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High Frequency equipment to be installed in NZ

High Frequency equipment to be installed in New Zealand

Minister of Defence Mark Burton has today announced Cabinet approval for the installation of an unclassified United States Air Force (USAF) High Frequency (HF) radio transmitter and receiver at a New Zealand Defence Force communications site. The most likely location is Whenuapai, Waiouru, or Christchurch.

The project, known as the Rightsizing Initiative, will provide a voice-only, unclassified and unencrypted link between aircrews and support personnel on the ground, relating to routine aircraft operations and safety only.

Mark Burton says that the decision to install the equipment will “enhance HF communication coverage for transport aircraft in the South Pacific and Antarctic regions, thus improving their in-flight safety. “The service will operate on a publicly registered aeronautical frequency, and radio enthusiasts can easily listen in on the transmissions. All they’ll need is a simple HF radio—which costs as little as $30—and they can listen to all the air to ground communications.”

Installation of the HF facility is part of a programme that will help streamline the USAF’s High Frequency (HF) networks, and it will benefit both the NZDF and the USAF. There will be no cost to New Zealand in accessing the HF networks.

Mark Burton says the project also offers benefits to the NZDF.

“Participating in the Rightsizing initiative will give the NZDF access to global HF services in the Northern Hemisphere. This will eliminate the need to deploy an NZDF HF attachment to Singapore in order to communicate with our air detachments outside the Asia Pacific region.”


What does the Rightsizing Initiative entail? The US has embarked on a project that will see a number of high frequency (HF) radio installations close. Previously the US maintained a considerable number of HF radio installations within the respective arms of the Department of Defence.

The aim of the Rightsizing initiative is to consolidate the HF requirements, which are currently duplicated within the respective arms of US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. As a result, some short falls in radio coverage have been identified, one of which is air-ground-air coverage in the South Pacific and Antarctic regions.

Why is New Zealand being asked to participate?

The main requirement for a reliable HF service is to keep the radio path length to a minimum. Typically, the aim is to keep the radio path to within 1500kms (a single HF "hop"). However, where this is not practical, the objective is to achieve the shortest distance possible. New Zealand is better placed than the closest US installation in Hawaii to provide coverage for aircraft on route to Antarctica and the Pacific Islands.

Under what agreement has New Zealand’s participation in the Rightsizing initiative been sought?

New Zealand’s participation in the initiative has been sought under the auspices of the Combined Communications Electronic Board (CCEB). The CCEB is tasked with overseeing the standardisation of communications systems between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Who else is participating?

In May 2001, the UK and the US concluded a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that established arrangements for the provision of HF communications support and related services. In April, a joint US/UK communications team visited Australia and New Zealand to provide further information on the initiative and to invite our participation.

Is Australia participating?

Geographically, New Zealand is better placed than Australia to provide HF coverage for aircraft transiting the South Pacific and Antarctic regions.

What is the Rightsizing initiative’s purpose?

The Initiative’s purpose is to provide an HF link between aircrews and support personnel on the ground. Enhancing the coverage of HF communications in the South Pacific and Antarctic regions would improve in-flight safety for transport aircraft transiting this area.
How would this improve in-flight safety?

The Initiative would provide a back-up ground-air-ground communications link between aircrews and support personnel.

Could the initiative be used for intelligence purposes?

No. The US is rationalising its unclassified HF networks. The service would operate on a publicly registered aeronautical frequency, and communications between aircrews and support personnel would be voice only and unencrypted.

Anyone with access to a HF radio (costing as little as $30.00) could monitor these communications, thereby confirming that they relate only to routine aircraft operations and safety.

What would New Zealand’s participation involve?

New Zealand’s participation would involve the installation of an unclassified HF radio transmitter and receiver one of the following locations: Whenuapai, Irirangi (Waiouru) or Weedons (Christchurch). Under the proposal, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) would have full access to the facility.

Does HF radio admit harmful radiation?

No. Commercial aircraft use HF radio.

What advantages are there for New Zealand?

Under the Initiative, the NZDF would gain access to global HF services operated by the US and the UK. This would eliminate the need to deploy a NZDF HF attachment to Singapore to communicate with our aircrews operating in missions outside the Asia Pacific region (i.e. the Balkans, Afghanistan, Africa and the Middle East).

Direct in-flight communications from RNZAF aircrews could be received more effectively and cheaply in New Zealand through US and UK stations operating in the Northern Pacific, the Atlantic and/or the Mediterranean.

What are the financial implications for New Zealand?

The US would provide and install all equipment, and cover its maintenance and support under local commercial arrangements. The proposal involves no cost to New Zealand other than the provision of existing Defence real estate.

When will the equipment be installed?

Within the next 12 months.

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