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.

 

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.

 

The slow (and overdue) withdrawal from Iraq


After several years in a country few New Zealanders know much about, the New Zealand Defence Force personnel are to be withdrawn in phases from Iraq. The announcement comes in the wake of the end of major operations against the Islamic State (Daesh), whose forces have been largely destroyed following a savage campaign across several countries to establish an Islamic Caliphate.

The conflict in Iraq has had no relevance to New Zealand. The conflict came about as a result of the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which saw its ethnic minorities freed from the yoke of a regime that inflicted harrowing crimes against them. With an authoritarian regime no longer there a bloody and brutal sectarian war began to engulf the Shia and Sunni religious sects.

Taking advantage of the internal chaos, having unpopular foreign forces on ground considered holy to Muslims, the Daesh began to expand through Iraq and Syria. Their advance was brutal and where ever they went atrocities were committed – old churches and mosques not considered to be pure were demolished, Yazidi women were sold into slavery.

Against the concern that the Daesh could form an Islamic Caliphate spanning Middle Eastern countries with Shariah law, western nations began forming a flimsy alliance with the Kurds and other groups. It was not co-ordinated well. Supposed western allies such as Turkey objected to what they viewed as preferential treatment towards groups they dislike (in Turkey’s case the Kurds). Gradually though the Daesh were pushed back in long bloody battles that have cost tens of thousands of lives, caused untold damage and suffering and the loss of historic monuments, artefacts and other things of cultural importance.

Among all of this has been a New Zealand mission at Taji, where they have been training members of the Iraqi Security Forces. According to Newstalk ZB 44,000 I.S.F. members have been trained at Taji where New Zealand forces worked alongside Australian forces.

New Zealand forces will remain in Afghanistan for sometime longer yet. In a country where no foreign power has ever quite understood the geopolitical forces at work, it has been declared important that the continued training of Afghanistan soldiers and army officers continue to be undertaken by New Zealand personnel. Accordingly a reduced mandate has been allowed to continue until the end of 2020.

I think New Zealanders will be pleased to see the Defence Force down scaling its Middle East operations. In a region where New Zealand has little influence and few strategic interests, it is questionable what we can or should gain from operating in a “Hey there! look at me – I’m from New Zealand!” approach that effectively begs Daesh or whoever else may target New Zealand to take notice. In time we will withdraw from Afghanistan too, and hopefully before any further lives are lost. Eight New Zealanders have died in combat roles in Afghanistan since the N.Z.D.F. was first deployed there following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks:

  • Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, Private Richard Harris and Corporal Luke Tamatea – K.I.A., 19 August 2012
  • Lance Corporal Leon Smith – K.I.A., 28 September 2011
  • Corporal Doug Grant – K.I.A., 18 August 2011
  • Lance Corporal Rory Malone, Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer – K.I.A., 5 August 2011
  • Lieutenant Timothy O’Donnell

In addition two more have been killed in non combat actions whilst serving in Afghanistan. They are Corporal Douglas Hughes and Private Kirifi Mila.

 

 

The challenge posed by Lethal Autonomous Weapons


There are several significant challenges that are posed to the campaign against L.A.W.’s. One of these is that right now, already in significant and growing numbers across several nations are military drones used for surveillance and destroying targets from a distance. These are generally referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (U.A.V.’s)and include various American models such as Global Hawk, Reaper, Predator, Grey Eagle and others.

However I am talking about a type of weapon that is likely to start appearing in the near future. I cannot quite envisage what one would look like, but I would assume it to be like a drone or – possibly later on – an upright robot, with lethal capability, that can function without human input. And these are not some imagined weapon system inspired by science fiction so much as an ethically questionable and soon to be taken next step from the development of U.A.V.’s as military weapon systems.

Drones have a controversial record in terms of military applications. Their soaring use in Somalia, Yemen and also around Pakistan and Afghanistan by the United States military has been raising questions for years. President’s George W. Bush, Barak Obama and now Donald Trump have all escalated their use in the absence of conventional air power for dealing with targets. Tragically a large number of strikes have ended disastrously with civilians targetted at funerals, weddings and on family holidays, and not surprisingly the Governments of the nations where these strikes have occurred have strongly remonstrated with the operators of the drones – almost exclusively the United States military.

New Zealand has an interest as a nation of peace in ensuring we have no part in the development of what I expect will be a weapons system that even on its best day will find itself a foul of international law. L.A.W.’s represent a move into a future type of warfare where man is not the actual combatant any longer and that his ability to make battle field specific decisions will be increasingly done by machines.

From 3,000 kilometres away at the moment, a controller in the U.S. Airforce or Army will be watching a target with a view to determining whether or not an assassination strike is feasible. They will be making a split second judgement on whether to permit the drone to fire a Hellfire rocket that a split second later explodes in a fireball as it crashes into a target that might be a car, a house or some sort of armoured vehicle. There might be children playing in the streets, or people at the market buying food. The drone controller can instruct the drone to pull back and way further instructions. For a terminator the difference might not be much, but it is potentially disastrous. From 3,000 kilometres away or more, a controller at a computer will be watching really high resolution imagery being fed to them by the camera on the device. They will be able to see everything including the potential target. It sees a potential suspect outside a house with contacts. They are doing something, and there are children kicking a football around. Too close, but how will they tell the L.A.W. to not fire its weapon?

L.A.W.’s are coming and they represent an extremely dangerous development in military drone technology. There is a closing window of time to build up a coalition of nations that refuse to have anything to do with them. The military industrial complex will not be happy and nor will some politicians both in domestic and international circles, but do we honestly really need to add L.A.W.’s to human-kinds already dreadfully diverse array of killing people?

I think not.