Ardern govt surprised by news of Aussie decision to buy nuclear subs and form new security partnership

What do you do when your neighbour goes nuclear?

The Ardern  government will be tackling that question after being taken aback by news the Australians are to buy US nuclear attack submarines and will form a new trilateral security partnership to be called AUKUS.

Our Beehive connections tell us PM Jacinda Ardern was briefed by Australian PM Scott Morrison last night.

We are tempted to say these developments confirm how far NZ has slipped off the map in terms of a regional defence power. Our contacts say the Beehive is still grappling with how come NZ wasn’t consulted about the new security partnership – or even invited.

Canberra will acquire several Virginia Class nuclear attack submarines. A $A90 billion plan to buy French nuclear submarines and convert them to diesel-electric power will be abandoned. Continue reading “Ardern govt surprised by news of Aussie decision to buy nuclear subs and form new security partnership”

Aussie ministers head overseas on defence and security mission – their Kiwi counterparts seem to prefer foreign affairs via Zoom

Australia’s defense and foreign affairs ministers have begun a four-nation tour to press economic and security relationships within the Asia-Pacific region as tensions rise with China.

Peter Dutton and Marise Payne are visiting Indonesia, India and South Korea and will  end their travels in the United States.  In Washington DC they hope to conclude a raft of major defence and strategic agreements, including the provision of new missile technology.

This raises the question of New Zealand’s Defence Minister, Peeni Henare, and his handling of those sorts of issues.  Apart from issuing the occasional media statement, he seems to be missing in action.

True, he does have other portfolios – Minister of Whanau Ora and associate minister of Health, Housing and Tourism.  Beehive insiders say he seems to pay little attention to the Defence portfolio.

As with his mentor, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, he is said to be reluctant to travel.  This  seems at odds with the demands of both portfolios because each of them requires a network of personal contacts, which is impossible to sustain by Zoom. Continue reading “Aussie ministers head overseas on defence and security mission – their Kiwi counterparts seem to prefer foreign affairs via Zoom”

From Covid lockdown to Kabul – Hercules takes off on evacuation mission

It’s out of the Covid frying pan in Auckland and into the fire of Afghanistan for a  Defence Force deployment charged with evacuating Kiwi nationals and Afghan allies from that benighted country.

We learned of this from a Stuff account of the PM’s 1pm Covid-19 press conference, when she said Cabinet had approved up to 80 personnel to support the international response.

According to Stuff, an Air Force C130 Hercules departed Auckland at about 10.20am today, carrying some of the contingent. Continue reading “From Covid lockdown to Kabul – Hercules takes off on evacuation mission”

The Herculean challenge of getting the RNZAF into the skies

The Point of Order team was wondering why it took the RNZAF so long to ready an aircraft for the Afghan mission.

One of our contacts provided this information:

The problem is that the air force has only three out of five Hercules in service (one of them only recently back from an extended operational training exercise in the US).  Two are in long-term maintenance at Blenheim.

Currently there are no active Boeing 757s. One of these is in heavy maintenance in Christchurch while the other is grounded without engines at Whenuapai, awaiting new engines being recycled from a US boneyard  It seems the air force had been unable to secure regular supplies because of Covid and the demand for freighter engines.

Then there is the question of pilots. Some of the 757 and Hercules pilots are undergoing training on the new Boeing P-8A Poseidons and the air force has not, in recent years, been over-endowed with aircrew.

As if that wasn’t challenge enough for the air force, the government is under pressure from Finance Minister Grant Robertson to strip around $4 billion from the long-term defence capability programme.

Money is tight for some things on Ardern’s watch – her Defence Minister has signalled a fiscal assault on military spending

Labour  Defence  Minister  Peeni Henare  has  signalled the  government  is  planning  to  trim   the defence  budget.  He says Covid-19 means the Budget is now much tighter and defence will look different under Labour than it did under its coalition with NZ First.   

This  comes as  Australia, New Zealand’s primary ally,  is pursuing a defence strategy aimed at countering the rise of China, while warning that Australia faces regional challenges on a scale not seen since World War II.  

Australia is  re-equipping  its  armed  forces  with a  10-year  budget  of  $A270m. But  for NZ, the  planned $20bn outlay on  new defence equipment  is the latest Covid-19 casualty, with a range of options to scale it down now before the finance minister.

The major investment in a range of new military hardware and upgrade was announced by former Defence Minister and NZ First MP Ron Mark in 2019 .

