Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Review needs to look deeper

The Coalition agreement signed yesterday by the Labour/ NZ First / Greens government includes a provision to review the defence procurement programme initiated by the National Party.
That massive spend up budgeted $25 billion in capital spending on new ships and aircraft. Examples of defence profligacy under National include a half billion oil tanker to replace one that originally cost less than a tenth of that, and 'trainer' aircraft for aerobatics at $150 million.
But Labour is not without its own cringe-worthy performance in defence either. It presided over the purchase of 105 LAV III IFVs at $US3.5m each (twice the usual price for such things). The cost of flying three to Afghanistan was $700,000. The rest are for playing with. And then there was the NH90 helicopters which NZ First says have less availability than the ancient Iroquois they replaced. They cost $750m and can't be transported by air out of New Zealand except by Russian freighters.
Whenever you look at defence procurement you find systemic problems. Surely it is time that we stopped pussy-footing and admit that defence management is the problem. It is an empire of tradition, lack of accountability and internal feuding largely disconnected from the rest of New Zealand. It is an appendage more at home under foreign command than as a value-adding contributor to New Zealand's development.
Why? Because it developed as precisely that under the British Empire. When Britain retreated it put the US in the same role. More recently it has been Australia. The defence force finally needs to be told to grow up and face facts: we don't have a defence problem.
That does not mean we don't need a defence force. It just means we need an independant force more like Norway or Ireland than an adjunct to others.
Why don't we have that? Because of military bullshit artists. Bullies who bluster about being under fire to justify their stupid decisions. I have nothing but respect for those who put themselves in dangerous situations in intelligence rich, well planned and cleverly executed operations. But that does not justify covering up failures, or spending which has nothing to do with combat, like half billion dollar oil tankers.
The simple fact is we can neither afford nor need an air force and a navy. An armed coastguard would do. Norway, which is a NATO nation, far richer than we are and with a land border with Russia, and offshore island dependencies has a coastguard not a Navy.
The difference is combat. Coastguards don't fight navies they police the sea, and we have a lot of sea to police. But that means you don't need frigates equipped to deal with air strikes or submarines. That makes a vast difference to the cost of both ships and aircraft. You can effectively halve your costs simply by growing up and recognising reality rather than playing little toot to other militaries.
The army needs reorganization because it needs it's own aviation (like every other army) and because it still has functions better carried out by private contractors. It needs to be stripped and sharpened so it isn't full of bullshit. That means a smaller, leaner, meaner operation that imposes less cost on taxpayers.
Veterans affairs and comemorations should be part of internal affairs not defence. Defence uses its past overseas disasters as a kind of cultural bulwark for its present bullshit. That culture is bigger than defence and should be treated as such.
To make procurement make sense the whole military structure has to make sense. That means more focus on cyber warfare, policing and low intensity warfare, low cost eez patrol using space and drones, and less on anti submarine warfare and training to use expensive to deploy twenty tonne IFVs in imaginary scenarios.
I don't expect this (or any other government) to have the guts to do any of this. Political bullshitters respect other political bullshitters like the military. We have had reviews and nothing significant changes. It's a game for all concerned. The only losers are taxpayers whose operations can't be afforded because someone decided to spend that money on something useful - like a handful of multi billion dollar anti submarine warfare aircraft. Because submarines are such a serious risk (not).

