Let's wait and see chaps ... I mean if we see the new MinDef with a grin on his face firing a 50 cal from the hatch during the Bushmaster acceptance ceremony in April then perhaps all will bode well for the future!
Seriously though there is a Defence Policy and Strategy Review underway so I doubt there will much to announce this year (and up until the election in Oct anyway). The review will be looking at a Future Force structure so those wider discussions (with Defence, Govt, Allies etc) will be of greater interest and importance (I doubt the MinDef will have too much influence (in a negative sense) as the review/scope is wider than himself - suggest his main role will to be supportive of any preliminary findings and outcomes and to take these to Cabinet for debate or agreement etc).
Let's get an insight into current Defence thinking, priorities and areas of concern. From the 2021/22 Annual review of the New Zealand Defence Force which was held late last year (an initial transcript has appeared online
Projects: There are a number of projects underway or in the pipeline.
MoD (Andrew Bridgman, Secretary of Defence): A key focus for the period under review has been the ministry’s continued focus on the delivery of major projects, with approximately $5.6 billion in delivery, and capital expenditure next year of $1.08 billion. For the committee, it is important to note that as at June 2022 the ministry’s in-flight portfolio comprised of 28 projects. Of these, 10 are in the capability definition phase and 18 are in the delivery phase.
Defence Capability Management System: Has been reviewed and is working well (has received praise in terms of public sector deliverables).
MoD (Andrew Bridgman, Secretary of Defence): For the ministry, it is important that we continue to demonstrate that our procurement policies and practices are reflective of best practice when delivering on such significant capital projects for New Zealanders. To that end, we recently released the third and final review undertaken by Sir Brian Roche into our capability management system. It concluded that the system is a leading example of long-term capital planning within the public sector as an increasingly mature and resilient system. The system that the two defence agencies have built together enables capability to be delivered successfully in a way that meets time, cost, and quality requirements. The capability management system is a valuable asset to the ministry, and the outcome of the review is something we are incredibly proud of as an organisation. It is, however, important that we continue to look for opportunities to further improve the system.
Capabilities and increasing global geopolitical tensions: Govt MP Ibrahim Omer asked about NZ preparing for these scenarios.
MoD (Andrew Bridgman, Secretary of Defence): Perhaps if I answer the first part. Firstly, we’ve got this Defence Policy Review under way at the moment. That then will be followed by sort of a defence principles of what a future force would look like. So the critical thing about that is you’ve got a policy and the strategy that responds—that’s going to Ministers, obviously; would have to go to Ministers. It’s going to Ministers next year. So that responds to the environment that we’re in. So that specifically looks at that contestable environment that you talk about, in response to the environment with a strategy. You know, what is the defence policy and what is the strategy that we need—a defence strategy—to respond to the environment? And then that follows with a set of principles around “How do you design your force to implement that strategy to respond to the environment?” And then, at that point, if Ministers agree to those papers, then we would look at a defence capability plan going forward that would look at specific capabilities that we would need to fulfil that sort of defence design force.
NZDF (Air Marshal Kevin Short, Chief of Defence Force): If I can add that we have what I’d call an immediate concern. You’re right: the future capabilities and the changing environment and the less certain environment means New Zealand needs to look at that, and the policy review
process is addressing that.
On the NH90 (no major concerns being flagged at this/that point in time):
Just on the NH90—I mean, there’s still 600 of those airframes being operated around the globe; the Australians will still be operating theirs for years to come. We do have confirmation from NHIndustries that their system that they’ve set up in Australia to support the region will remain, because they’re now reliant on that to actually do repair and support for helicopters globally. So there’s a bit more comfort, one, that the support mechanism is still there no matter what the Australians do, but I don’t think the Australians have made that final decision with this Government.
Now of course the CDF's comments were made last year. We have now learnt very recently that the AusGovt has approved new Blackhawks to replace the remaining Army MRH-90's and in a relatively quick time-frame too. So for NZ presumably this will be revisted (now that NHIndustries is losing a major role with the ADF) and how that will continue or impact support for NZ (sure they may say "yes", if so critically to what extent)?
Also asking because I had come round to thinking perhaps NZ should look at acquiring the ADF's 8 (ex-RAN) MRH-90's that are reportedly being maintained for sale (see recent ADF threads) to supplement the NZDF's existing 8(+1 attrition) NH-90's. As that would give NZDF additional capacity to better support concurrent overseas deployments and local Army training needs. Heck NZDF could even base a couple back in the South Island again for rapid response eg CT/HADR/Army support (or even pre-position 3 or 4 of them in Queensland, Australia, for rapid overseas deployment (eg hitch a ride with ADF C-17s when something is hitting the fan in Asia/Pacific). Otherwise could have some spare attrition airframes to ensure quick access to spares/parts availability. But in light of AusGovt's decision to fast-track the Blackhawk acquisition perhaps this sort of suggestion needs re-evaluating etc.
Perhaps in NZ's favor to an extent is that Airbus bought SafeAir (aircraft maintenance company), Airbus also have major on-base contracts to support the NH-90, AW-109 and T-6C Texan, so it is in their best interests to succeed.
On the Seasprite (yes there are some major concerns being flagged):
Air Marshall Kevin Short (page 12): One of the areas we are struggling in is the Seasprite helicopter—the ones that we bought off the Australians. We’re having problems with the serviceability and spare parts, and at the moment we are keeping three aircraft flying at any one time.
Further Seasprite questions from Opposition MP's:
Simon O'Connor: And then, two last quick—well, one on the Seasprites. I’ve heard, certainly, lack of supplies, but in terms of the attrition, do you have enough of the engineers required, if you had the parts, to actually install them, or is that part of the issue as well?
Response by CDF:
Air Marshall Kevin Short: No, it’s—the biggest problem there isn’t the technicians themselves. It is the number of spare parts and componentry that—it’s kind of an orphan fit; it’s a fit-out that we only operate, and it’s the spare parts to keep them going that is a problem for us.
CAF has stated (Air Force News) that the Seasprite replacement project is well underway so expect an early decision on a replacement type. On whatever is assessed/chosen, it is imperative an extra capability for the replacement is that it has a dipping sonar (as relying on visual contacts as currently with the Seasprite is archaic in this networked day and age. At least they can carry sonarbouys, can't they)? The logical choice would surely be a capability interoperable with the ADF with their Romeo Seahawks? This would standardise (and fast-track) training, support and munitions etc. (The NZDF Annual Review noted and thanked the ADF and USN for assisting with fast-tracking NZ's P-8 training programmes, which reinforces the benefits of being interoperable with NZ's closest allies as much as practical).
Finally lots of other discussion about personnel attrition issues (still concerning), incoming project capabilities (P-8, C-130, Network Enabled Army etc), supposedly where NZDF fits in with ADF planning and love the response about greater use of simulators (for a small defence force) to offset "emissions" as per Green Party concerns!