Henare says that when he got the job last year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern “was quite clear that she wanted Labour, us, to put our fingerprint on defence”, but what that looks like would be influenced by Covid-19. Continue reading “Money is tight for some things on Ardern’s watch – her Defence Minister has signalled a fiscal assault on military spending”

What is Turkey’s President Erdogan up to in Armenia?

The recent flare-up of fighting in the south Caucasus is nasty.  After the break up of the Soviet Union, Armenians and Azerbaijanis fought an unpleasant war over the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh with casualties of around 100,000 and one million displaced.

Armenia prevailed then. Now Azerbaijan, with the help of Turkey, is having another go. And this is not just your regular military-supplies-and-observers assistance.  It looks like unemployed jihadists from the Syrian wars have been bought in as mercenaries.

Of course there is more history to this than can be dealt with in 700 words (try The History of Armenia by Simon Payaslian if interested). Turkey’s tensions with Armenia and its support for Turkic neighbour Azerbaijan are longstanding; ditto for difficulties in its relationship with Russia, to whom Armenia is most likely to turn in extremis.

But even as a ceasefire is being patched together, it still leaves open the prior question of ‘why this and why now’?

Continue reading “What is Turkey’s President Erdogan up to in Armenia?”

The SAS, its role and its place within the NZDF – or who controls the chicken stranglers?

We seek the indulgence of readers of a delicate disposition to bear with us for a moment as we dip into what some call crude soldiery and examine some important aspects revealed in the Arnold-Palmer report into Operation Burnham. We know this concerned the NZ Special Air Service in actions in Afghanistan and drew the attention of writers Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager.

In certain parts of the Army, the Special Air Service is known as the “chicken stranglers”. Some believe there is a connection with SAS training .  Others maintain this is simply vulgar and far from the refined reality of the service.

In their deliberations on issues raised in the Stephenson-Hager book, Sir Terence and Sir Geoffrey considered the role of the SAS and where it sat within the New Zealand Defence Force hierarchy and its accountability.

This raises a bigger question: the role of the SAS and how its persuasive proponents over the years have persuaded successive ministers.

There’s nothing like a brisk exercise at SAS HQ when the gallant warriors break into a mock hostage confinement and spring the witnesses to safety in an impressive son et lumiere performance. More funding for special facilities? No problem.

Sir Geoffrey and Sir Arnold pointed to a structural problem which played some part in the way that the Operation Burnham saga unfolded. This was the place of the SAS within the NZDF organisational setup.

The Directorate of Special Operations was located in NZDF Headquarters rather than with the Joint Forces Command at Trentham, and operated to a large extent within a silo.

“It appears that the Director of Special Operations regularly briefed the Minister of Defence directly (rather than through the Chief of Defence Force) and, as a practical matter, seems to have had direct access to the Prime Minister and other ministers, particularly the Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he thought it necessary.”

The report records an exchange between Kristy McDonald QC, counsel assisting the inquiry, and former Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General (Retired) Tim Keating, who was asked:

 And you were then Chief of Staff to the CDF when the Operation Burnham unfolded, so you knew about the Operation presumably at the time?

He replied:

 “Not necessarily in my role, Chief of Staff to the CDF was more administrative. So various operations throughout that time were compartmentalised for security reasons and matters, operations of that nature were sometimes need to know and only certain people in the Defence Force were included in the briefings.”

Then vice chief of defence force, Air Marshal Kevin Short, made a similar point. Matters involving the NZSAS were held tightly by CDF, the Directorate of Special Operations, and the Commanding Officer of the NZSAS. That closed command structure was well entrenched, having been in place for decades, he said.

“These observations reflect a culture of exclusivity and secrecy associated with the NZSAS as an elite special operations force. This culture resulted in NZDF overly compartmenting information.”

Operational command was delegated to the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand. That was a stronger command authority and responsibility than the technical control assigned to the Director of Special Operations.

“Yet it is apparent that information about NZSAS operations in Afghanistan went through the Director of Special Operations, and that he had effective decision-making responsibility.

“The performance of the Directorate of Special Operations was one of the problems highlighted by Dr Jonathan Coleman (former defence minister) in June/July 2014, when the Incident Assessment Team Executive Summary came to light and the Minister expressed his displeasure at NZDF’s record-keeping failures.”

