Monday, December 15, 2008

New Generation Aircraft

Earlier in the year Dominion Post Defence correspondent Hans Kuiper ran a story suggesting that at some unspecified time in the future the Airforce might be in the market for the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft.

Its always hard to know with stories of this kind exactly what the circumstances behind it were. Was this a speculative discussion that turned into a bit more because it promised the chief reporter a cool picture for the front page on a slow news day or a deliberate bit of leaking by the Air Force in an attempt to butter up public opinion? I personally prefer stupidity theories over conspiracy theories and doubt that the Air Force which is in the middle of re-engineering the C-130H airframe, the P-3K sensor suite and the 757's cargo capacity really has plans for an enormous spend-up in the near future.

That said my view is that if anyone deserves money spent on them it is the airforce. The Army spent several hundred million on LAV IIIs which in all probability will never be used on active duty more than twice (and then just to make a point); the Navy has spent billions on ships which show the flag and not much else; while the poor cousins - the airforce - fly mission after mission to rescue people, protect the EEZ and get our people to where they are wanted. While the $180 million HMNZS Canterbury limps around trying not to kill any more sailors the airforce is out there flying rings around it.

My defence study was originally designed as a retrospective view of how the Defence Ministry/Force could have made better choices over the past 15-20 years. Now I am turning my attention to look forward. The study site is being extended with examinations of future options for the NZDF starting with a look at how the airforce could be modernised with the replacement of the C-130H and P-3K aircraft.

This examination draws on work from the earlier study but also includes a look at new options such as the P-X/C-X and C-390 which were not included in the study period of the original study.

Further topics will be canvassed in future on the site at

Monday, November 3, 2008

A 21st Century Military

One of weird things that happens to you as you age is that stuff that people used to talk about as science fiction starts becoming real life. My best example of this is flat screen high definition TVs. As a young journalist in the 80s I was told by Japanese industrialists that these would start appearing in the 2000s. I put this in my list of silly predictions. But lo! Here we are in the 2000s with Harvey Norman selling these very things for a couple of grand.

As a kid I was raised on Star Trek, Dr Who and Gerry Anderson's puppets. Then came Star Wars and all its derivatives. Among the science fiction weapons we children talked about were:phasers, battle lasers, rail-guns; robots; super fast submarines etc. Now as an adult I am seeing more of these things in prototype and on the way to becoming reality.

Take a look at this lot:

Raytheon's Active Denial System ADS is a beam weapon that stimulates pain receptors. The small ones work to 500m. The big ones to a couple of kilometres. Police and Military can buy them.Do nations open for extraordinary rendition get one free with every four or more prisoners?

Boeings Advanced Tactical Laser is a beam weapon that fires a 10cm radius megawatt laser to a range of 10km. Its marketing benefit is that it limits collateral damage. Its less advertisedbenefit is that when Abdul's brain is melted and the vultures have slurped it up there won't be any 5.56mm holes to suggest who might be responsible. Currently its mounted on an AC-130but the plan is to put it on an MV-22 Osprey.

US Navy Railgun is an electro-magnetic gun that accelerates a projectile to 5.8km/s muzzle velocity. The weapon is intended to be ready for 2020-2025 and able to fire 10 projectiles a minute to 200 nautical miles with a circular error probability of 5 metres.

The DARPA Grand Challenge has been demonstrating that autonomous land vehicles are now entirely feasible. The first stage under consideration is unarmed autonomous scout robots. next stage - armed patrol however is already underway with the SWORD robots in Iraq

There are already large numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles in operation around the world. The best known is the Predator which is armed with Hellfire missiles controlled remotely when on attack runs. However Boeing and others are already working on autonomous fighters and bombers able to take advantage of higher levels of agility and less risk to highly trainedpilots.

And finally we have "Stingray" (the kids show) made real with this bizarre solicitation from DARPA for a submarine aircraft. Admittedly unlike the others this is just a feasibility study not a prototype.

This is not to mention Dean Kamen's robotic arm, mind control of electronic devices via interfaces embedded in people's brains, Alan Gibb's amphibious military vehicles, etc.

If we start putting all of this together for a putative 2030 military environment and we start to see disturbing trends towards technologies which allow push-button warriors to send robotic pain inflictors out to quell riots or zap snipers from on high. In short military power stops relying on the willingness of ordinary men and women to fight and more on the willingness of technicians to service instruments of oppression.

