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The Defence Debate: Facing the Future Confidently

The Defence Debate: Facing the Future with confidence

The recent public debate over defence issues is timely and important. There are very real challenges ahead in the short to medium term and there is an overriding need to meet these with a defence strategy that recognises the present and future needs of New Zealand’s armed forces consistent with the objectives of our defence programme.

Murray Callister, United New Zealand spokesperson on defence and the party’s candidate for Northcote in last year’s General Election, has taken a particular interest in the F-16 issue and its relationship to wider defence issues.
The debate itself has been most poignantly highlighted with the discussion over recent months about New Zealand’s commitment to the F16s. Strong arguments both for and against going ahead with the purchase of the aircraft have been put forward by the respective proponents.

Perhaps the first and most relevant question is whether we need the F16s in the first place. Our need for these aircraft should be determined according to such factors as cost, comparable deals available on other aircraft, defence strategies and the relative needs of the other two sections of the armed forces – the navy and army.

United New Zealand recognises there is a need and role for well equipped and modern defence forces to meet our strategic and operational needs and international obligations. Equally we must balance this need with New Zealand’s fiscal limitations and relatively small size.

It would certainly appear that the financial arrangement to buy the F-16s is a good one. Most defence analysts agree the deal to lease 28 F-16s is a strong and robust one, which when examined alone, is perhaps too good to renege on. The F-16s provide a modern capability, as opposed to the ageing Skyhawks. The presence of these combat aircraft will ensure the RNZAF (Royal New Zealand Air Force) has an equality in terms of speed and strike capacity, relative of course to our size.

The issue of what specific function we want to see the RNZAF carrying out should determine if the F-16 deal goes ahead.

If we are seeking a strike capacity with our Air Force then given the favourable conditions of the F-16 deal the balance probably favours their purchase.

On the other hand if we are looking towards a greater emphasis on a peacekeeping and transportation capacity only, then the deal needs closer scrutiny.

United contends that there needs to be a broad cross-party agreement on defence capital requirements to ensure the defence forces can plan and operate with certainty. United leader, Hon Peter Dunne in calling for a defence summit in January, spoke of its advantages. He said:
“It is high time that a multi-party defence summit is established to determine all future defence capital expenditure requirements. The summit should aim to develop a multi-party accord, which would ultimately provide more certainty for the defence forces, by ensuring capital requirements are consistent with the military and personnel objectives of the forces and the government’s defence priorities.”

There has been for too long an emphasis on ad-hoc decision making rather than strategic planning for defence and capital equipment funding. This has proven to be costly for the defence forces in terms of equipment and planning requirements.

As well as providing more certainty for the defence forces the summit would provide the means to shape an agreed role for our forces in the future. That simply means that if there is agreement on continuing New Zealand’s peacekeeping role with an air force strike capacity then equipment and funding decisions to meet these objectives is agreed upon.

Providing the summit recognises that government policy can change over time at least purchasing and capital requirements could be met in a climate of certainty.

The F-16 debate is one that will not go away even after a decision on their future has been made.

United’s approach is to ensure that there is indeed a debate and that the debate takes place in the wider context of New Zealand’s medium-term defence objectives and needs.
If the purchase of F-16s is perceived as representing a good financial package and meeting the capital, personnel, operational and strategic requirements of the armed forces then there is a strong argument for it proceeding.

If the reverse applies and the funds set aside for the F-16s can be better used in other areas within the defence force, then the deal should be set aside.

An All Party Defence Summit would go a considerable way towards achieving this outcome.


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