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Nuclear War is Real Again


The Doomsday Clock now stands at two and a half minutes to midnight.[http://thebulletin.org/clock/2017] It hasn't been there since 1953 when it stood at two minutes to midnight. The possibility of nuclear war, now that North Korea appears to have developed both ICBMs and thermonuclear warhead technology, is now growing organically like a cancer into a probability.
North Korea's mad king, Kim Jung Un, seems to be obsessed with seeing how far he can push the United States; playing Russian Roulette like an ill disciplined brat who cannot be told "no". While America's own ill disciplined enfant terrible, President Trump, tweets incendiary nonsense, America's grown ups (mostly generals) are genuinely worried by the apparently suicidal fascination with big rockets and big explosions exhibited by the North Korean dictator.
China is demonstrating a complete lack of regional leadership with its indulgence of an ally who fires missiles over Japan for laughs. While China and Korea have bitter memories of Japanese rape and exploitation during World War Two, one could not conceive of Vladimir Putin putting up with Alexander Lukashenko (the authoritarian President of Belarus) firing missiles over Germany while experimenting with H-bombs in his basement. The North Korean case is way beyond the pale of any standard of sober government anywhere on the planet.
American frustration with China essentially takes China's confusion as complicit complacency. But that is to confuse America with China. For unlike America China is actually not a very martial nation. Sure it has a large military with 2.3 million military people and some fancy equipment but only 1.6 per 1000 people are in the Chinese military compared with 4.2 for the US and 47.4 for North Korea. The Chinese military have not fought in real combat since 1990, and then only in border clashes with the Vietnamese. An army which hasn't fought for 25 years can't be expected to be too competent. Plus China had a one child policy from 1979 to 2015 which means that every child in the PLA is an only child, quite probably of only children. Every body bag that comes home means the end of a family. By contrast the US uses its military to sop up its poverty stricken poor who have children aplenty.
Added to that the growing wealth of the Chinese middle class, compulsory conscription, and you have a recipe for a Government that is not the slightest bit interested in sending its sons into battle against half starved, brutalised, hill billy lunatics like the North Koreans. How would that keep the Chinese Communist Party in power? They saw what happened to the US in Vietnam and North Korea would not be easy. Because what if Kim, that crazed motherfucker turned his nukes on China?! China loses millions of lives to save the rest of the world from someone who isn't a threat to China. Like that is going to happen.
But China isn't going to wink at the US and stand back and let them smash North Korea out of existence either. That would be a repeat of October 1950 which saw America preparing to use nukes in and around China. China likes having a mountainous buffer state between itself and the ravening US Army. Which has established a reputation for itchy trigger fingers. Of course the problem with China's logical self interest is that it hands the initiative to the most unpredictable and dangerous state actor in the world: dictator Kim.
What will Kim do? What motivates him? As this article points out [http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/04/26/kim-jong-un-is-a-survivor-not-a-madman/] when they really are out to get you, it isn't paranoia anymore. Or as Andy Groves, CEO of Intel wrote 'only the paranoid survive'. Kim is a strongman dictator in a world where strongman dictators have been steadily eliminated. Strongman dictators are always going to be hated. That is a given. So remaining alive when everyone hates you means you have to make everyone fear you. How do you do that? You have to threaten them with something serious.
Nuclear war is as serious as it gets. Let's get this straight. In nuclear war the time between surprise attack and devastation is half an hour. Thirty minutes. Most commutes are about that long.
If at 6:30pm in Pyongyang Kim decides to lay waste the Western states of the USA by 3:30am local time Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle are devastated radioactive firestorms. Some estimate Kim has sixty warheads [https://finance.yahoo.com/news/us-intelligence-concludes-north-korea-163859659.html]. It will not be long before he has 60 missiles. There is no reliable defence against ICBMs that can stop all the warheads and their chaff. There is no protection from a weapon that fries people in an instant and the sends out a blast wave that rips buildings to dust. If that shit goes down you are fucked.