God forbit that there should be any global contest between superpowers but were such a calamity to occur the mind boggles what would happen if World War Two's pace of development were applied to weaponry. One suspects that Terminator style bots could be running around as early as 2039.

My question then is what does this mean politically? Not only to the world but also to a small nation in one of its more forgotten corners? Is democracy destined to become a three century flash in the pan between Knights and Robots? What is the military's role in this?

For increasingly the line between war and peace is blurring. Today the world's biggest war machine is facing its toughest test against an enemy which has already destroyed two superpowers (Britain and Russia) - afghanistan. It is a war fought - just as Vietnam was fought - where combatants don't helpfully declare their allegiances. But as technology is refined to fight this war this technology also has obvious application as an instrument of domestic oppression.

My theory is that the military must have a greater constitutional stake in democracy because ultimately the military is most likely to be the ultimate enemy of democracy. Soldiers must believe that their role is to defend the liberty of their fellow countrymen and women, not to constrain it. While we rely on ordinary men and women to bear arms democracy is relatively safe for there is nothing more equal than the vulnerability of the human body to a bullet. But when one side has robots and the other humans that inequality becomes a source of potential temptation for those in power.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


It's sort of amusing to watch this TV3 programme about a major disaster in Wellington. It was becoming aware of precisely this scenario - some ten years ago which led me to question whether our defence force would really be much use if disaster struck the capital. Essentially what would the NZDF contribute - especially in the early stages of shock and confusion when military logistics and planning is the only system still functioning?

I asked myself this: "If an enemy could do this sort of damage to our capital through military attack, what would we be spending on defence? And then I asked why should there be a difference between spending on defence against military attack and spending on defence against natural disaster?".

This led me to develop my thought experiment (at The thought experiment evaluates all hazards to which a defence force might be expected to respond. It then constructs a counterfactual force and evaluates the relative potential performances of the two forces against the hazards.

Essentially the thought experiment shows that the billions of dollars invested to date in defence capital equipment could have been better spent on a force which is as capable of responding to a major natural disaster as it is a military mission. The fundamental difference is that my hypothetical force would concentrate a lot less on defending us against submarines and a lot more on defending us against terrorists, earthquakes, and biohazards.

The main failing of the existing force in this respect was the following:
1. limited sealift
2. limited helicopter support
3. no amphibious logistics vehicles to bypass washouts or dropped bridges
4. limited hydrology survey (essential for post Tsunami harbour access)
5. No dedicated disaster volunteer structure

What I found was that for the money we have spent already we could have a force that had all of these and more. It would also be arguably better at the kind of military deployments we tend to get involved in as well.

All of this has led me to contend that our concepts of defence are wrong, our defence organisation is wrong and our defence priorities are largely wrong as well.

Perhaps this program will lead more people to follow my line of reasoning on their own. It would be nice if instead of just presenting us with a plausible disaster scenario we were given some idea of how we as a nation should organise ourselves to respond. But I suspect that the great majority of couch potatoes will simply watch the special effects in fascinated bewilderment before getting on to the really important things - like Shortland Street.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A fair day's pay?

The new Military Remuneration Policy which will be fully in force by July 2009 is an essential step towards making military remuneration competitive with the civilian labour market. The step away from purely rank based remuneration will make it possible for the NZDF to start competing for skilled staff without having to give them non-existent commands.
That said the pay rates are still not what anyone would call exciting.

A Captain with specialist medical training would get to earn $65,328. A Major $93,222

Compare that to the remuneration available in the private sector
Base Salary Total Package
SHO $55 - 70,000 $60 – 90,000
Registrar $56 - 87,000 $70 – 100,000
Career Medical Officer $88 – 151,000 $98 – 165,000
Specialist $115 -200,000 $160 – 250,000

and for Engineers:

Median total earnings for engineers aged 41-45 is $83,000 The upper quartile of Telecomunication engineers earn $100,000 base & $117,750 in total Median base salary for engineers with 7-9 years experience is $70,000 he lower quartile total earnings for engineers working in the central government sector is $60,000

So a young registrar or professional engineer would have to be a Captain and an experienced one would have to be a Major to be even vaguely in line with the private sector.

Meanwhile experienced mercenaries in Iraq are getting US$1200 a day from companies like Armour Holdings.That's more than a Major's salary for two month's work.

So the new policy is definitely heading in the right direction. The problem is the quantum. The Military is still based on the notion of recruiting the young and the cheap, training them up and expecting them to move on.

