Defence Minister Ron Mark will unveil the latest Defence Capability Plan tomorrow. Our various contacts expect it to be a significant document affirming an on-going positive approach to NZ defence policy involving expenditure of $20bn out to 2030.
The plan is expected to reaffirm the Pacific Reset programme announced by Foreign Minister Winston Peters – and spelled out again in his recent Pacific foray.
There will be big-ticket items: a replacement for the 50-year-old RNZAF Hercules, a new dedicated southern ocean offshore patrol vessel and a downgrading of the inshore patrol fleet, new IED-proofed armoured vehicles for the Army and a shift into unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for both maritime surveillance and tactical use to complement the vast intelligence-gathering resources of the RNZAF’s new Boeing P-8A Poseidons, due in service from 2023.
An emphasis on special forces’ operations is expected.
Our contacts believe the plan will reinforce the need for inter-operability with friends and allies and signal a further shift into IT warfare to harness the flow of new information. This will require new resources by way of trained staff. It is likely to indicate the need to replace the RNZAF’s Boeing 757s within a decade – and the need to find a new strategic airlift capability. Our contacts indicate contract negotiations are still under way on the Hercules replacement.
While Boeing, which now has a commercial interest in Brazil’s Embraer company, has pushed Emb. KC390 twin engine tactical transport, the C-130J is the likely choice, a point underscored by the need for “inter-operability”. The only customers for the KC390 to date are the Brazilian air force and Portugal’s modest air force – the latter reflecting the long political, language and cultural links between the two countries.
The plan should be greeted with enthusiasm and relief in Canberra, London (which recently ordered the P-8A) and Washington as it signals a positive approach to defence policy by the Coalition Government.
Its acceptance by the Cabinet represents a significant milestone for ministers Peters and Mark – and a difficult target for the Opposition.