The problem is the American people have forgotten what not being the only superpower is like. They think if they want to they can do a bit of regime change here and a bit of nation building there. If any little dictator gets uppity the US Airforce will burn some shock and awe on their arse, and we will all watch that on CNN and drink beers. Defence of the homeland is about dicks at the airport and stopping Muslim towel heads from stabbing US citizens in the back. The concept that Hollywood could be melted, Microsoft incinerated, Google obliterated and Disneyland irradiated simply doesn't compute. How could a lame joke like Kim Jong Un kill ten million people, even including real life celebrities!?
The very fact that Donald Trump is in the White House at all shows just how badly US politics has lost track of reality. As if Twitter actually matters. As if everything is about posing. Or to quote the inimitable Pauline Kael's devastatingly prescient critique: "I pose therefore I am."
With a President who is only about posing. A president who is not legally constrained from waging war in Korea because no armistace was ever signed and the two nations are still technically at war. A president whose approval ratings only uptick above the worst ever when he talks tough on North Korea. With a President who is not interested in complexities or empathy or understanding the other guy. In short with a President who is the least fit in the history of the United States in office facing the greatest threat the nation has ever seen, I suggest the time has come to be afraid.
Because Vladimir Putin is right. Sanctions will not make any difference. A pre-emptive nuclear strike risks nuclear retaliation (and not just from North Korea). A conventional strike risks a nuclear retaliation. In short no amount of military bluster by the greatest military power on Earth actually makes 30 million Americans  any safer. The problem is America doesn't seem to be ready to recognise this and that can easily lead to a serious mistake.
In short a disastrous thirty minute war could easily occur in the next ten years.
How do you responsibly defend your nation in such a circumstance?
The answer for the US is simple: shut up. As Theodore Roosevelt said 'speak softly and carry a big stick'. He didn't say 'brag loudly and wave your stick around making people nervous'. Trump has probably done more to undermine American security simply by being incapable of appreciating this. Decades of respect has been shredded by the American people voting this popularist idiot into the White House.
By shutting up and looking suitably impressed Kim Jong Un gets what he wants. That will make him feel more secure and less twitchy about showing off. I would forget about sanctions and actually encourage a supply of goodies into the kingdom. The more contact, the more corruption, the better. I would also be funding my Israeli friends (so as to ensure not to break any treaties) to develop nasty bioweapons with genetic targeting. The idea is to make sure the attack is so subtle, and so precise it doesn't even look like an attack. Just like Stuxnet, but for people.
For New Zealand? Thankfully our tiny nation is an irrelevancy but the sensible policy is to keep it that way. That means forget allying ourselves to obvious targets like the US and to a lesser extent Australia. If the ICBMs start flying they will provide zero protection. Responsible Defence advocates replacing our Navy and Airforce with a Coastguard along the lines of the Norwegian one. Such a body can continue to patrol our EEZ, provide support to the Pacific Islands, fight piracy and carry out logistics tasks but is not for ship-to-ship or air-to-ship or air-to-air combat like a Navy or Air Force. Responsible Defence also advocates developing New Zealand's own security industry particulary in space (contracts with Rocket Labs) and by developing drones suitable for very long range patrols. It means being good at something other than cosying up to bigger friends.
If war comes New Zealand will be hit by the trade impact severely. China is a huge market for our goods, as is Japan and Korea. USA protectionism would likely only get worse. The only way to prevent capital flight is to be a neutral bolt hole. Like Sweden and Switzerland we might pass through a feiry crucible of war relatively unscathed so long as we don't fall back on traditional WW2 style military thinking. That way lies only emnity and ruin.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Wait? What Submarine Problem?

