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.

 

 

Defence white paper a sign of changing times: Part II


Yesterday I mentioned the changing national security environment that New Zealand finds itself in. The national security environment, which just like like the economic, political and social and physical environments which it finds itself increasingly integrated with, evolves in response to a range of inputs. To ensure New Zealand is secure the New Zealand Defence Force must evolve with the environment in which it finds itself operating.

That means being appropriately equipped for the challenges that may arise in that environment. New Zealand has an army, navy and air force. It spends about 1% of its G.D.P. per annum on defence, which is consistent with the last 20 years. Governments have tended to put big purchases until they are absolutely needed, which has led to some equipment now being too old to upgrade any further and more and more prone to failure – cases in point, the aging P-3K Orions and C-130J Hercules aircraft whose proneness to equipment failure requiring emergency services to be on standby are increasing along side the annual maintenance costs.

Whilst the Defence Force has the primary role of protecting New Zealand from attack, it also has a number of other roles:

  1. Disaster relief
  2. Search and Rescue
  3. Assisting authorities in civil emergencies

This is why Minister of Defence Ron Mark has in the last week announced replacements for the P-3K Orions. 4 P-8 Poseidon aircraft based on the much newer 737-800 airframe are to be purchased at a cost of $2 billion. These will be used for maritime patrol, surveillance as well as search and rescue. New Zealand has a large maritime zone to patrol that our small navy will not be able to cover on its own.

I expect in the next year or so that an announcement will be made on the replacement aircraft for the C-130J Hercules, which is based on a 1954 airframe. Front runner and personal favourite is the A400M from Airbus, which has extra carrying capacity, can operate from short runways and on Antarctic ice. Likely cost is around $2 billion.

The Royal New Zealand Navy will in the next decade need to seriously overhaul its two A.N.Z.A.C. class frigates or replace them. H.M.N.Z.S.’s Te Mana and Te Kaha were part of a plan to build three frigates in the 1990’s to replace the outgoing Leander Class ships. Whilst unlikely to be used in fully fledged combat situation, both have participated in United Nations maritime enforcement operations against pirates as well as Ross Sea patrols. Perhaps the major argument against new frigates is the cost – $470 million a piece for the two frigates, which I found questionable whilst knowing cheaper ships with similar capabilities existed then.

The New Zealand Army has 105 L.A.V. III vehicles of Canadian manufacture. The purchase of so many was questionable at the time – and still is today when one considers that only a fraction of them have been used in deployment. The cost at the time was $665 million, and replaced M-113 A.P.C.’s even though the latter still performed the functions expected of them. New Zealand should be open to considering whether we need all of them and whether they still fit our operational requirements.

In light of the instability in the south Pacific with nearly lawless situations existing in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and tensions involving world powers such as China, the ability to deploy N.Z.D.F. assets in the South Pacific should be New Zealand’s biggest external priority.

Whatever happens New Zealand needs to maintain the ability to operate with Australian Defence Force assets, as those of our longest and most immediate ally. Whilst there are differences in terms of priorities, Australia understands that the protection of the south Pacific is a major security as well as the place where peace time operations such as disaster relief and surveillance are likely to be performed.

There will always be a need for a Defence Force, contrary to what some on the left think. Our military is also not just a fighting force as I have mentioned above. It performs a variety of peace time roles as well and we owe it to our servicemen and women to make sure the armed forces they serve us so well in are appropriately equipped for the future.

A.N.Z.A.C. Day not a glorification of war


On Wednesday morning, thousands of people all over New Zealand gathered in the pre-dawn darkness to attend the Dawn Service, acknowledging the sacrifices made by the New Zealand Defence Force. They gathered to remember those that had gone to war and never came home, those that fought and came home bearing both physical and mental scars. They came to say thanks.

But they did not come to glorify war.

Across all of the ceremonies I have been to in Christchurch, not one struck me as vaguely promoting war or militarism. Not one failed to mention the horrendous loss of life and the effects on society that are felt from having lost so many people.

So, whilst we see plenty of coverage about our soldiers going away in the two world wars and fighting on foreign battlefields, I do not believe that there has been any effort to downplay the losses. This is irrespective of whether they happened on the sun baked slopes of Gallipoli, in the muddy hell of Passchendaele, the Somme, Verdun, Cambrai. It is irrespective of whether they died in the skies above Britain, at sea fighting the Germans or Japanese or in the Mediterranean theatre.

All of the ceremonies set an appropriate tone, sombre and respectful. The high losses suffered are shown in the number of war memorials all over New Zealand from little towns through to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and so forth.

One concern I had was upon finding out decades ago that World War 1 was also the “Great War”. It did not bother me so much until I started to question what I was taught about the war and whether those teachings were honest. On the whole I think my education has been relatively honest about New Zealand’s involvement in the wars. When I saw the phrase “Great War” several years ago, I asked and it was explained to me that the name is not from any descriptor seeking to make the war look good or grand in any way, but a simple acknowledgement that the scale of the destruction in the countries affected had – until World War 2 – no parallel.

