The $2.34 billion order for four P-8A Poseidons to replace the RNZAF’s 1966-model P-3 Orions is the icing on the cake for the NZDF is the light of last week’s defence review.
NZ First may last only one election cycle but Defence Minister Ron Mark and Foreign Minister Winston Peters will go down as having produced what many in defence circles believe to be the most clear-eyed defence assessment in 40 years. It also cements defence relations with Australia and the US.
The decision to outlay such a large chunk of the defence budget on military planes has been strongly opposed by the Green Party and elements in the Labour Party, but it underlines the political power of NZ First, and in particular Winston Peters. He has wielded his political muscle to drive through a policy which has important ramifications both for the continuing operations of the NZ Defence Force but for the alliances which military experts regard as vital for the defence of NZ.
Due in service in 2023, the Poseidons represent the first tranche in the review of defence capabilities due at year’s end.
Mark said this would include consideration of smaller manned aircraft, remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) or satellites for additional maritime surveillance tasks within New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone and near region. This will free up the P-8A fleet to fly more missions, in the South Pacific and further afield.
No 5 Squadron will move to Ohakea with its new Posiedons because Whenuapai’s runways are too short and insufficiently strong to allow the P-8A to operate at maximum weights. This will bring another boost to the Manawatu regional economy.
Canberra is buying six Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton remotely piloted aircraft for $A1.4 billion which includes a A$200 million programme with the US Navy for development, production, and sustainment of the aircraft. The Triton will complement the surveillance role of the Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft.
Canberra, Washington and London have welcomed the Defence review with its clear-eyed assessment of threats and challenges. It strips away the obfuscation and circumlocution of earlier assessments by naming some of the key parties, Russia and China, affirming what many in defence, intelligence and foreign policy community have worried about for years.
Last weekend Australia’s retiring Chief of Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin warned of the consequences of militarising the South China Sea. In doing so, he said, Beijing misled its neighbours by asserting its peaceful intentions.
Point of Order has already detailed the challenges ahead for Foreign Minister Peters in balancing China and the United States. He is up to the task. Observers say his recent forays into Asia went down well with traditional friends, including Tokyo. Many of these have been concerned at NZ’s drift into a too-friendly association with China.