Am I missing something? Is there some huge discussion or debate happening somewhere in secret that I am unaware of? Because I hear a great deal about the housing shortage almost every day, but nobody but nobody seems to be talking about the submarine threat.
I know housing is a problem partly because of the complaints and partly because the government has a billion dollar programme earmarked for affordable housing. But the government is planning to spend forty percent more, ($1,400 million) on aircraft to fight submarines and I would have thought that if killing submarines was worth more to Kiwis than affordable housing, someone would have said something.
Also at 2015 procurement costs to the US the Poesidon cost $256 million per copy, so be careful about that budget of $1.4 billion. As with the NH90 helicopters which were meant to be $550 million but suddenly became $770 million there is ample room here for unexpected cost escalation.
But let’s get this straight: the RNZAF’s proposal to acquire the Boeing P8A Poesidon is not about providing a maritime patrol aircraft for search and rescue of people at sea. A search and rescue aircraft costs way less than half as much as the Poesidon. Poesidon is not for fisheries patrol or search and rescue. It is a precision submarine hunting weapon for finding stealthy enemy submarines and destroying them.
But so far I have not heard a single public figure expressing concern about the Chinese putting air independent propulsion on their new class 039 submarines. I haven’t heard anyone raising the alarm about Indonesia’s acquisition of Korean built Type 209 submarines. Nor have the truly paranoid expressed concern about Australia replacing its Collins class boomers with the quiet Shortfin Barracuda class to be made in France. In fact New Zealanders seem to be blissfully unconcerned about the new generation of stealthy submarines.
There is good reason for this. There isn’t a threat. There never has been a threat. Even in World War Two, while we were visited by advanced Japanese and German submarines, none of them did any damage. Most of the losses in or near New Zealand waters were due to the German armed merchantmen Orion and Komet. And in the whole of that epic struggle RNZAF no.3 squadron (based in the islands) did not sink a single submarine of any kind. In fact the only loss of shipping to submarine attack in New Zealand’s history was the Rainbow Warrior attacked by French agents who arrived by commercial airliner and civilian yacht.
In fact even the defence strategic plan doesn’t have much to say about a submarine threat either. There are good reasons for this.  First of all New Zealand has a huge number of sea lane options for its trade. To blockade New Zealand at sea would be far more expensive than simply diverting cargoes by making a better offer to suppliers. Second, most of the submarines in the world today are either eighties relics that even a P3K Orion can find or extremely expensive modern stealthy ones (US$500m plus). To divert an extremely expensive warship to attack a minor shipping target like New Zealand while engaged in a war at home is highly unlikely. Expensive warships are for fighting other expensive warships and New Zealand is not a source of strategic resources like oil worthy of interdiction.
There is also a shortage of submarines in the world for a Poesidon squadron to attack. The Indonesian fleet is a handful of boats, which will expand to two handfuls. But the TNI is essentially a defensive force structured to keep the huge archipelago nation from falling apart. Similarly China (largely penned in by the US fleets and its allies, Japan and Korea). While China has a fleet of almost eighty submarines, they are mostly noisy, short range diesel boats intended to protect its handful of nuclear deterrent missile subs. The Russian Pacific fleet of over twenty boats, But these are mostly eighties relics which will almost certainly be targeted at the US and its North Asian allies. In short looking for subs around New Zealand today is almost like looking for UFOs. Sightings are that rare.
That means a Poesidon squadon is a bargaining chip for military alliances. But having a fleet of sub hunters puts New Zealand in a difficult strategic position. The capability means allies are keen to rope you in. But is that what we want? Killing someone’s half billion submarine and its crew is a very good way to ensure you earn their owners enmity for a long time. If the Australians want to kill Indonesian submarines why should we do it for them? If the US wants to kill Chinese submarines, why would we want to draw China’s ire. The advantage of sending SAS is that the SAS can (in theory) be limited and extremely precise in who and what they take out in the name of New Zealand. A sub hunter is either killing a sub or it isn’t. In short do sub hunters provide the strategic profile New Zealanders want?
By contrast a maritime surveillance aircraft is a completely different capability and presents a wide range of options. Their role is aerial observation of our fisheries and search and rescue (fishing and boats as small as two metres can be seen from space, subs can’t). Essentially all you need is forward looking infra red, synthetic aperture radar, and maybe laser radar (lidar) and all of that can be retrofitted to almost any aircraft or drone, for that matter. That gives you a civilian capability to monitor our EEZ and provide search and rescue with the option for armament in the very unlikely chance we need it.
Instead the Government has gone straight for an American subhunter. I can understand why the US is pressuring New Zealand to spend 2% of its GDP on defence. The US is the world’s biggest arms manufacturer. It’s diplomacy is to force demand from its allies to help the US industrially. But 2% of our GDP is no small amount of money. It is far more than we spend on say, the Police. In fact its the same amount as we spend on all roading, cycle paths, public transport and road policing combined. We all use land transport every day. Military systems either sit in storage or are far less efficient than civilian alternatives. Buying overly expensive aircraft to address non-existent threats is putting America first, not New Zealand.
And it’s not like saving $700 million by buying maritime surveillance aircraft instead of sub hunters would be false economy. Spending that sort of money on education for under-privileged and facilities for our Universities would make one hell of a difference to our economy. There are a wide range of things wrong with our economy that would be transformed by dropping three quarters of a billion of capital spending on them. Moreover if you are trying to kill subs it is better to buy the latest technology for hunting submarines when you need it, not thirty years before hand.Otherwise you spend thirty years on expensive upgrades all for no purpose.
The simple fact is maritime surveillance aircraft with the necessary range and capability can be bought for less than $100 million each. There are plenty of alternatives. All an aircraft needs is the sensors I mentioned earlier. You can put them on commercial passenger planes, business jets (because they use less fuel), civilian or military drones (which use even less fuel) or military transports if you are focused on interventions when you arrive. The US Coastguard uses the Super Hercules C-130J. That’s one option. Another is the KC-390 transport jet from Brazilian manufacturer Embraer could also replace the old C-130H Hercules. It’s built with a radar capable of tracking fifty ships simultaneously off the shelf, and plenty of room to launch rescue equipment also provide the maritime patrol function as well.
Nor should we forget that very soon New Zealand will have its own satellite launching facilities. By launching communication satellites and buying and developing long range drones (there are plenty of drone firms in the world) it would be more than feasible for New Zealand to turn a maritime surveillance problem into an industry that other nations would be keen to emulate. I'm thinking here of Chile, Peru, South Africa etc. This is what Singapore does when it faces a defence problem. It turns a cost into an opportunity that can generate profits and jobs at home.
If any other government department came to the government with its hand out for $1.4 billion for a device whose principal function dealing with a problem as rare and unlikely as a UFO it is unlikely it would get funded. But because it is defence suddenly people get hairy chested and start talking all sorts of patriotic nonsense about weapons and war which has nothing to do with either the problem or the most efficient solution. In my view New Zealand is too small for this kind of profligacy, and at very least we need to have a sensible debate before spending almost 1% of our GDP on a military tool we will almost certainly never use for its intended purpose.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

