Incoming CAF - Air Marshal Stephen Chappell, DSC, CSC, OAM

Wednesday 3rd July 2024


Thank you Aunty Serena for welcoming us to Ngunnawal country today. May I extend my respects to Aunty Deb, our Air Force Elder, who unfortunately can not be with us today, and to all Aboriginal and Torres’s Strait Islanders, past and present, who have served in the Royal Australian Air Force.

Good morning Vice Admiral Johnston, Mr Yannopoulos, Aviators of the Royal Australian Air Force, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

In 1993 I joined to lead, to fly, and if called upon, to fight to defend our nation and its interests. That calling still inspires me - I will return to this theme shortly.

Joining just after the end of the Cold War, there was no real sense any conflict or trouble was likely in our future. I was trained by those who had served their entire careers in a peacetime setting, as had those before them. Across Air Force my mates were in a similar situation.

Yet within a decade of us graduating from ADFA our generation had flown into the unknown to deliver the first waves of INTERFET troops, deployed to fly combat missions in Iraq, then deployed to control air traffic in Baghdad, deployed to control coalition air power in Afghanistan, and deployed to fly overland ISR missions in the Middle East.

We were able to do these things because we were fortunate to stand on the shoulders of those who had come before us. They might not have deployed into harms way, but they had maintained and improved the standards - they had kept the faith.

In more recent times I can think of numerous examples of our Aviators keeping the faith. I’ll briefly mention two.

During the pandemic Aviators — primarily from our Air Mobility, Combat Support, and Surveillance and Response Groups — continued to deliver operational missions in our nation’s interests. Almost 4000 Aviators flew approximately 4500 operational sorties — crossing numerous Australian and International Health jurisdictional boundaries in the process.

In doing so they accrued just under 90000 days, or 245 years, of quarantine as a result of their duties. Over 80 Aviators spent 100 days or more in quarantine - one Aviator spent 250 days in quarantine.

By any measurement those Aviators conducted themselves in the finest traditions of the Royal Australian Air Force - and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and their families for their service and sacrifice. They kept the faith.

For my second example I’ll focus on the humble professionalism of the Aviators who, since 1985, have maintained the ejection seats on the Hornet family of aircraft . We had never used one of those seats in anger; until two of our aircrew were forced to pull the handle in December 2020 - in the extreme bottom left corner of the ejection envelope. Both walked away in one piece.

Generations of technicians quietly maintained those ejection seats over countless training and combat sorties, all the while hoping their efforts would never be called upon. When their fellow aviators needed them most, they were there —just as we knew they would be every time we strapped into a jet. They kept the faith.

So where are we today?

Well as the National Defence Strategy confirms, Australia faces its most challenging strategic environment since the Second World War. We are - in my words - in a strategic autumn.

Our role as an Air Force is to generate and deliver Air Power as part of an integrated, focused force. We will do this with our Joint ADF and broader Defence colleagues, with our interagency partners, our industry partners, and internationally with our Allies and Partners.

Executing our role contributes to Deterrence - discouraging and restraining a potential adversary - making sure each day their decision is ‘Not Today’ - striving to ensure they don’t take us from a Strategic Autumn into Winter.

To achieve this we need to continue to be Ready, Resilient, and Resourceful. I’d like to acknowledge the vector Air Marshal Rob Chipman has us on, and the platform our predecessors have built for us.

Now we will further focus our efforts to ensure we look after ourselves and each other; and prepare for the challenges and opportunities the future holds — both in the near term, and by setting the conditions for success in the decades to come.

Doing so will enable us to sustainably generate and deliver highly effective air power with agility, asymmetry and depth — and if called upon, to deliver it with a high degree of lethality and survivability.

Our key to success is twofold — looking after each other through the embodiment of our Defence values, and doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well — maintaining and building the standards of our professional mastery. We will keep the faith.

My role as your Chief of Air Force is to serve you, our Aviators, and our nation, in this noble endeavour.

As I mentioned, my initial calling continues to resonate — To lead; with clarity, and collaboratively with my ADF and APS colleagues. To support you generate and deliver air power as part of an integrated, focussed force. And to ensure, if called upon, we are well prepared to fight in defence of our nation and its interests.

A calling to serve requires significant support — I’d like to acknowledge the incredible support my loved ones, family and friends have given me throughout my life and years of service.

I am honoured to be your 28th Chief of Air Force, and I look forward to repaying the trust placed in me. I will keep the faith.

Per Ardua Ad Astra