The problem is the world is just not like that any more. Military systems and the entire military task has become far too complex to give to a bunch of lunkheads you've just taught how to shoot a gun in the right direction. Today's military are involved in complex, sensitive situations where decisions at even the level of the corporal can have significant implications at national levels. The technology - even for the infantry - is getting more complicated all the time. So a soldier on a check-point watching out for suicide bombers has to assess the tactical situation, the technical environment (for remote triggers) the political situation and even the media situation all while trying to avoid getting killed. We cannot treat our infantry like lunkheads, the job is simply too big.

Once again it all comes back to headcount. If you have fewer people you can afford to pay them more but you can only afford to have fewer people if you are far more ruthless about deciding what you will or will not try to do.

As I have said (probably once too often) in my view the NZDF's main fault is trying to be a WW2 military and a post 9/11 military at the same time. The simple fact is we are trying to do too many things with a military which on comparison to nations of a similar size and strategic situation is too large.

We are not threatened by submarines and yet we have a large anti-submarine warfare capability (2 MEKO frigates, Seasprite helicopters + Orions worth about half the NZDFs working capital). Our emphasis in armour has been on combat rather than logistics making our 105 LAVs too aggressive to deploy for peacekeeping operations where logistics are more important.
All in all our military has small mans disease. It wants to show it's tough all the time rather than deal with the real issues which are mostly dual-use logistic support, low intensity warfare and high impact globally mobile anti-terror operations.

The point of my Defence Review was to show that it is possible to reduce the size of the Defence Force, refocus on a dual-use military for both military and civilian security from all hazards and achieve all the mission objectives of any post 9/11 environment in a way that is more satisfying ( and better paid) for defence staff.

The MRP is a good step toward this goal, but it is just the first on a very long journey.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Little Defence Force that Couldn't

Perfectly timed to enter into the election year debate the Defence Force annual report is more interesting for the politics that surrounds it than its actual content.

Defence Force Commander Jerry Mataparae has thrown a political football into the election line up neatly down the middle providing an opportunity for both sides to take up his professional cause: and scrum over the state of the Defence Force.

On Morning Report this morning National's Dr Wayne Mapp effectively demonstrated National's normal response to defence policy: ignorant bluster, while Phil Goff appeared unnecessarily defensive. Dr Mapp's amazing declaration that we have 700 LAVs (we have 105) combined with his raving about the Skyhawks demonstrated that when it comes to Defence, National's strategy is to make a lot of hairy chested noise but not bother too much about the details. Historically National's approach to defence has been hypocritical to say the least, relying heavily on cuddling up to Australia and the United States while letting Defence languish in terms of budgets and acquisitions. At times the NZDF under National was so short of ammunition they had to cancel exercises.

By contrast Labour has invested heavily in the defence force overseeing the investment in ANZAC frigates (3rd Labour Government), NH90 helicopters, C-130 and P-3K upgrades and increasing numbers by 1,000 personnel. Labour has also invested in bases and facilities that years under National were in a sad state of disrepair.

But what Labour has not done is seriously examined the structure and purpose of a defence force of a small island nation in the Pacific in the context of the post 9/11 world. The result is clear in the 2008 Annual Report: A defence force doing too many things because it has always done them and not doing the new things it ought to be doing. No wonder the force is stretched! It is trying to be a World War Two style defence force as well as being a post 9/11 defence force. Until someone tells the NZDF to drop all the World War Two nonsense and just focus on real defence needs in a world where the boundaries between military and civilian life are increasingly blurred it will continue to be stretched.

So far Labour's response has simply been to throw money at the problem. In fact it has thrown so much money at the problem the Audit Office is seriously starting to question where it is all going. The NH90 helicopters are a case in point with the budget balloning over the years the acquisition has been in train in a way which is odd - even by military standards.

Unfortunately for most New Zealanders defence is a very obscure area of Government activity. Most have no idea about Defence at all other than the annual ANZAC parade where children 'remember' people they never knew who died in wars they don't understand. It has become a rite and a ritual which like all rituals is increasingly disconnected from reality. Those who have had anything to do with Defence tend to be very much in the "hairy chested" World War Two mode where they imagine New Zealand to be under threat from the Japanese or the Russians. And then there are the kid 'enthusiasts' who really just want to play soldiers with a whole bunch of lethal gear but who don't understand the importance of low intensity warfare techniques in the South Pacific, the importance of logistics, the growing importance of dual use humanitarian operations or even the role of politics. So what the public gets is a vague sense that the defence force does 'something' with a whole bunch of equipment which is perpetually breaking down.

