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F-16 Cabinet Decision Due Today

The Prime Minister is expected to announce the Government’s decision to scrap the F-16 fighter deal at a press conference today.

Prime Minister Helen Clark has already telephoned American envoy Carole Moseley-Braun forewarning her of the imminent Cabinet decision, to ensure it comes as no surprise to the United States.

The Government has long signalled it wanted out of the deal to lease 28 F-16 A/B Strike aircraft which were to replace the country’s aging Skyhawk fleet. Ms Clark is expected to announce the decision after she airs the results of consultant Derek Quigley’s study on New Zealand defence today.

An American defence official has said the cost of pulling out of the deal, which would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars over a ten year period, was estimated at between $10-12 million.

While America had lined up other buyers for the air-craft, both Australia and American governments have asked for assurances New Zealand was not reducing it’s overall defence commitment.

Ms Clark has repeatedly said the Government would concentrate on re-equipping other sections of New Zealand defence forces, especially the army.

Opposition Leader Jenny Shipley today called on Prime Minister Helen Clark to make it absolutely clear to New Zealanders whether the cancellation of the F-16 contract will mean a dramatic downgrading of New Zealand's strategic defence capability prior to discussion in Cabinet.

"If the Labour-Alliance minority Government is committing New Zealand to a future without an air strike capability, then it should be telling all New Zealanders," Mrs Shipley said.

"While it is the right of the Government to determine whether or not it wishes to proceed with the F-16 contract, it is a much more significant decision than the cancellation of one contract alone.

“Potentially, it will condemn New Zealand to no longer being able to stage a balanced force of air, naval and infantry capability,” she said.


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