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Sludge Report #58
Sludge Weighs Into Defence Debate - Moving On From WWII
The most interesting thing about the current Defence debate is that, despite the rhetoric, there has been no real Defence strategy in New Zealnd since the end of WWII.
At the end of WWII the services had plenty of equipment, the Navy had a couple of cruisers and some Loch class frigates. The Army had an almost fully equipped Infantry Division, and the RNZAF a whole range of aircraft including P51 Mustangs and Vampire jets.
The only strategy since has been to keep replacing the equipment so that we maintained a mini Royal Navy, a mini British Army and a mini Royal Air Force. This has been the case in spite of the fact that the possible and actual theatre of war have moved from the Middle East, to South East Asia, to Peacekeeping anywhere.
All the White Papers produced since the war have been pitched at maintaining the status quo at the least possible cost, and that has been under Governments of both political persuasions.
Let us assume it is time to do some planning and that it has been decided that we start from a zero budget point of view. In which case we should take into account the following factors:
1. New Zealand has a population of a medium sized international city with a coastline almost as long as that of the USA. This means that we have very high overheads, and money for Defence will always be limited.
2. We have a resource rich 200-mile economic zone which we must observe and protect.
3. There would not appear to be a threat from any of the major powers in the foreseeable future. Even though we rely heavily on trade, the days of convoys are long past, due to the speed of the container ships and the capability of stand off weapons.
4. The most likely regional problem for Australasia is the possible disintegration of Indonesia, and if that occurs there will be a mass movement of refugees into Northern Australia. Further, PNG is likely to be very unstable for a considerable period. Thus it is very much in our interests to help, should that disaster scenario happen.
5. The islands of the Pacific to our North, almost without exception, are a shambles, and New Zealand does not presently have the capability to intervene, even if only to protect foreign nationals.
6. Sludge has a memory of some sort of an arrangement with the Americans to look after that stretch of the Pacific which we could probably resurrect, and so be seen to be doing our bit for regional stability.
7. The NZ population supports the deployment of Defence resources in support of the UN, and that should continue so that we are seen to support the World body. It would be sensible to see what the Scandinavian countries have done in that regard, as they seem to have turned UN support into an art form.
8. Finally we need the capability for Search And Rescue in New Zealand, our 200-mile zone and the Pacific area. It would also be prudent to involve Defence in the Civil Defence arena in order to ensure rapid response to an emergency.
So, what sort of a force would New Zealand need to meet the threats listed above.
The Navy would require vessels to patrol the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) , to deploy into the Pacific and have some fire support capability, plus vessels to provide logistic support for deployment into the Pacific.
The Army will require equipment to operate as light infantry with appropriate fire support in Northern Australia as well as the Pacific. In addition, UN operations would be on the agenda.
The Air Force will need aircraft to patrol the EEZ and the Pacific, transport aircraft and helicopters for operational and logistic support. The combat support for the deployed ground forces and anti shipping roles may be subject to a compromise such as missiles on the surveillance aircraft.
What gets purchased and when is then subject to budget constraints, and should be planned well in advance, not influenced by the opportunity driven purchasing that has so often occurred in the past.
An example of what this might mean in practice would be that decisions such as the recent one to spend $700+ million on 105 LAV Armed Personnel Carriers would be avoided.
Sludge notes that these LAV’s, which our Government has put so much store in obtaining:
1. would have been completely inappropriate for use in either East Timor, Bougainville or the Solomon Islands, the last three theatres to which the NZ Army has deployed;
2. are more valuable individually (at $7 million a piece) than the entire Government infrastructures in many of the Pacific Nations in which they appear likely to be deployed;
3. are intended to be driven by young soldiers earning most probably around $20,000pa, or a 350th of the value of the vehicles themselves (note: a fact which has not escaped the young privates’ attention, and which seems likely to impact on Army morale in the near future.);
4. are vehicles that NZ has no ability to deploy given the absence of 1) heavy airlift capacity and 2) sea lift capacity (note: while in theory the RNZAF’s ancient Hercules aircraft are capable of transporting the LAV’s, in practice any attempt to use them for this purpose would quite likely be the Hercules final mission.)
In theory then we, New Zealand, should be able to debate the threats, and hopefully get the political parties to sign up to them. We could then ask the Chief of Defence Staff to outline the resources required within an affordable and agreed long term budget.
That said, the chances are anything so rational might happen seem very slim, which is sad.
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