US military chief in New Zealand


The United States Secretary of Defense is visiting New Zealand just days after being appointed to the position. Mark Esper, who replaces former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine General James Mattis is on a five nation trip where conversations will most likely centre around Iran and China.

Whilst so early in the set, I cannot imagine Mr Esper immediately wanting concessions from New Zealand, I do not want New Zealand to be involved in another U.S. military misadventure. New Zealand might be – and should be – friends with the United States, but keeping a bit of distance. I am quite sure most New Zealanders want nothing to do with a potential war against Iran that will most likely achieve at best significantly worsening U.S relations with the Muslim world.

At best a war with Iran will be limited to the United States and Iran. The latter would probably use its considerable special forces to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, and the Iranian backed militias might launch a rocket barrage at Israel. A greater fear is whether Russia decides to become involved or not. Russia could simply move military assets into Iran or Syria without actually using them as a warning to the United States. But Russian military commanders and politicians have at times made ominous references that a war against Iran would be a catastrophe. At worst it could result in a Russian military response against American forces – at which point a nuclear confrontation is not out of the question.

Perhaps more immediately problematic for New Zealand is China’s growing military assertiveness. It has built an artificial island in the Spratley Islands with an airfield and facilities for ships to dock at. China has since stationed military patrol and combat aircraft there. As vital shipping lanes pass through these waters on the way to/from various nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines, the United States has sought to dissuade China from further expansion.

China’s military expansion is dangerous because it is aligned with more subtle moves such as massive investment in countries around the world. Some critics argue China is literally buying up other nations by establishing Government owned companies that then set up operations in other countries and buy their way into major assets – in Westland recently a dairy company was sold to a Chinese Government controlled company.

New Zealand sees this in Fiji and other small Pasifika nations. A few months ago there was a controversy about a resort being built on Fiji and the destruction of large tracts of coral reef to enable boat access to the resort. When locals and New Zealand expatriates living there tried to remonstrate the owners got aggressive and there were scuffles. Other countries such as Tonga have significant debt to China, which has led to concerns about Beijing’s attempts to extract leverage. And in Vanuatu, although both countries denied reports, there were suggestions that China has been looking for a place to establish a military base.

Whilst New Zealand needs to be careful not to anger either the U.S. or China, it needs to be clear that the south Pacific is the chief domain of New Zealand and Australia. More than it does either of them, the well being of these little island nations is paramount to our well being.

The dreadful legacy of the mushroom clouds


It was 1973 and two Royal New Zealand Navy frigates had gone to Mururoa Atoll to protest the French nuclear testing programme. They were part of 217 French tests conducted between 1960 when France first acquired nuclear weapons and 1996, when after considerable international pressure a resumption of French testing at Mururoa was stopped.

More than 45 years later, the descendants of those on board the New Zealand ships who observed the nuclear tests have raised concerns that they and their children have developed symptoms that could only have been caused by fallout. One, a lady who was born after her father sailed to Mururoa, says that her children have developed deformities and other medical issues that are most likely to be caused from ionizing radiation. She was born after her father observed testing. Her siblings born before her father went to Mururoa have not shown any of the symptoms and nor have their children.

So how does New Zealand compare with veterans from other countries?

A nuclear veteran is someone who was affected by ionizing radiation released in a nuclear weapons test. World wide they include people from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Australia and New Zealand. In Russia and China it is unlikely that any of the veterans are eligible for any compensation or acknowledgement of their conditions. Thousands of military personnel in both countries would have been involved in the tests, and many thousands more would have been exposed to radiation downwind. In the United States following an investigation, it was announced that veterans there would be eligible for priority enrolment in radiation treatment programmes. They would also be eligible for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. It has been amended several times to include those downwind from an explosion and to broaden the geographical areas of eligibility. Thus far U.S.$2 billion has been paid out in compensation. In the United Kingdom, veterans took their case to the Supreme Court and lost, with hope now hinging on the use of D.N.A. to link their claims to nuclear testing. Of 22,000 who served only 3,000 are still alive.

One uncle of mine sailed on a Royal New Zealand Navy ship to observe nuclear testing. He did not believe he had contracted anything, and none of his children or grandchildren have contracted anything. I am not sure exactly when he observed nuclear testing.

Veteran Affairs covers the veterans who went to Mururoa. However it does nothing for the descendants of them or their children. Of the members of a group of Mururoa veterans, roughly 40% of them have children or grand children with unexplained conditions. They were never told what the radiation might do to their bodies.

The New Zealand Government owes these men and their families:

  1. An apology for the harm done
  2. Tests to see if any of the alleged symptoms can be linked to fallout from entering a highly radioactive area
  3. Immediate compensation for the veterans
  4. Testing for descendants of the veterans

They have waited too long to get this and future generations of their children have a right to know why they are more prone to cancers and other symptoms.