If the NH90 is so great why doesn't treasury see what other governments will pay for them?

The NH90 reliability disease has struck again this time with the New Zealand Defence Force joining the rest of the NH90 customer base in restricting flying because of a recent turbine failure. Air Vice Marshal Tony Davies not surprisingly defended these vastly expensive war toys for being better than their thirty year old predecessors and providing services in disaster area - neglecting to add at a cost that would make them uneconomic if the decsion was left to the market.

To have the faulty machine looked at it has had to be flown to Sydney, which will be expensive as only a RAAF C-17 Globemaster (or its Russian equivalent) could carry one without it being largely disassembled.

The NH-90 has been restricted or grounded in Germany, Australia, Sweden, Finland and just about everywhere else they have been bought. The Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 engine used in both the Australian and New Zealand machines has not proven to be particularly reliable. Seven years ago the Australians had serious problems with them, grounding machines and inspecting them after every five flying hours. The Finnish machines (which were bought for a fraction of the price New Zealand paid) were down to 19% availability due to mechanical failings.

While the Air Force is never going to admit that it has essentially wasted public money on the NH90s (despite numerous critical reports from the Audit Office) the performance of these machines has underwhelmed Ministers and commentators from the outset. Before more funding is granted to upgrade them to make up for deficiencies that were obvious when they were purchased I believe the Treasury should take a long hard look at the value of the Air Force's helicopter operations.
I am, personally, firmly of the view that No.3 Squadron is a vast waste of public money and should be disbanded. Why? Because No.3 Squadron does not do anything that that the huge range of civilian helicopter contractors in this country could not do. It carries people and stuff around New Zealand and for that it charges taxpayers $200 million. Taxpayers would get much better value from a civilian firm - at about a third of the cost. Civilian firms can and have deployed to more dangerous and difficult to reach places than No.3 Squadron ever has.

That said I am equally firmly of the view that No.6 Squadron (Naval helicopters) should be expanded and upgraded. The Seasprites do do things that civilian contractors cannot do. They are armed with missiles, torpedos and automatic weapons. They are built for operating at sea (which the RNZAF TTH NH90s are not) and they are readily deployed without relying on gigantic cargo aircraft we can't afford.

The Australian Navy replaced their Seasprites with the American MH-60R Seahawk naval helicopter which, in my view again, is an excellent start. The Seahawk is reliable, easily redeployed, fast and deadly. While I do not see any need for a submarine hunting capability (there being a global shortage of potential target submarines) the very similar MH-60S Knighthawk which is designed for search and rescue, mine hunting, and can be armed with torpedos, Hellfire missiles and machine guns. With a bigger cabin than the Seasprite and the same lifting ability as the NH-90 the MH-60S Knighthawk can also be airlifted by a C-130 sized transport aircraft.  This aircraft would make up for all the shortcomings of the NH-90.

There is no immediate need to replace the Seasprites as the ones we have could easily fly into the 2020s but as the world's only Seasprite operator it seems only prudent that we should replace them in the not so distant future.The acquisition cost of MH-60Ss could be readily reduced by selling the NH90s.

That is assuming that there are governments that agree with the Air Force that the NH90 is not a lemon. For there is no better test of the value of any capital item than its resale value. The treasury should certainly be testing this to see if its current capital valuations are correct (as the Air Force is charged for capital) and also to test the reliability of the advice it recieves from the Air Force brass. If that turns out to be butt covering nonsense then perhaps the Minister of Defence should take a more hands on approach to the management of this very expensive public service.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

