In a couple of weeks Defence Minister Ron Mark will unveil the next update in the government’s defence capability plan. This is expected to flesh out some of the basic information provided in last Thursday’s budget, which earmarked $5.06bn for defence, a substantial 23% increase over the budgeted 2018-19 defence allocation of $4.11bn.
A major item is expected to be the replacement for the RNZAF’s Lockheed Hercules.
The Lockheed Martin C-130J is the choice of the NZ Defence Force despite the attractions of other candidates, including the Embraer KC390 turbo-fan and the Japanese Kawasaki C-2. Both are new and as Point of Order has explained before, the NZDF is reluctant to choose a new type which isn’t operated by the country’s closest allies.
Of most interest is the number. The RNZAF would prefer five but this may be reduced to four. Options include selecting a mix of the standard C-130J with similar dimensions to the current models – or the C-130J-30, 4.6 metres longer. Interestingly, the Royal Norwegian Air Force ordered four C-130J-30 to replace six elderly Hercules, the same model as flown by the RNZAF.
In the budget, the Vote Defence Force – which includes salaries, training costs, and military preparedness – received $4.29bn, 18% higher than the previous year. The major increase came in Vote Defence, which provides funding for the purchase, modification, or refurbishment of major items of defence equipment for the NZDF, which received $766m, a 63% increase over the $470m provided last year.
Major items in Vote Defence Force include $916m for the army, $907m for the air force, and $493m for the navy. It includes $1.3bn for capital expenditures (up 74%) for the purchase or development of assets.
Vote Defence spending for 2019-20 receives funding for several procurement priorities, most notably NZ’s the introduction of four Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrollers to replace the long serving Orion fleet. They were ordered in July 2018 at a projected cost of $2.34bn, with payments spread over fiscal years until 2026. The first will arrive in 2022 and detailed planning is already under way with training to be provided by a US Navy P-8 training squadron.
The Defence plan may give further indications on the Navy’s fleet. Its new ice-strengthened tanker/replenishment vessel is due in service next year while the new advanced dive and hydrographic vessel HMNZS Manawanui enters service later in the year.
It may spell the end of the four Lake-Class inshore patrol vessels which have not met expectations and are likely to be sold. There will be provision for another offshore patroller which have proven adaptable.
The two RNZN frigates Te Kaha and Te Mana are both out of service undergoing a major refit by Lockheed Martin in Canada under a major $700m refit and installtion of new systems.
Minister Mark and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters – in steering through this substantial Defence spending (long overdue according to many senior officers) -have further underlined the significant impact they have made in Cabinet.
The government, again with Peters and Mark in the vanguard, is also expected to extend NZDF current deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan in support of allies, despite calls from some on the Left to end these engagements.