Today the New Zealand Defence Force unveiled its Capability Plan, which comprises the capital expenditures necessary for the Defence Force to function over the next 15-20 years. The Capability Plan includes announcements already made about acquisitions such as the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and the just announced C-130J replacements for the existing C-130H Hercules. It also signals the direction that future spending priorities will take, with preliminary plans to replace various Navy ships and Army vehicles also provided for.
Some of the money has already been allocated, such as that for the P-8 Poseidon and C-130J aircraft. Much of the remainder is in future budgets, the exact size and timing of which will be determined by the Government of the day.
But perhaps the most interesting feature is the announcement of new types of equipment likely to be purchased. Acknowledging their ability to patrol vast areas remotely, gather data and – if needed – deliver a rocket to any intruder that refuses to make haste leaving, drones appear to be a potential future asset. No budget or timetable or details on the type/s of drones likely to be purchased have yet been announced.
Otherwise much of the Capability Plan appears to be about overhauling the equipment that provide existing capabilities or replacing it. Items in line for replacement include the controversial Light Armoured Vehicle III types purchased by the Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark, the Prinzgauer jeeps. The Royal New Zealand Navy frigates H.M.N.Z.S. Te Kaha and Te Mana are in line for replacement sometime in the 2030’s, having just had a substantial overhaul of their systems in Canada.
An acknowledgement of the growing range of situations the New Zealand Defence Force is likely to find itself thrust into is perhaps shown by the announcement that the Army will probably grow to 6,000 personnel. That would be about 50% of all New Zealand Defence Force personnel if 2017 numbers are maintained. Acknowledging that with the growth of the Army, the Navy and Air Force may find themselves in an expanded range of situations as well, I suspect their numbers might increase slightly to enable those two services to contribute effectively.
I think the by passing of the tendering process was a mistake, as there were other options available for the C-130H replacement type. They included the Boeing C-17, Airbus A400M and Kawasaki C-2. The former all but ruled itself out due to size and possible cost if a plane-by-plane replacement was done. The other two are medium size transport aircraft.
Two other interesting things to watch will be what the LAV III’s and frigates are replaced with. As the frigates have had a systems upgrade they are not likely to be replaced until at least 2030. The LAV III’s on the other hand will need replacing sometime in the next few years.
All in all, an interesting time to be in the New Zealand Defence Force. And a timely acknowledgement that the strategic situation around us is unfortunately not the benign environment envisaged by former Prime Minister Helen Clark back in 2000.