You either accept a rules based international order or you act like the NZDF

Nicky Hager's latest book "Hit and Run" seems to be following Nicky's usually excellent book marketing strategy. It starts with an accusation, usually followed by an angry denial and then weeks of to and fro until all the books are sold and the media loses interest. I wish my books could use that formula. But then I'm not the poster boy of the left, I'm just an annoying person who calls things as I see them.
So far Hager's main pressure point has been calling for some form of inquiry into 'war crimes' perpetrated by the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS). This article by Alison Cole [https://www.vice.com/en_nz/article/could-new-zealand-be-heading-to-the-international-criminal-court-for-war-crimes-in-Afghanistan] states that if New Zealand doesn't carry out an inquiry then the International Criminal Court can. This article from Martyn Bradbury in the Daily Blog [http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2017/03/27/latest-developments-in-hager-stephenson-nz-war-crime-allegations/] deals with the specifics of the case and relates the announcement by Deborah Manning and QC Dr Rodney Harrison that they will launch legal proceedings against the Government.
For many New Zealanders Edmund Burke's famous words "We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would harm us" about sums up their attitude to the NZSAS. They are a bit like the All Blacks but with guns. But no matter how capable the NZSAS troopers may be, like any military unit their actual performance depends very much on who leads them.
And that's the problem.
Because troopers wouldn't be talking to Hager and Stephenson if they were happy with the decisions that were made that night in the Tirgiran Valley. There is clearly something wrong and some people believe the rules were broken.
Does that matter? Afghanistan is famously known as a nation that lives for "hospitality and revenge" as part of the Pashtun code of Pashtunwali [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashtunwali]. If the Kiwis didn't kick some arse they might lose mana. As one very large politician once said, "you can't make an omlette without breaking some eggs." Maybe the other guys (the US) were doing it too?
The problem is the US doesn't believe in the International Court and refuses to accept its jurisdiction. New Zealand is not the US,
Besides all of those reasons are very thin excuses. The NZSAS are not meant to act like some gang of heavily armed thugs. They are meant to be soldiers in the New Zealand Defence Force and the NZDFs main reason for being (direct from the NZDF website) is: "Acting in a lead role or in support of other New Zealand agencies, Defence contributes to the following national security interests:
◾A safe and secure New Zealand, including its border and approaches;
◾A rules-based international order, which respects national sovereignty;
Note that "rules-based international order". That rules based international order includes institutions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court. That means for everyone, all the time. You can't just have a rules based order when it suits you. Nor does a rules-based international order get bent because of operational exigensies; because it might prove embarrassing; or because a particular military unit is the All Blacks with guns. A rules based international order goes from top to bottom, theoretical to particular, private soldier to brigadier-general. Either you serve a rules-based international order or you are no different to a bunch of Pashtun gangsters.
As is so often the case the response from Defence Headquarters is defensive, self justifying and highly evasive. They assume the role of defendant, police and judiciary. So far the most the general staff have had to say is that Hager and Stephenson got the names of the villages wrong. It turns out, so did the NZDF [http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11827661]. Logically this is of no consequence,because it fails to address the core question of war crimes.
And this does matter. Why? Because as information technology increases the precision and reach of governments the vital question becomes who is following rules and being transparent and who isn't. Because with power comes the temptation to bend the rules (like the People's Republic of China which has a bunch of secret police who come in the night and drag people off to be tortured). If the NZSAS are going to start doing that regardless of the rules it matters.
That's why a proper independent investigation and proper judicial process (including the assumption of innocence) is necessary. Because if the NZDF can't be trusted to follow rules and be transparent when in Afghanistan then it can't be trusted at all. Because otherwise you don't have a rules-based international order - and its not much of a step before you don't even have a democracy. Because the only thing that seperates New Zealand from Fiji is that the NZDF is trusted to follow the rules and a key part of that is being open to scrutiny by those who police them. You can't have a rules-based international order unless you accept that you are subject to those rules and that you may be inconveniently investigated for breaching them.
So of course New Zealand should investigated potential war crimes. Either by an independent commissioner or by Police, if this falls within their legal jurisdiction.
I say this knowing nothing I say matters a damn to the NZDF. If you are happy to spend up large on misbegotten and overpriced war toys without any concern for the economic welfare of people of the country you serve simply to preserve your professional sense of self worth then you probably don't really give a shit about lying to protect officers who deserve to be outed. But next time NZDF readers are looking down their noses on the Fijian or Indonesian military perhaps they should just remember the rot always starts somewhere. Either you have principles or you don't. Either you follow the rules or you don't.

Postscript: And it  gets worse. It appears that the only report into the lessons learned by the NZDF in the Afghanistan campaign was shredded so the media couldn't get to it![ http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11825881]. I mean seriously? What is this? The defence force is being run like a citadel for its own self aggrandizement. No criticism is tolerated, no weakness can be admitted to, no officer held accountable. All so it can try and perpetuate this myth itself.  You can't have armed people acting like this! The entire headquarters needs investigation.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Good Lord! Labour is waking up!