In further evidence, Lt Gen Keating said he changed the existing organisational structure in an effort to address the problems that had emerged. He moved all special forces operations to the control of the Commander Joint Forces, who was located at Trentham rather than at NZDF Headquarters.

He considered that running such operations out of NZDF Headquarters was inappropriate because there were no systems there to handle the wealth of documentation that came in.

On occasion, the NZSAS are called on to carry out dangerous operations in hostile conflict areas. Being too open about their activities may place them in danger. Much of what they do depends on the element of surprise and the conditions in which they operate are challenging, with the constant prospect of casualties, Sir Geoffrey and Sir Terence wrote.

Despite the need for some security constraints, however, it seems possible that a policy of greater openness with regard to information about NZDF’s activities could be adopted, including as to the activities of the NZSAS.

“The special tactics, techniques and procedures that provide the NZSAS with an operational edge must be protected. Yet when they are deployed in New Zealand’s name because of policy choices made by the Government, there must be some transparency concerning their actions.

“The NZSAS are the forces of New Zealand. What they do engages New Zealand’s cultural, legal and reputational interests and will be relevant to all New Zealanders. The tasks they perform must accord with New Zealand public opinion as to what is appropriate for our forces operating abroad.”

So, it appears that the NZSAS is coming under closer operational scrutiny from within the overall joint command structure, although Sir Terence and Sir Geoffrey agree it will be the task of the current minister to ensure this happens.




Operation Burnham report finds “Hit & Run” served society by holding important people to account

They blew authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson out of the water for several claims in the book Hit & Run on SAS operations in Afghanistan.  They gave a harsh serve to the NZ Defence Force, several senior officers and a minister.

But what did Sir Terence Arnold and Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who conducted the inquiry into Operation Burnham, think of the book?

“Hit & Run is a collaboration between two investigative journalists, of whom one, Mr Jon Stephenson, provided most of the sources and the other, Mr Nicky Hager, did most of the writing. The authors relied on a variety of sources from both New Zealand and Afghanistan,” they reported.

“Although the authors succeeded in uncovering a considerable amount of factual material, they inevitably fell into error, especially in relation to the operation at the heart of the book: Operation Burnham. This is not surprising as the authors had to place heavy reliance on leaks and did not have access to the extensive intelligence, planning and operational material relating to the operation.

“The book does not attempt to present a dispassionate account of what happened on Operation Burnham or the other operations it discusses. It makes serious allegations about the conduct of NZSAS personnel, claiming that they were out to seek revenge on the operations and deliberately and without justification destroyed houses in the villages of Khak Khuday Dad and Naik. Continue reading “Operation Burnham report finds “Hit & Run” served society by holding important people to account”

Watchdog is proposed to keep a check on NZDF – but ‘Hit & Run’ authors take a drubbing, too

Like the proverbial All Black test match, the nearly 400-page Arnold-Palmer report into the Special Air Services actions in Afghanistan, is very much a game of two halves.

In the first half, Sir Terence Arnold and Sir Geoffrey Palmer literally blow authors Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager out of the water for their claims in their book Hit & Run about the SAS conduct of the raids.  In the second they rightly chastise the NZ Defence Force over what can best be described as muddied, incompetent maladministration and misleading briefings to ministers.

For the first half, take this example:

”  …  the principal allegations in Hit & Run about the conduct of TF81 personnel (the SAS troopers) on Operations Burnham and Nova are not accurate.

“First, the operations were not revenge operations; nor were they ‘ill-conceived’.

“There were legitimate reasons for them—there was reliable intelligence indicating there were insurgents in the villages who had been conducting attacks in Bamyan province (where the NZ provincial reconstruct team was based) and who were planning further attacks on the NZPRT and Afghan security forces. The operations aimed to disrupt the insurgent network and improve security in Bamyan province. Continue reading “Watchdog is proposed to keep a check on NZDF – but ‘Hit & Run’ authors take a drubbing, too”

Inglorious history can teach us about heroism

We prefer our heroes untarnished.  And few match the heroism of Winston Churchill.  But a recent report in the Times reminds us of the inevitability of human frailty and the consequences of keeping it under wraps.

During the second world war, Britain’s greatest single loss of life at sea was the sinking on 8 June 1940 of the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her escorting destroyers Ardent and Acasta as they returned home from a failed expedition to Norway.  There were 40 survivors from 1,559 crewmen. Continue reading “Inglorious history can teach us about heroism”