This brings us to the question of the threatened "white paper" on defence which Dr Mapp thinks will help solve the problems of Defence.

Unfortunately it almost certainly won't. The reason is the politics is split. The hairy chests want a World War Two military they remember. The kids want toys. The Defence Force itself wants to be taken seriously by Australia, Singapore and other nations which are 4,800 nautical miles closer (that's a fifth of the globe) to areas of potential military friction and which spend way more of their much larger GDPs than we do. But the average New Zealander just wants a force that doesn't cost much (lower taxes) does good work in the islands and afghanistan, come to the rescue in disasters and who aren't bloody embarassing (like aircraft that break down or being unable to arrest foreign trawlers because they can outrun our boats, ignore our patrol aircraft, and are too far out for our helicopters).

The result will almost certainly end up looking like the 2000 Defence Review but probably with some damn fool RSA style recommendation in favour of a combat squadron which like the Skyhawks will cost a fortune and deliver practically nothing against the defence force's objectives (other than the ones which involve cuddling up to Australia).

In my view the Defence Force/Ministry of Defence structure does need significant change. Unfortunately the change that is needed is incompatible with the capital acquisitions Labour has already made. We are stuck with the ANZAC frigates, the LAV IIIs and the NH90s for at least another 20 years. If we are clever we may at least be able to reorganise the force into one that is more focused on the post 9/11 world and less based on World War two heritage. But it will still be 2030 before there is any real hope for aligning our capital acquisitions with the kind of structure we really need and by then the world may well have changed shape all over again.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Audit Office Report

The Audit Office's Reporting the progress of defence acquisition project report is a serious indictment on the structure and nature of New Zealand's armed services. In twenty years of watching Government I have never seen a report like it. Essentially the Audit Office has published a report accusing the Defence establishment of obscurantism over its procurement processes in an unprecedented display of frustration by one government agency with another.

In New Zealand Government agencies don't publish this sort of report without severe provocation. Certainly the Audit Office accepts and welcomes the Defence Ministry's claim that it will continue to work with the Audit Office, but this is cant. The Audit Office must be furious to publish such a trenchant criticism and the numbers tell us why.

The first and most important number is that of the year 2005 first mentioned by the Auditor General in the sentence:

In my 2005/06 Annual Plan, I indicated my intention to carry out a performance audit to identify and report changes to costs, time frames, and essential user requirements in selected defence acquisition projects.

It is now 2008. The Defence established were given plenty of warning and yet here we are three years later with the Auditor General releasing an interim report because his staff can't get straight answers from the Ministry/NZDF. Why?

Then there is the track record of the projects themselves. The most expensive ones have been seriously over budget often with no adequate explanation. The Audit Office says many changes have no records to explain them on file. The Defence information systems have not kept records despite the fact they were told three years ago the Audit Office would be investigating. Why?

Then there are the projects themselves. Some, such as the NH90 helicopter are seriously over budget. Some, such as Project Protector have fallen behind schedule. Nearly all the estimates provided to Cabinet for sign-off have been little better than "intelligent guesses" of the eventual cost. In nearly all cases delays have added significantly to project cost.

Altogether the Audit Office paints a picture of a service which has nothing but contempt for the civil institutions it is meant to serve. The Service is more self-serving than serving the public and cannot provide its civil masters with adequate explanations of how and why it spends the vast sums that it does. It perpetuates the myth that civilians cannot possibly understand the military world, that the defence service are the experts and that we should trust them, because they know what they are doing.

This is the fundamental problem with disconnecting the military from civilian concerns. The military thinks its job is to provide an armed force for the military expression of Government foreign policy. Its task is to liaise with other militaries in order to take part in the hairy chested adventuresome world of masculine inter-state bonding. And that's it. Its toy soldiers on a grand scale.

In my view while this view of the military remains in place it will remain very difficult to get any sense out of the secrecy shrouded military world. They will continue to define acquisitions projects based on solely military criteria where the utility of their "toys" cannot be questioned because they are meant to be the sole providers of military advice. Thus the whole funder-provider split which Treasury pushed on the Services (and the rest of the public service) in the 80s is a complete sham because everything ties back to specifications dreamt up by the NZDF.

The fundamental problem is that the Quigley Review was wrong. Wrong because its assessment of the role of the military was not based on a wide enough scope and because its only funding rationale was business as usual. My review assumptions is that the military exists to provide a service to protect New Zealanders in the case of emergencies outside the scope of business as usual. This means that the service must be prepared to deal with all extraordinary hazards capable of mounting a significant threat to New Zealand's regional and civil economic structures. These include bio-terrorism, cyber-terrorism, geophysical and flooding disaster, EEZ resource security, as well as anti-democratic nutters with bombs and machine-guns.

