Vice Admiral David Johnston Appointed As New ADF Chief, Amid Major Command Shake-up

It was always short odds a Royal Australian Navy officer would become the next chief of defence force after the announcement of the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine pact, and now the services boat has come on the leadership front.

In the wake of a jarring Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide and persisting tensions with deputy prime minister and minister for Defence Richard Marles regarding the quality of program management and delivery, prime minister Anthony Albanese has revealed a major shake-up of uniformed positions as the armed forces recalibrates its future course.

Current vice chief of the defence force, Vice Admiral David Johnston, AC, RAN will be appointed the new chief of the defence force (CDF), with General Angus Campbell AO, DSC retiring.

Succession planning in Defence tends to be more of a science than an art, with officers required to retire at age 60 or gradually transition out of full-time roles, so the jockeying for the top post will have been on for a couple of years.

“Vice Admiral Johnston joined the ADF in 1978 and has demonstrated outstanding leadership as the Vice Chief of the Defence Force since 2018. His experience in command and the strategic design of the integrated force will be critical to embedding the outcomes of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR),” Albanese said.

Johnston’s appointment won’t be a surprise given a lot of AUKUS and the DSR is heavily focused on force projection, interoperability and stabilisation, with the bulk of the so-called ‘throw weight’ delivered via subs and ships.

There is also a view in some strategic circles that some politicians had an unhealthy preoccupation with the army and its assortment of land warfare toys that were potentially useful if Australia was invaded, but didn’t fulfil the growing need for regional stand-off capability.

With major Middle-East land conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan off the boil in terms of Australian personnel deployments, there is a discernible shift in emphasis, even as the PM salted the efforts of Campbell in his announcement.

“The Government extends its deepest gratitude and thanks to retiring Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell AO, DSC. General Campbell joined the ADF in January 1981 and has had a distinguished career, leading the nation through regional and global security challenges,” Albanese said.

“He has been at the forefront of driving organisational and cultural change to enhance the ADF as a modern, highly capable, integrated force centred on its people and Defence values.”

The new vice chief of the Defence Force will be Air Marshal Robert Chipman, AO, CSC. Chipman was appointed as the chief of air force in July 2022 and has overseen a rise in the prominence of regional air power as Australia increasingly locks in interoperability with allies like the US, Japan, Korea and Singapore.

Chipman’s elevation has also resulted in Air Vice Marshal Stephen Chappell, DSC, CSC, OAM, being promoted to chief of air force from head of military strategic commitments, another logical succession.

Following confirmation of the Federal Executive Council of the statutory appointments of the top brass by the governor-general, a raft of other senior ADF appointments and changes will also flow in “early July” after the Budget and end of financial year.

Albanese said “the Chief of the Defence Force, in consultation with the Secretary of Defence, Mr Greg Moriarty, AO, and ADF chiefs” had recommended to the deputy PM and Defence minister several senior appointments.

Rear Admiral Justin Jones, CSC, will replace Lieutenant General Greg Bilton, AO, CSC, as the chief of joint operations. Rear Admiral Jones is currently the deputy chief of joint operations.

Major General Susan Coyle, AM, CSC, DSM, will replace Lieutenant General John Frewen, AO,DSC, as the chief of joint capabilities. Major General Coyle is currently the commander of the Army’s Forces Command.

Lieutenant General Gavan Reynolds, AO will complete his term as the inaugural chief of defence intelligence. The chief of defence intelligence position will rotate to a civilian appointment, with the replacement to be identified in due course.

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