News that the Labour Party is waking up to the insane defence force spend-up proposed by the Defence White Paper 2016 is naturally welcomed by defencecosts.nz. Andrew Little's clear statement of priority is not only good politics, but also common sense. Defence Minister Brownlee has claimed that $20,000,000,000 is needed to ensure Defence is "fit for purpose", but that claim bears no scrutiny whatsoever.

Defence is engaged in an orgy of spending as much as it possibly can, relying on American diplomatic pressure to see defence spending bumped up to 2% of GDP. That's what we spend on roads, and most people make far more use of them. There is no rational justification for us to spend 2% of GDP on defence. And if the Minister doesn't know that he bloody well should. Of course Minister Brownlee's main concern is sucking up to the right people, and in this case the right people is President Trump, not the taxpayers of New Zealand.

For while the Labour Party's declaration is a step in the right direction it doesn't go far enough. The fundamental problem with the defence force is structural, and until the structure is changed career officers are going to spend their time trying to find ways to fund their outrageously expensive careers.

For example No.5 Anti Submarine Warfare squadron will want the best kit for ASW, even though there is no need for ASW capability. There are no submarines to fight. The difference in cost between an excellent ASW aircraft and a servicable EEZ patrol aircraft is about US$250 million each. That's quite a lot over six aircraft!

I should stress here that the target of most of my concern is not the Army. The Army has, in my view, been sadly underfunded (except for the ridiculous $700 million overspend on the useless LAVIIIs). The Army is also poorly structured and probably too large. But, in a time of asymmetric warfare, the Army (and bio and cyber defence) is where New Zealand's main defence focus should be. In this day and age armies must be much more police-like and land combat is only one of the capabilities needed. My real concern is with the utter fiscal irresponsibility of the Navy and the Air Force. Neither have great track records.

Back in the 90s the Navy bought two ASW frigates which today cost a third of a billion a year to operate and whose sole purpose seems to be sailing around exercising with other navies. They are too expensive to use in EEZ patrol (effectively stealing resources from it), too small for helping much with humanitarian disasters, and not ice proof enough for patrolling the Antarctic in the depths of winter. What they are really good at is hunting submarines. But as ISIS doesn't have any, and there are very few submarines in the Pacific that could reach our waters, that hasn't been much use. Over twenty years these giant money pits have chewed up resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.

HMNZS (A11) Endaevour

Now the Navy is replacing its most efficient ship (Endaevour, worth at most $5 million after depreciation) with a $500 million monster. The capital charge on the "biggest ship in the Navy" as its being billed, will be huge - once again limiting what it can be used for efficiently. It's a move of breath-taking arrogance.

Not to be out done the Airforce has built a helicopter force which does far less than commercial New Zealand helicopter companies do. The RNZAF never flew in Afghanistan but the Helicopters New Zealand Global (Canadian Helicopters division) did. The RNZAF helicopters cost taxpayers $200 million a year while HNZ Global makes $200 million a year and pays tax for, among other things the RNZAF to waste. That might be OK if the RNZAF helicopters were all high technology Apache attack helicopters (the US Army bought an extra 35 for US$591 million in 2015) armed to the teeth and solely useful for killing people and blowing things up. That obviously isn't a capability that civilian companies are allowed. But the Air Force's 8 NH-90s (which we bought for US$533 million) are not only the most expensive helicopters of their kind, but are also unarmed transport helicopters little different to the capability a civilian company might buy if they suddenly had more money than sense. In short the RNZAF helicopters are a giant waste of money compared to commercial operators and deliver less, rather than more value to New Zealand.

The same could also be said for the RNZAF's latest acquisition. They spent a $150 million on non-NZ made Texan II air trainers (we do make air trainers at Pacific Aerospace in Hamilton) used for initial pilot training of military jet fighters. The RNZAF doesn't have, and couldn't use, jet fighters. Most of the Air Force's fixed wing planes are multi engine turboprops needed for the vast ranges in the Pacific. The only possible target inside any conceivable New Zealand based jet fighter's combat radius is French owned New Caledonia or Australia's Norfolk Island. Neither are rational targets. Nor does the RNZAF need to train new combat pilots with high performance single engine aircraft given they will spend their careers in multi engine aircraft. Especially when there is a plethora of commercial air training operators in New Zealand who can offer the capability far cheaper. So what are these Texan IIs for? Air shows and displays! Really! That's $150m not spent on Police or schools but spent on air displays by the Air Force. Unbelievable!