In the course of the review I also questioned whether the NZDF policy of deferring to Australia in all things was really a very sensible one. I could not find many cases (The Harris radio's being a notable exception) where the Australian lead really was the best or most economic choice for achieving the broader scope of emergency response we required.

In the end the Audit Office may get some answers on why the Defence Force has such a poor record in cost estimation and project management. I fear however, they will only get part of the answer because they are only able to ask part of the question.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pacific trade security

The recent spat in the news over the Pacific Forum Line saw shareholders register their extreme unease at the suggesting that the line (which is 29% owned by Papua New Guinea, 23% owned by the NZ Government with a similar share owned by Fiji) might be sold to competitors Pacific Direct Line. At the same time there is dissatisfaction from the smallest Pacific Islands ( Niue, Kiribati, Solomons, and Marshall Islands) over the costs of landing shipping containers compared to those at larger Ports. While it is inevitable that the smaller countries will not enjoy the same economies of scale as their larger neighbours it must make attracting business development to these already marginal nations all the more difficult when competitors can offer lower operating costs.

This is a matter of national security interest to New Zealand. We have already seen the effect of economic collapse in the Solomons and while there are no signs of the communal violence that occurred there in Niue or Kiribati whether it is through the deployment of troops on the ground or the increase in the need for aid, one way or another New Zealand ends up having to do something about the economically precarious islands of the remote Pacific - if its influence is not to be displaced by other nations.

Because it is so hide bound by tradition it is only now recognising its issues relating to safety and drunkenness the Royal New Zealand Navy has never looked beyond the end of its guns when it has come to New Zealand's greater security concerns. For the Navy the big excitement is pouncing on Dhows in the Persian Gulf or playing ASW with Indonesian "boomers" (old, loud submarines) in the Timor Sea. And while I'm sure everyone gets quite a rush from this kind of activity I for one fail to see how either has much to do with our regional security compared to the stability of our Pacific neighbours.

And when it comes to preserving security there is no better remedy to resentment and the politics of divide-and-rule than good old fashioned trade. Provide opportunities for trade and you reduce unemployment and the need for aid. Unfortunately there are a few basic economic facts that make trade in vastly dispersed, under-developed, and scantily populated islands unprofitable.

One could argue the PFL is an obvious take-over target with revenues of 62 million and net assets of $26 million. However the nature of inter-Governmental ownership makes this unlikely. On the other hand it is obvious that the current management, rightly, sees the role of the line as being a commercial business. And it would be hard to see a case for such an enterprise subsidising routes which simply don't stack up. To go down that path would be to invite the worst kind of political cronyism hich would ultimately fail, both economically and politically.

All of that aside there is no doubt that the remoter islands are suffering from market failure. Given their circumstances they may start to entertain novel ideas to generate income. Vanuatu for instance, has already become the Luxembourg of the South Pacific, if not in GDP/Capita and style then at least in terms of money laundering. Which islands will become the first to become Japan's Pacific whale processessing centre or China's new pacific air base. Just because the American's used to treat the Pacific as their 'lake' doesn't mean t will remain so for the rest of the 21st Century.

This is where in my view the role of the Navy as a long term strategic asset could have been realised. In my review I proposed not warships but aid/hospital ships for the Navy, modelled on the Chilean Navy's Transport 41 Aquiles. This is a very modest boat capable of carrying a company at a squeeze. But most of the time it carries containers (up to 36), cars, and other material along Chile's long coast or out to its Antarctic bases. The ship I proposed was slightly less modest incorporating a small surgical hospital as well. Nevertheless, in addition to providing aid, such ships could also carry a small commercial cargo for islands not served by commercial lines. The ships would then become a combination of floating clinic, market and, naturally source of intelligence, on the incredibly small but complex world of island politics.

Contrast this to the thrashing around of HMNZS Canterbury which so far has been marginally successful at the amphibious landings she was originally procured for.

My review concluded that for amphibious landings it was cheaper and simpler to procure a proper army landing ship - a big one (US$26m). Such vessels are built to land vehicles (eg 20 Abrams Tanks) direct on to a shore. No, they don't have facilities for crew (they would accompany in an aid/transport ship), but they can carry a lot of heavy material a long way and land it closest to where its needed. Good for military or disaster relief operations equally. But when they aren't needed for these things?