I am further assured by the words of General TIm Keating, Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, who said that the ongoing and increasing popularity of A.N.Z.A.C. Day is not related to any glorification. Rather those that were children 30-40 years ago and now have children themselves who lost grandfathers and uncles, great grandfathers and great uncles in the wars. They are now wanting to show their children what it means to go to an A.N.Z.A.C. Day Dawn Service, to listen to the stories shared and appreciate what past generations have done for the country.

Like a lot of boys when I was younger, I was fascinated by war stories and the battles fought. I played computer games and read magazines from the bookshop. I participated in mock infantry charges and watched documentaries on television, such as “The World at War”. Whilst it made me interested in the how and why of battles being fought, listening to the stories of the service personnel who were there, one realizes that sometimes the real war was about surviving the elements in whatever form one found them.

Then I saw Saving Private Ryan. Any jingoistic ideas I had about war and the reasons for war were splattered on the floor when I dropped a half litre bottle of coke that I had just opened. Aside from the sheer savagery portrayed in the movie it rammed home the futility, seeing how it had marked Ryan all these years later as a war veteran. The realism was so strong many veterans who had been in France on D-Day in 1944 could not watch because it brought back too many bad memories.

And when service personnel come home from war, a lot leave the services. They go into farming, or train as teachers, or lawyers, or doctors – something more constructive than killing people. But they never forget where they went and what the saw. And whilst bullet wounds generally heal, the mental scars are often more impervious.

Whilst I will be pro-military, it is not because of a revision of my thoughts on war. It is horrible, senseless and usually started for reasons that are questionable at best. It is because no sane country leaves itself unprotected in a day and age where future wars are going to be about geopolitics and resources. I will be pro-military because the New Zealand Defence Force is an honourable and professional outfit to be a part of, and – despite the investigation into the fight in Afghanistan – does not believe in nor participate in the use of torture.

One day the Defence Force may have to fight. Like all I hope it never comes and that future generations of soldiers will not find their names etched into the cold hard gravestones like their forebears. But I don’t think anyone of them will be going to war any more enthusiastically than any of their many predecessors.

 

Time for N.Z.D.F. to come clean about Afghanistan raid


In 2010, New Zealand Defence Force soldiers participated in an attack on an Afghanistan town called Tirgiran. During the exchange there were civilian casualties.

For months, those casualties were denied strenuously by the Chief of the Defence Force Major General Tim Keating, who said there were huge inaccuracies in Nicky Hager’s book Hit and Run, which alleges war crimes were committed by the N.Z.D.F. Now, in a u-turn yesterday, Major General Keating admitted that civilian deaths might have happened. Yet he continued to insist that the book is wrong.

I have in the past given the New Zealand Defence Force the benefit of the doubt, and considered the onus to be on Mr Hager to demonstrate otherwise. Whilst I still wonder if Mr Hager has a vendetta against the Defence Force, his claims have now received a major credibility boost.

It is time for Major General Keating to come clean as the person in charge on a day-to-day basis on what really happened in that raid in Afghanistan. To fail to do so is to undermine the credibility of his office, as well as every man and woman who serves in the Defence Force.

When New Zealand fights overseas, we might be under the command of a foreign power. In the case of Afghanistan the American command had jurisdiction over our forces. In East Timor, it was the Australians. It matters not who has control of the overall operation, but that New Zealand Defence Force ultimately answers to the New Zealand Government, who in turn must answer to the New Zealand people.

The New Zealand Defence Force needs to be aware that it should under NO circumstances EVER conduct practices of a tortuous nature, or operations of a nature that may break the international conventions this country is a signatory to. In the event that our personnel find themselves being asked to participate in such operations, the command making the request should be informed forthwith that New Zealand will only participate if it is fully compliant with the Geneva Conventions.

For a country that prides itself on respecting international law, this is hugely embarrassing. It potentially damages our reputation as being clean and responsible overseas. But this potential damage goes further than that. This potential damage potentially threatens New Zealand forces who go there in the future. It sends damaging and confusing signals to Afghanistan and Afghanis about what New Zealand wants to achieve there.

Major General Tim Keating did not achieve his current rank by bluffing his way through the ranks. It is not possible. One will be found out long before you get that far. Someone that far up the military hierarchy should be expected to know that New Zealand and New Zealanders have standards. He should be expected to know there are good historical reasons why we abhor torture and why we prefer a clean fair fight to one with dirty underhand tactics. In getting to this position, Major General Keating indicates that he is aware of these expectations and intends to uphold them.

So why did New Zealand not do this? Why are one of the finest small defence forces in the world starring down a major credibility crisis because of an operation in Afghanistan of a questionable nature in 2010. The Defence Force and in particular Major General Keating need to come totally clean about this now, or resign.