 

Second firearms overhaul announced


The Government has announced the impending second tranche of firearms legislation. The announcement was made following the second of several gun amnesty collection days to recover firearms that had been made illegal in the wake of the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks.

When the Government announced its plans for dealing wit New Zealand’s arsenal of military grade automatic and semi-automatic weapons, it was intended to happen in two phases. The first, immediate phase, would quickly end the legality to own weapons such as the AR-15 which was used in the Christchurch terrorist attacks. This was the emergency legislation that was pushed through Parliament at speed in March and was enforceable by the end of the same month.

Because a lot of New Zealanders are unaware of Parliamentary process there was a perception that the Government intended to confiscate peoples firearms without whim or reason. This was despite the government being clear that it was intended to be a temporary stop gap measure whilst more comprehensive legislation was drafted. The perception, which was rumoured to have been enabled by American firearm lobbyists, was coldly met by politicians from both sides of Parliament with the exception of A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour.

It would be followed by the much more comprehensive and permanent legislation that would set in law a tighter regime around the acquisition and ownership of such firearms. In the meantime there would be amnesty days up and down the country where people with firearms that had been banned could be surrendered to the Police at drop off points. The owners of the guns being surrendered would be given an indication as to how much they would receive in financial compensation for handing them over.

The Police acknowledge that there are many guns that they probably do not know about. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 potentially illegal firearms are thought to be circulating within New Zealand.

The new laws will target those with criminal histories; people with mental health issues including those who might have tried to use a gun to kill themselves. Those who are espousing open violence against society or particular individuals or groups of individuals are also likely to be seen as a red flag to Police when issuing gun licences. A firearms register will be established by the Police, and the cost of maintaining the firearms licencing office will be better offset by changes in the cost of licencing. New offences and the matching penalties are also likely to be added.

This time there will be a select committee period lasting three months. There will be substantial time for firearm advocates and firearm safety advocates to get their messages into submissions and prepare for hearings in front of the Select Committee. This was, contrary to the honest beliefs of some, always intended to happen – there was never any intention to block the permanent tranche of legislation from public scrutiny.

C-130 Hercules replacement reveals flaws in purchase


It has emerged that one of the key purchases unveiled in the Defence Force priorities a couple of weeks ago has significant short comings that may affect its ability to meet all of the Royal New Zealand Air Force requirements. There are several distinct short comings in the C-130J-30  purchase, which was announced by Minister for Defence, Ron Mark a couple of weeks ago.

So, what are the short comings of the C-130J?

  1. The plane is unable to carry the LAVIII  that is in use with the New Zealand Army, unless it has been disassembled, which is time consuming, and the only other options for transporting it are put it on H.M.N.Z.S. Canterbury, which means a considerably slower transportation time or ask the Royal Australian Air Force (R.A.A.F.) to transport it for us
  2. The C130-J30  cannot land on damaged runways, which is something the aircraft put forward in rival contenders could do, and which is quite a distinct prospect in the South Pacific where basic infrastructure is at best, poor
  3. It cannot carry the NH-90 helicopter at all, which means they will require in flight refuelling to reach any of our Pacific Island neighbours
  4. It has a shorter range that will limit its time in the air on search and rescue and patrol to a greater extent than its rivals

The alternative aircraft that were mooted as potential replacements to the C-130H were:

  • A400M from Airbus, a turboprop which was my personal preference and which is able to do all of the above functions – more expensive than the C-130J30
  • C-17 from Boeing, which is often seen at Christchurch International Airport in support of the American Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica – the major drawback is that the cost for just two of them was likely to be about $2 billion
  • C-2 from Kawasaki, which is a medium size transporter with similar performance to the A400M, but jet powered and more expensive than the C-130J30

National Party spokesperson for Defence Mark Mitchell was correct to point out that bypassing the tender process was a mistake. Bypassing the tendering process was a significant mistake because formal applications were not taken and instead a less robust process that might not – and in this case DID NOT – lead to a suitable outcome  as among other things the formal criteria that the potential planes had to meet was not properly set out. Nor would it have been as rigorously assessed as it should have been.

This continues where the LAVIII debacle leaves off. A major purchase has been made, ironically by the same Minister, who when New Zealand First spokesperson for Defence in the early part of last decade, actively – and correctly – derided the LAVIII purchase. We are now potentially stuck with a type aircraft that cannot do the tasks we need it too and whose specifications are not fitting with the needs of the New Zealand Defence Force.

 

New Zealand Defence Force Capability Plan unveiled


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.