Boat-loving admiral becomes new defence chief

The incoming chief of the Australian Defence Force will relive his childhood past time many times over as he officially steps into his new role.

Vice Admiral David Johnston, who spoke at a changing-of-command parade in Canberra, is taking over the military as it focuses on expanding naval efforts to counter threats in the Pacific region following a major defence review. 

"From a childhood that my wife described as 'messing about in boats', I have lived all my life in the ADF," he said on Wednesday.

"I have witnessed the extraordinary contribution ADF members make in war-like operations, peacekeeping and protecting our border and engaging with our partners.

"It is a great honour to be in your service and I commit to giving you my all, every day, as your (chief)."

David Johnson and Robert Chipman
David Johnston hands over to incoming vice chief of the Defence Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman.

A landmark review into the defence force recommended it refocus on being able to project its firepower deeper into the Pacific to meet the rise of China, with new nuclear-powered submarines a core element. 

Vice Admiral Johnston said his career moves around the Indo-Pacific and Asia would be useful in his new role.

"This experience greatly aids my understanding of our history and role in the region," he said.

A review of the navy's surface fleet led to a decision by Defence Minister Richard Marles to scrap a planned build of larger ships to make room for a bigger fleet.

The number of navy warships will increase from 11 to 26 by the mid-2040s, with the fleet to include remote-controlled vessels as the military places a greater emphasis on drones.

The vice admiral took over from General Angus Campbell after serving as the vice chief.

General Angus Campbell
General Angus Campbell says serving as defence chief had been "an honour and privilege".

General Campbell, who served in the role for six years, thanked all Australians who had worn the nation's uniform.

"Whether for a year or half a century, your service is deeply appreciated and of consequence to the future security, wellbeing and prosperity of Australia and its people," he said.

"It has been an honour and privilege to be the chief of the defence force."

Air Marshal Rob Chipman has taken over the role of vice chief.

"It’s a profound responsibility that I accept with humility and resolve," he said.

The scale of investment in military technology was "simultaneously unsettling and imperative" during a precarious time in the Indo-Pacific, he said.

"It’s time now to redouble our efforts and deliver the combat strength Australia needs to deter military adventurism and preserve a stable balance of power in our region," he said.

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