Raine Alexa Dela Cruz in their ceremonial uniform at the HMAS Cresswell.Louise Kennedy

Among Thursday’s graduates was 39-year-old Lieutenant Rahal Dergham,from Sydney,a former Syrian Catholic priest who will become a maritime spiritual wellbeing officer.

“I had friends in the navy encouraging me to join,” he said. “Graduating means the conclusion of 19 weeks of training and the opportunity to start a new life in a new place and serve Australia and everyone in the navy included.”

HMAS Creswell (known as the cradle of the Royal Australian Navy) had its first intake of boys aged 13 in 1913. They were required to be “a bright,cheery boy,fond of games and open air ... alert and full of joie de vivre,even with a spice of mischief.”

Tim Barlass is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald

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