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).