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The Mapp Report: Serious Problems In Defence

Serious Problems In Defence

The recent furore on defence capability issues shows New Zealanders remain concerned and interested in how well our Defence Force can meet the nation's needs.

The recent Herald front page story on the problems in defence certainly generated letters and e-mails to me. When the Defence Force says it is unable to meet the objectives set by government (n conjunction with Defence), there clearly are serious problems.

The Chiefs have their say

Last Thursday the Chief of Defence Force and Secretary of Defence appeared before the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Select Committee. They were there as a result of the Auditor-General's report on Defence Acquisitions and to answer questions about the UN Housing Allowance Court of Inquiry.

Answering the Auditor-General

The first issue, the Auditor-General's report, dealt with how well Defence is performing. This Report was the most damning I have seen since I have been in Parliament. The Auditor-General said he could not finish the audit, because key material simply did not exist. You would think that Defence would act promptly to rectify the problem. Instead, both the Chief of Defence and the Secretary of Defence wrote to the Select Committee implying the problem was not really as serious as the Auditor-General considered, saying "high degrees of accuracy in the early stages are neither possible nor necessary".

Yes Minister

It was a classic piece of "Yes Minister"; assuring members of the Select Committee that of course everything was in hand and going to plan. The National MPs on the Committee, (Murray McCully, Tim Groser, John Hayes and myself), were not impressed. For instance, the Secretary said that if more accuracy on estimates was needed, more money was needed.


NH90 blowout

This was in respect of the NH90 helicopter contract originally estimated to be between $400 and $500 million, but ultimately costing nearly $800 million. The scale of the blowout was so large that a better estimate of the actual cost may well have resulted in a different choice of helicopter. The importance of good estimates seemed entirely lost on the officials.

This will not do. National is determined that military procurement must be improved. It is one of the problems highlighted by the Annual Report and the Auditor-General. If the Defence Force is to have a better chance of achieving their requirements, they will have to radically improve the procurement process.

HMNZS CANTERBURY REPORT

As if to confirm the problems, the report on the Safety and Functionality of HMNZS Canterbury came out on Friday. Among the conclusions were the following:

* Some operating limitations will have to be accepted. Sea keeping performance is likely to be poor in high sea states

* There was insufficient appreciation of the constraints of a commercial roll on/roll off design

* The complexity and challenge of the project has been underestimated in all respects

* There have been significant shortcomings in the governance of the acquisition.

Bad design

These issues are set out in more detail in the report. On the design, it was stated "Even a cursory examination of the design and operating profile should have raised questions over her suitability for long operational patrols in the South Pacific".

The review also said "there was insufficient technical expertise in the project team to fully comprehend some of the key design issues". The attitude of the team was to "crack on come what may".

Lack of project skills

The review specifically states "The project team lacked the size and range of skills to manage a project of the complexity of HMNZS Canterbury". The effect is that the MRV will only be able to lower the landing craft from the upper deck, and to unload equipment in very calm seas.

Labour's failure

The report as a whole is a sustained criticism of how Defence acquired Canterbury for the Navy. Of course, the government failure at the heart of the problem was the determination of the government to get an MRV on an unrealistic budget "come what may". The way the decisions were made is ultimately a reflection of the way government ministers were driving the project.

National's warnings not heeded

National MPs, at the time the project was being evaluated, warned the government of the risks of a one-off design. There were well known proven multirole vessels available. These had proven design, with the landing craft being carried inside the ship with a special internal dock. This system means the ships can be operated in quite a wide range of sea states. All of this was known to the Government and the Navy.

Instead, we have a one-off design with inherent limitations. The Navy now simply has to make do, knowing it has a ship that can only be operated in a limited range of conditions.

Sorting it out

National has said that there must be a radical overhaul of defence procurement. We can't afford these sorts of mistakes in the future. It would be a priority for a National government to get procurement right so that our defence force has the right equipment to do the job.

OUT AND ABOUT

On Friday I went to Major Bob Pope's funeral in Devonport. Bob passed away peacefully earlier this week, aged 91. Born in Stanley Bay in 1917, Bob was educated at Kings College.

He served in Italy during the Second World War. Many a discussion with Bob started off with a reminder to speak up, because his hearing had been damaged at Casino.

Bob was a colourful Shore character, passionate about his community and holding people to account. Many will say, "he had a good innings".

15 September 2008


ENDS

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