Editor's Insight: Defence paper takes right step forward

editor's insight

Nevil Gibson

The quality of the debate over defence capability and policies has been too low for too long.

The absence of thinktanks and defence commentators has created a vacuum filled largely by ideas promoted by pacifists and anti-American activists.

This wasn’t helped by the abolition under Labour of the air force’s strike wing, some strange procurement decision for unsuitable ships and armoured vehicles, and an emphasis on peace-keeping, humanitarian support and disaster relief.

Important though these last three items are, they are no substitute for a well-armed and trained force.

It’s been six years since the last White Paper was published, so the one issued this week should help raise the level of discussion.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has headlined a 15-year modernisation plan worth nearly $20 billion. Apart from protecting maritime and Antarctic interests, it also includes a new focus on protecting defence information networks against increasing cyber threats.

This will be welcomed by New Zealand’s allies, such as Australia and the US, who may detect a stronger commitment to defending this country’s wider interests than just the immediate maritime environment.

“The White Paper outlines current plans to replace or enhance existing major capabilities such as the Anzac frigates and strategic and tactical airlift capability, as well as investing in new capabilities,” Mr Brownlee says.

This includes ice strengthening for a third offshore patrol vessel and a naval tanker; improved communications and enhanced air surveillance capability; and extra intelligence personnel to support military operations.

None of this will please those in the Labour and Green parties that oppose government intelligence of any sort – it is routinely and inaccurately labelled in the media as “spying” – and who believe offshore security threats are largely imaginary.

In reality, the government needs to double its efforts to raise the profile of defence. A $20 billion spend over 15 years is nothing against the $16 billion that will be spent on health alone for the coming financial year.

For its part, Labour needs to consult its comrades in Australia to learn more about why they stand a much greater chance of being elected as the government on July 2 than does a Labour-Green coalition here.

Apart from people and hardware, the White Paper outlines the new dangers that have emerged since 2010 – China’s expansion into the East and South China Seas, increased military spending in Southeast Asia, “degraded” relations between Russia and the West; and, of course, the threat of terrorism (still rated as low-risk) and “intensifying turmoil” in the Middle East and North Africa.

Although the White Paper is a start in setting off a new level of debate, it will take more to change the mindset that a modern, globalised country can do defence on the cheap any more than it can on research and development.

A chart of military spending as a percentage of GDP puts New Zealand at 1.1%, slightly above Japan’s 1.0% (though this is the largest military spend in Asia after China) and well below that of Australia (1.9%).

Critics will point out Ireland’s is a measly 0.4% and Canada’s 1.0%. But that shouldn’t stop the government lifting the priorities of its defence obligations.


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The general view of the White paper that the area New Zeaalnd can make a difference in is in the patrol and surveillance of the sub antarctic, Southern Ocean, in the Ross Sea to help conserve resources fisheries food stock and the general ocean and climatic environment has very much been my view since I first looked at the defence issue seriously in the early 1980s as a Masters student in Political Scientist and in the following years as a part time commentator on defence. Contrary to the general view I was not a supporter of the left wing view, and most of my immediate relations were rather right wing from naval, military, intelligence and academic backgrounds and were universal in hating the first labour government and who if they had left wing friends, was simply because most educated people in New Zealand were left wing and were the only social company available. In those years I read the New Musical Express and New Statesman and glanced at the Guardian, Time and Newsweek.
In terms of Southern ocean patrol at first my view was ice strengthened ships were required, but it became obvious even 15 years ago that ice strengthenig wasn't a necessary required and was likely to make designing suitable OPVs much more difficult as was the case with HMNZS Otago and Wellington. It is notable that the operations of Sea Shepherd has not been greatly effected by the fact there vessels are not ice strengthened and their ships could be regarded as a para military force. The Steve Irwin is in fact a former Scottish fisheries protection vessel 'Jura' which was the prototype for the RN 7 ship OPV Isles class, which was described by its RN designer David Brown as a 'third world war corvette' with diguised capabilites aply demonstrated by Sea Sheperd of being able to operate for very long distances at its top and cruising speed of 17 knots, cruisng through the ice burgs, taunting the Japanese whalers flying the jolly roger.
To sustain a presence in Southern Waters a much larger fleet that 3 OPVs and 2 Anzac frigages will be required and on ships like HMNZS Wellignton and Otago there was a need for an effective small frigatet type 57/76mm gun for warning and deterence, which was an unacceptable option to the anti militaristic Helen Clark and Lianne Dalziel but would much more easily be fitted into an OPV design than the difficult to apply and heavy ice strengthenign which limits the life of the RNZN protector OPVs to 15 years and which means replacement orders should actually be made about 2022 for a new large class.
The call of Phil Goff for the government to give a clear clarification of what type of vessel is required for frigate and Orion P3 repalcement is not necessarily helpful as Australian defence planners, Cabinet Minister and the ANU school of strategic school has always stressed the need for to plan on a long term consistent basis for defence rather than make ad hoc decisons on the basis of what is immediately availabe or falls of the back of a truck. THe 1978 Defence Review was overturned by the availability of more second hand RN frigates which were known to be too short ranged and specialised for RNZN needs and to lack any effective anti aircraft capability or compatability with USN guns and missiles. Other options were offered by the RN at the time , HMS Lincoln with long range diesel propulsion, HMS Norfolk with long range, & USN Link communication and gas turbines which were also fitted to HMS Zulu and HMS Gurka. Muldoon prefered the Leanders Bachantee and Dido because superficially they were the cheapest, least old and most similar to the Australian Leander based River class. Muldoon even rejected the option of two leanders, several flights more modern HMS Archilles and HMS Naid or two modernised Leanders with Ikara missile to work together HMS Naid with HMS Dido because it would have cost an extra 10 million pounds. Muldoon did make the right call in cancelling the plan and order for the reconstruction of HMS Taranaki with flight deck and gas turbine propulsion as the conversion would have resulted in an unlimited cost blowout and structual modernisation of that type of warship, begun at over 12 years after a frigate entered service, doubled the cost of modernisation on the basis of RN experience. Simply refitng HMS Bachantee with enlarged fuel tanks and englarged flight deck took 4 years and cost as much as a new Kortanear or Type 21 frigate.
In the mid 1980's we decided to join the Hawke Beazley Governments , Anzac frigate project, on the basis of the RNZNs senor officer of plans, that it was the only option, seeing the RNZN had had no other option of getting another combat frigate in the previous 15 years, and it would 'allow the RNZN to go on in the form it had existed in for the last quarter century, and the RNZN would go on operating the Leanders for the rest of the century, because they had a quarter of a century experience, operating and maintaing them, and all the stocks to continue with them and becasue the only other actual alternative was four low grade Castle class OPVs with a 76m gun bolted on a telescopic hangar.' That was a navy suitable for Bengal Desh not the RNZN. This was despite the view of everybody from the former British CDS Earl Mountbatten and the Editor of Janes Fighting Ships Captain John Moore that the Leanders were totally unsuitable for the RNZNs operations and needs in the Pacific. In fact they were useless because there effective cruising range without several fast tankers in support was only 3,500 miles at 15 knots ( or less) with adequate reserve between Suva and Honolulu and therefore they were totally unsuitable for escoting container ships or ambibious convoys across the Pacific even compared with the old HMS Royalist or Black Prince which could cover the distance at 19 knots cruising speed.

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I completely agree we should strengthen our military and try stand out in the world. I think that we should try increase our personal so that we can justify spending and hopefully increase it.

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