Private L29 jet operated by Double XX Aviation

While New Zealand civilians buy, service and maintain a fleet of old L29 Czech trainer jets which are the mainstay of air shows out of their own pockets, the taxpayer funds the Air Force to do the same so that its officers have something to fly.

The only way this is going to stop is to take combat capability out of the equation and convert the Navy and the Air Force into a Coast Guard. That's what Norway and Ireland have done. The career officers will make grave faces about protecting our shipping lanes (all of which are impossible to blockade) and similar bullshit. But Norway, which has a land border with Russia has a Coast Guard not a Navy. Ireland too. Both are richer than we are. If we had a Coast Guard then we would get the mix of lower cost, lower capability systems this country can actually afford.

By contrast the Army should incorporate a helicopter component (as does the US and Australian armies) and these should be armed. That way you have only one mobile combat force that is able to be deployed by sea or air. Realistically New Zealand would lose almost no defence capability, increase its industrial assistance via defence spending but reduce its overall defence expenses significantly. This could then be redeployed to social spending as Mr Little has realised.

see www.defencecosts.nz for the full story.

Friday, March 10, 2017

RNZAF vies with RNZN to waste most public money

According to Janes the RNZAF is kicking the tyres of the hugely expensive P-8A Poesidon as a replacement for the P-3K Orion. How much could that cost? Well don't expect much change from $1.5 billion.

To put that in perspective that's just shy of $1 for every $100 that changes hands every year in this country. It's a shit ton of money.

Along with the Navy's acquisition of a $500 million oil tanker I would argue that this shows that both the Navy and the Air Force are now keenly competing to waste as much taxpayer funding as they possibly can before someone works out that spending $20 billion on defence is an act of flagrant irresponsibility.

According to the National Assessments Bureau the greatest security risk to New Zealand comes from extremism. Extremism will almost certainly breed in conditions of poverty (as it does everywhere). Taking money from poor taxpayers to buy useless war toys can only make our security worse, not better. What New Zealand needs right now is better social housing, mental health services and police.

But what is a P-8A Poesidon anyway? Here's one here:


As you can see it's basically it's a Boeing 737-800 jetliner, which has been gutted and rejigged to be an anti submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. It's the latest greatest technology which the US has built and the Australians bought into. They have a unit cost of $350 million each. Given that the sticker price on a new B737-800 is $137 million that shows that most of the cost of the aircraft is the weapons systems and radars.

So that will deal with our submarine problem then. Except that the Department of Prime Minister and Ministers of Cabinet National Assessments Bureau doesn't think there is a submarine problem. It certainly wasn't in the top six John Key spoke of in 2015. In fact even the Defence White Paper admits there isn't really a submarine problem. Why? Because since the demise of the Soviet Union we are out of range of almost every potential hostile submarine in the world.

So why do we need to spend $1.5 billion on ASW aircraft? The answer is quite simple. We have a squadron of ASW specialists and if they don't get new aircraft, what are they going to fly? Duh! This is what the New Zealand Defence Force calls logic. The rest of us call it empire maintenance.

Beause if we were to emulate Norway or Ireland and suddenly get all rational and European about it we wouldn't have a Navy or an Air Force. Why? Because navies are for fighting other navies and air forces are for fighting other air forces. The people who do fisheries patrol and search and rescue are called the Coast Guard.

You see Coast Guard vessels and aircraft aren't built for combat. They don't have to contend with the latest stealthy anti shipping or anti aircraft missiles. They just have to contend with criminals, and typically they don't get access to that kind of hardware. That makes a huge difference when you are outfitting your ships and aircraft. A cost difference.

So if we aren't actually going to hunt submarines any more, and our defence cooperation obligations largely come down to sending the SAS, then how about this. How about we don't buy a fleet of 737s armed to the teeth? How about we do this instead:

1. Use Rocketlabs to launch our own low earth satellites for surveillance and signals
2. Buy very long range UAVs that can fly for a week at a time for surveillance
3. Buy new transport aircraft and use them for SAR intervention.

It's cheaper, it's better, and it uses our own industry more leaving money in the kitty for the real things that matter for both society and defence. Stopping the conditions that lead to extremism.

For more detail visit www.defencecosts.nz