Well, the Government has recently announced it will be spending $36 million in support of its Sea Change coastal shipping policy in order to encourage the development of shipping lanes over highway lanes. The problem is they are trying to do this without reinstating cabotage (the rule that coastal ships fall under domestic ownership, pay rates and employment law). The result is that the foreign shipping lines will continue to dominate our coastal shipping industry because they simply don't face the same costs as local competitors and achieve greater economies of scale. The only development likely to assist New Zealand coastal shipping is the trend by major international lines to ever-larger ships which make fewer Port calls per country.

However the major difficulty with sea-lanes as opposed to road lanes is that of marginal costs. While ships can carry a lot they are much more expensive than trucks. It is easy to add one more truckload or take it away again. Not so ships. This means that each increment in lane capacity (ship) can only come when the need for that capacity is dire and the reliability of the existing service is in question.

While it is never a good idea for Government agencies to compete with the private sector the ships proposed in my review could have made a useful contribution to the development of coastal shipping by providing additional capacity on a semi-commercial basis to existing shipping lines. In effect the lines would bid for subsidised capital on the understanding that it could be withdrawn for emergencies. This would keep the crews and ships busy, increase the frequency of regular sailings for coastal shipping lines thereby encouraging more use of the mode. The only trick would be to avoid the situation where one operator relies on the subsidised service to hold out competition. Thus the contracts would be only of short duration so that where a route proves itself an operator will want to secure their own ship (either by lease or purchase) rather than be exposed to the possibility of losing a Navy ship to a competitors bid.

The Defence Force likes to somehow imagine that it lives in a world removed from the marts of trade. In fact the object of every defence force is to preserve them. There is no threat to New Zealand's trade from submarines or aircraft - and even if there were the RNZN would not make any difference to it. However by getting down and dirty and mixing in the world of trade the Navy could have delivered a lot more real security in our region then it thinks its doing at the moment.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Technology or Glory?

The documentary “Reluctant Hero” about Corporal Bill Apiata V.C which screened this ANZAC day on Television One provided a limited insight into the type of long range patrols the Special Air Service carries out in Afghanistan. It was impossible to explain Corp Apiata’s incredible act of fearlessness without showing how these patrols operate and what they look like.

Key to the patrol is the patrol truck based on the BAE Systems Pinzgauer. Like the 30 cwt trucks of the SAS's WW2 antecedents, the Long Range Desert Patrol, the truck is equipped for speed and firepower. There is no roof and no glass. The vehicle is built for ease of dismount, speed and high firepower. Essentially the truck is all gas and guns.

Corp Apiata’s truck was ambushed by Taliban supporters, probably based at a nearby village. The vehicles were drawn up in a laager and the Taliban snuck up unobserved and fired RPG-7 and heavy machine-guns into Apiata’s vehicle. Even a main battle tank caught in this way is vulnerable as the Afghani’s – now into their second generation of fighting invaders – would well know. Following Corp Apiata’s heroic and incredibly lucky withdrawl under fire the patrol drove off their attackers. Curiously Corporal Apiata was allowed to tell us the patrol kept firing for some time after the incoming fire had stopped.

What does this tell us?

First we have to ignore the British trick of smokescreening blunders behind acts of individual heroism. The most VCs ever won in an action was at Rourke's Drift - a classic example of the Brits lionising brave men who were fundamentally desperate. Obviously the kind of patrol Corporal Apiata was on is meant to attack vulnerable enemy elements on the move caught in the open. It is not a defensive unit and is not meant to get ambushed itself. It goes without saying that unless you are luring the enemy into a trap, being ambushed means someone made a mistake. The mistake either lay in the lack of intelligence about the village nearby or the planned or actual rate of progress of the patrol. If they were late they would be forced to lay-up in poor defensive terrain with a near-by risk. Everyone on the patrol would have realised this.

Secondly the fact that they were firing after the enemy had stopped suggested they didn’t really know where the enemy were. The tracer was coming in and they were just throwing it back. While the rest of us would all be cowering in the foetal position it seems even the SAS can find heavy incoming fire a trifle hairy and their main motivation was simply to drive their assailants away.

Are there any ways one can ameliorate these kinds of risk? The lack of intelligence about local politics is as unavoidable as it is ever-changing. Soldiers can be attuned to political winds but they can’t do much about them. The real issue is the lack of perimeter security for highly mobile forces during rest periods.

