There’s much more to the govt’s Defence Capability Plan than the $1bn purchase of C-130J Hercules

Defence Minister Ron Mark has fleshed out more details from the Defence Capability Plan.   These include the government’s approval of spending $56.8m on the Operational and Regulatory Aviation Compliance project from within internal departmental depreciation funding.

This will ensure military aircraft comply with civil and military air traffic management and identification systems, which are necessary to abide by domestic and global regulatory safety and security requirements.

It aligns with the Civil Aviation Authority NZ’s New Southern Sky programme, which will provide new airspace management and air navigation technologies by introducing new standards.  These follow global demands to realise the safety, environmental, social and economic potential of better airspace management.

A project to deliver an Enhanced Maritime Awareness Capability is also under way. Mark says this complementary capability will consider smaller manned aircraft, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) or satellites, for additional maritime surveillance tasks in NZ’s Exclusive Economic Zone and the wider region.  This will free up the P-8As to fly more missions, in the South Pacific and further afield.

Defence is working with more than 20 agencies to identify cost effective recommendations including Police, Customs, Biosecurity New Zealand, DOC and Fisheries.  The government expects to consider initial options later this year.

Mark says progress across a range of air capability projects, and the planned future investments contained in the Defence Capability Plan 2019, reflects the Coalition Government’s defence priorities.  NZDF aircraft allow for a rapid response, ensuring that when called upon for help, NZ can respond, supporting communities, the nation and the world.

While the $1bn order for new Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules (forecast in Monday’s Point of Order) dominates the headlines over the new Defence Capability Plan, there are several important shifts and projects buried in the detail.

The Navy has done well.  The frigates’ lives are being extended, again as forecast, but the Navy says their hulls are sound and the updates being installed in Canada will provide a greater capability than at any time since the 1990s.  They will run into the 2030s with equipment compatible with our friends and allies.

Two new interesting ships will be inducted.  The first, a landing platform dock, priced at $1 billion, will have a much greater uplift capability than HMNZS Canterbury:  it can carry more people, helicopters and equipment.  It will be a game-changer with a docking well and will operate in open and rougher seas beyond the capabilities of Canterbury, which cannot take helicopters in other than flat calm.

The southern ocean patrol ship will be the size of a wartime corvette, based on a commercial design, and will carry civilian agency staff as well as the navy crew.   It will be able to remain within the fishing grounds for greater deployments, freeing-up the two offshore vessels for  South Pacific work.

Studies have begun to identify a new navy helicopter to replace the Kaman SH2G(I) Seasprites in 2027.  They will have upgrades to replace equipment nearing obsolescence.  The only other users are the Egyptian and Polish navies.

Defence is also looking at filling the gap between the high-level P-8A Poseidon surveillance (backed by unmanned platforms) and lower altitudes with options ranging from unmanned vehicles to fixed wing aircraft.  Several options are available based on commercial airliners.

The French-Italian consortium ATR offers a maritime reconnaissance version of its ATR72 airliner as flown by Air NZ.

The “green machine” won’t miss out.  The Army will be expanded to a strength of 6000 with new protected vehicles suited to rugged and hostile terrain.

The Army has long admired the Australian Bushmaster and this may be the choice.  The Plan also sounds the knell of the 2003 ill-starred 200-strong LAV fleet. The Army has a project under way to identify what sort of vehicle is needed, to be in service in 2025 at a cost of $300-600m.

A major project is under way to overhaul logistics support, shifting from a unit level to a national approach as Defence grapples with better management of its assets.

Back to the C-13J-30 proposal which, along with the rest of the Defence Plan, has terrified the Greens.  Negotiations over price and numbers are continuing with Lockheed Martin.

The order will need to be approved though the US Foreign Military Sales programme but this should pose no problems.  Our Defence contacts tell us US-NZ military, naval and air relations are virtually back to pre-Anzus break-up levels.

And the numbers?  We are picking four, based on the great productivity of the chosen version.  As we have already noted, the Norwegian air force decided to replace six C-130H – same the RNZAF’s, with four C-130J-30.


2 thoughts on “There’s much more to the govt’s Defence Capability Plan than the $1bn purchase of C-130J Hercules

  1. I like your commentary but just wanted to correct the LAV purchase figures; 105 LAVs were acquired by the Ministry of Defence for the NZDF, and Army

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Actually $20 billion is nowhere enough to replace lost capabilities that have plagued defence over the last 25 years. NZDF is a hollowed out force now because of political mismanagement by both major political parties and to much kicking of the ball down the line and putting of things in the too hard basket. $30 billion would be much closer to the mark.

    Quantity has a quality of its own especially when low numbers of platforms are acquired. Four P-8A Poseidons are definitely one to short, with five being the minimal number required and six being a more realistic and practical number. Yes they have far greater capabilities than the P-3K2 Orions that they are replacing, but they are also going to be undertaking more roles and taskings than the Orions. What will happen is that four aircraft will be thrashed and we will end up in a similar situation that we had with the SH-2G(NZ) Seasprites.

    When they were acquired during the mid to late 1990s, only five were bought which was not enough aircraft, and subsequent high demand resulted in deferred maintenance in order to complete taskings, reaching the point where aircraft were increasing unserviceable for long periods of time, because the required maintenance wasn’t being done resulting in major systems failures. What exacerbated the situation was that Kaman, the aircraft’s manufacturer, didn’t have a good after sales service and was very lax in the supply of spares etc. So in about 2010 – 2012 the decision had to be made whether or not to undertake a Mid Life Upgrade to replace them. It was decided that it would be better value for money to replace them and we were extremely lucky that the Royal Australian Navy had also bought Seasprites (SH-2G(A)) at the same time. However they were somewhat overly ambitious in their plans for them and wanted to reduce the crew by one which meant one pilot and one tacco (Tactical Coordinator) instead of two pilots and a tacco. So they want a computer control auto hover at low level amongst other things and they were supplying the computer code for some of the modifications. It didn’t work and proved to be dangerous, so after A$1.5 billion they cancelled the whole project returned the aircraft to and blamed Kaman. We acquired 10 of the 11 aircraft from Kaman for NZ$240 million with Kaman removing the RAN mods that were causing the problems.

    If / when we require extra P-8A we won’t be able to acquire them because Boeing is closing the production line in the near future and it is close to finishing ordering long lead items which are generally order about two years before they are required for installation in the aircraft. That’s why the P-8s were ordered last year and not in 2023 as originally planned. The enhanced maritime surveillance capability could be a combination of anything from a Beechcraft King B350i with a maritime search radar and electro-optical turret through to satellite surveillance and a H / MALE RPAS (High / Medium Altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted Airborne System).

    The Enhanced Sealift Vessel hasn’t been determined to be a LPD yet. They’ve only used an LPD as an example and the only advantage that an LPD has over HMNZS Canterbury is the well dock. Most LPD’s only have two landing spots for helicopters. However if a LHD (HMAS Canberra is an example) is selected then four of five landing spots for helicopters are available and the ship is more versatile. The indicated budget suggest something along those lines.

    Because the C-130J-30 Hercules are being acquired through FMS (Foreign Military Sales), the negotiations are govt to govt, so the NZ Govt negotiates with the US Govt regarding price, availability, everything and, from memory, it means that we acquire them at the same price the USAF does. It also means that we can tap into the USAF / USN logistics system as well if we need to. Same with the P-8A.


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