Outgoing CAF - Air Marshal Robert Chipman, AO, CSC

Wednesday 3rd July 2024


Thank you Aunty Serena for the wonderful welcome to Ngunnawal country. It is a beautiful place to call home. Nging gada dindi, wangirali djinyin – I add my respects to your elders. I’d like to extend that to Aunty Deb, our Air Force Elder, to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today and those who serve with distinction in the Royal Australian Air Force.

VCDF, Vice Admiral David and Belinda Johnston, Associate Secretary Matt Yannopoulos, Distinguished guests, members of the Service Attaché and Advisory Group ladies and gentlemen, and to all our outstanding aviators on parade. Good morning.

Today marks a transition in leadership. It has been a wonderful privilege for me to serve as the 27th Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force.

I stood before you two short years ago and spoke of the three things I’d prioritise through my time in command. Readiness, resilience and resourcefulness. I expressed them as priorities, not goals, in recognition that there is no milestone or threshold of achievement when our efforts to strengthen them would cease. They shape the emphasis of our work; the work itself is enduring.

Striving for excellence is in our DNA. But achievement simply creates a new foundation from which to improve, to innovate and set our minds to new ambition. We are of course now also driven by necessity - a sense of urgency in this era of great power competition. To deliver combat power sufficient to shift the calculus of our adversary, and deter further deterioration in our strategic environment.

So today is not ‘mission accomplished’, but I hope you’ll indulge me, as I share my pride in what you’ve achieved.

Our aviators have continued to deliver on operations. First out of the gate, we’ve been delivering vital assistance, maintaining essential awareness, defending critical supply nodes, strengthening international partnerships, reinforcing our sovereign rights under international law, and demonstrating our strength and preparedness to deter conflict. Across Australia, throughout the Indo Pacific, from Europe to Antarctica, in arduous and contested environments, our aviators have performed superbly.

So too have been our efforts to force generate focussed and integrated air power. The scale and complexity of training missions we are undertaking today is breathtaking. Bedding in new concepts, such as Agile Operations; learning to manoeuvre and sustain our force across our Northern infrastructure, and project air power throughout our region. These are the capabilities our strategy of denial demand.

And we’ve also secured significant investments in our future capability, including upgrades to existing platforms, expanding our training system, investing in advanced weapons, committing to a new fleet of C-130s and an Air Battle Management System that will integrate our air and missile defence capabilities. We’ve taken delivery of the first MQ-4 Triton and continued our partnership with Boeing Australia to develop the MQ-28A Ghost Bat.

This progress underscores the strength of our partnerships with Industry. Together we are discovering the future, experimenting and co-developing new technologies; delivering new capabilities while sustaining our current force. I acknowledge and thank our industry partners; your contribution to Australia’s air power is absolutely essential.

This story of achievement, strengthening the readiness and resilience of our force, has been delivered through the resourcefulness of our people.

I’ll never cease to be impressed by your innovation and dedication. I’ve met aviators using solar panels designed for a camping fridge to power and proof test a command vehicle that enables our Air Battle Managers to control the fight from the back of a Land rover, wherever they can get an internet signal.

Air Force Training Group have shaved weeks of our courses, increased training throughput, and introduced tailored physical conditioning programs to dramatically improve our training completion rates.

Last week I celebrated the graduation of our latest Air Weapons Instructors, our next generation of combat leaders. They’ve just reset the bar, in our understanding and ultimately our ability to deliver and exploit integrated air power. They exemplify what it means when we say, our people are our most precious resource, the source of our asymmetric advantage.

I take no credit for their work – it’s being delivered by our aviators. Who understand our strategic context and commit their efforts to find a better way. It has been inspiring to watch them work.

Of course none of this would happen without the love and support of our families. I hope you – our families - recognise how vital your contribution is to our capability; I hope you share our sense of purpose; and I hope you share our pride in Air Force’s achievements. And I thank you for making our service possible.

We of course confront another enemy lurking within our ranks, surfaced by the work of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide. We are weaker, when the experience of leadership and culture falls unevenly across our organisation. When the experience of Air Force service, is life changing, or worse life ending. Suicide and suicidality is a complex and multifaceted challenge, but it’s not a challenge we can resile from.

When we do defeat this scourge, we’ll look back and recognise, that is was the commitment and deliberate effort from all of us, at all levels, in all places and at all times, to create a respectful work environment that treats all aviators with the dignity they deserve. I know you will stand with me, wherever we serve, and commit to overcome this challenge.

I’d like to thank the Secretary and CDF, and my fellow 3-star and Band 3 Officers. It is hard for me imagine a more capable and committed leadership team. Thank you, colleagues, for your collaborative approach in developing integrated solutions to the extraordinarily complex challenges we face every day, and for your friendship to Alyce and I. We look forward to continuing this work with you in the years ahead.

Finally, to my wife Alyce and our sons, Tom, Ollie, Darcy and Charlie. We came into this role conscious of the demands it would place on our family life, but perhaps a little naive to the range of emotions we’d encounter along the way. It’d be a cliché to say I couldn’t do this without you; the reality is, we’ve done it together. My leadership of Air Force has been so much stronger for it. I hope you share my pride. I’m sorry you share my burdens. I am deeply grateful you have shared this experience with me. Thank you.

Two recent events neatly bookend my time as Chief.

Last month I had an opportunity to talk with Air Marshal Ray Funnell, who was Chief of Air Staff when I first joined back in 1989. I asked what his impressions were of our Air Force today. He thought it was extraordinary what we were capable of achieving, and it made him very proud.

A few days later I attended the Bomber Command commemoration at the Australian War Memorial, on a frosty Canberra morning. There were several hundred people including two vets who flew Lancasters in the Second World War, and others from Korea, Vietnam and more recent campaigns in the Middle East.

Two young Australian Air Force Cadets offered a reflection to conclude the ceremony, one noting some commentators question whether Australia’s youth could match the feats and endure the sacrifices of the Golden Generation. Her response to that was unequivocal – ‘move over, we’re ready to lead’.

And so it is for Alyce and I, to move on from leading Air Force, and pass the reigns to Chaps and Melissa. We join Ray Funnell to watch on in awe, with pride and full of confidence in your leadership, and the generations of Air Force leaders to come.

Per Ardua, ad Astra.

Thank you.