Obviously there are all sorts of perimeter security technologies available (radar, seismic, acoustic) etc but most of these are designed for securing static posts and take ages to set up and calibrate. They would also be prohibitively expensive in places where there are multiple avenues of attack. Claymore mines are deadly but are not much use over 100 metres and a sensible ambusher is only this close if he is certain of a massacre or isn’t planning on coming home. The attack was clearly an opportunistic one where the target was relatively easy and the escape routes many. All of this means that what these patrols need are quick to install, cheap and effective forms of perimeter security.

One tried and proven technology that has been used since ancient times is the Mk 5000 dog. With excellent hearing and sense of smell dogs are relatively cheap and potentially useful in up-close situations where people are trying to hide things. Not always that good at sound discipline this hardly applies to a motorised convoy. A few dogs on such a patrol might well earn their biscuits.

A newer technology being used in Iraq and Afghanistan is tethered 4m diameter helium balloons with surveillance cameras on them. For only US$20,000 a patrol could fill, launch and winch out a surveillance camera 1,000 feet overhead which would provide look-down coverage over themselves and the surrounding area. Floating silently in complete darkness out of danger from small-arms fire a thermal or low light camera could provide excellent warning of a gathering threat to those on watch - perhaps even allowing a counter-ambush. Potentially the system could also be used to provide surveillance without exposing the patrol. A relatively low cost solution to perimeter security and a lot cheaper than a new Pinzgauer.

Finally there are UAVs. Hand launched UAVs are being used by American, British and Israeli special forces for tactical reconnaissance. Tiny UAV’s could be used not only to provide area surveillance but also track enemy contacts as they attempt to escape.

I must confess on sighting the special forces Pinzgauer I was impressed and could not help wondering whether my review had been correct to recommend the much cheaper Landcruiser. The Pinzgauer admittedly does have some stunning rock-crawling capabilities and is used by the British. But my argument is that the Landcruiser with commercial-off-the-shelf global support is more cost effective over a shorter service life while 90% of the time the Pinzgauers capabilities will be wasted - effectively becoming an expensive, over-muscled light truck. And by the time they are 20 years old they will be very sad indeed. My issue then was whether Pinzies should still be the go for special forces?

The Landcruiser 79 has been re-developed for the special forces patrol role by Jenkel Ltd (UK)and the Jordanian Ministry of Defence as the Al-Thalab (Fox) and is being used in Afghanistan alongside its ubiquitous civilian cousins. While a relative softy when it comes to hard terrain it carries a useful load and has a range of 1500kms and an endurance of 10 mission days. There is no escaping the fact, however that the Pinzgauer is a better vehicle for surviving extreme terrain than a Landcruiser and as loss of mobility can be lethal in special forces environments the question must be whethera non-Landcruiser solution for special forces should be considered.
Currently my Review budgets about $10 million for light armoured vehicles for the Rangers companies (the equivalent special force unit). The proposed solution is the South African RG31, an armoured mine protected vehicle. The obvious objection to this vehicle is that it is nothing like as nimble as a Pinzgauer. On the other hand the US Special Operations Command has ordered hundreds of the later RG-33 as has the Marine Corps.More to the point it is sensible to retrofit the RG-31 Nyala with slat armour which can prematurely detonate RPG rounds reducing the amount of damage they can cause.

Ultimately the argument comes down to mobility versus protection. SAS soldiers, by their nature, like mobility. However even the SAS has to sleep sometimes and as the encounter in Afghanistan demonstrated there are times when any patrol is vulnerable. At these times real steel is a lot more reliable than moral steel. A patrol consisting of dirt bikes, land cruisers and RG-31's might not be quite as mobile as Pinzgauers but it would would have a far greater survivability capability and as Rommel once observed reconnaisance without survival is pointless.

One has to consider that instead of a VC there was a very real chance that Corporal Apiata and the rest of the crew could have come home in body bags. Instead of glory there would have been some sad little tangis. Had the patrol been equipped with suitable perimeter sensing technology and vehicles better armoured to deflect RPG-7 rounds the disastrous ambush could have been transformed into a counter-ambush which would have been usefully educational for the hostiles family and friends than the heroes welcome they probably recieved when they came home.
While no-one can doubt the courage and commitment of our soldiers the circumstances in which Corporal Apiata earned his Victoria Cross is not a shining example of military success. Doubtless there are better examples of SAS operations than this of which we must unfortunately remain ignorant. But while it is good to know Defence personnel are as gutsy as they were 60-years ago it would also be nice to think that the Force was much, much, much more sophisticated.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Forget the small arms! fix the army!

Stuff has reported that the Defence Force is undertaking a review of its collection of small-arms. Apparently this will include looking for a replacement for its FN Minimi light machine-gun and new ammunition for its AusSteyr rifles. It will not, however include a review of its 13,000 Steyrs as many are in pristine condition.

13,000 Steyrs! No wonder they are in pristine condition. That's more than one assault rifle for every man and woman in the employ of the entire New Zealand defence force! I wouldn't be surprised if some of these Steyrs have never been handled. How on earth did the Ministry of Defence ever let the Defence Force get away with such a ridiculous spend-up?

Admittedly in contrast to aircraft or ships, rifles are very cheap items of equipment. But the purchase of such a ridiculously large number demonstrates one again the feast or famine mentality of the Defence Force and why it cannot be trusted to behave sensibly.

The largest NZDF deployment for 50 years was the Interfet mission to Timor. At its height 1200 personnel were deployed in theatre. Many of them worked aboard Navy frigates and didn't need a rifle. Even if every single one of them was issued with an assault rifle, and even if you had two in reserve for every deployed weapon you would still only need a third of the number of weapons the NZDF holds.

Then there is the problem of looking after 1200 assault rifles. They are not exactly handy items of equipment. While they are a tool of the trade for the infantry for non-infantry personnel such as drivers, engineers, storemen, mechanics, cooks etc they are a bloody nuisance. You can't work with them slung on you so you have to put them in a big pile and make sure someone guards them because in unstable nations such weapons are apt to grow legs and wander off somewhere.

When I looked at a counter-factual force I came to the conclusion that the actual need for assault rifles was not enormous. Essentially there were only two battalion sized units that really needed them and rather than buy an average example I concluded we should buy the best. That meant the (US) Special Operations Command Army Rifle from FN Herstal for the special forces ( expanded) and the Singapore Army Rifle 21 (SAR-21) for the territorials (grenadiers). The FN is chosen because it is very reliable and adaptable which is what real gun users want, while the SAR was chosen because it is effective and pretty idiot proof which is what you need for part-timers.

The smallest infantry unit in the counter-factual force is a team of four (two pairs) consisting of two with rifles and 40mm grenade launchers, one with a rifle with a sniper scope and one with a minimi light machine gun. This provides for ample fire-power, precision and non-lethal capability where needed. The minimi is used by SOCOM and the SAS so it has some pretty strong endorsement as a weapon. In some cases other weapons such as AT-rifles, 60mm mortars or 7.62x51 sniper rifles might replace one of these weapons depending on the mission.

But the really important weapon turned out to be the auxiliaries weapon. That is the one used by the drivers, engineers, storemen, mechanics, cooks etc. The NZDF uses the Sig Sauer and Glock pistols but I wasn't happy with the relatively short range and low firepower of these weapons if challenged by hostiles with AK-47/74/Ms. What was needed was a fully automatic weapon with a reasonable range (say to 100-200 metres) but which could be readily holstered so that it needn't get in the way of people who were otherwise busy. It should also be able to fit a laser night-sight and a silencer so that it could be used as a back-up weapon by special-forces troops. Well I looked, and I looked and I looked. And I concluded the only weapon which comes in a range of sizes from small carbine to small pistol that met all these criteria was the Israel Military Industries Uzi.

Yes the Uzi is old, yes the Uzi lifts on firing, yes the open bolt design isn't as safe as more modern technology. But it is field tested and easily holsterable in a way that simply isn't true of later model submachine-guns. It also uses the relatively low cost 9x19 parabellum round used in most pistols and is still in use not only in Israel but around the world.

But the main difference between my counter-factual force and the Defence Force is that the Defence Force still thinks it is a division in waiting. It looks to the glory days of World War Two and keeps alive territorial units which, quite frankly, it shouldn't need.

The object of the counter-factual force was to show that by creating a force with more emphasis on quality over quantity and a more flexible structure for responding to all hazards it was possible to invest in the best equipment for all possible challenges the force might face, rather than simply buying in bulk in case it might be needed some-time which appears to have been the philosophy behind the acquisition of so many army systems from rifles to LAV IIIs.

What is needed is not a review of small-arms but a review of the entire army structure.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Youth and the Defence Force

The New Zealand Defence Force has long had an interest in youth training and youth-at-risk development. By all accounts its training successfully blends the needs of neglected, boundary-exploring youth with the operational abilities of the defence force. Thus John Key's recent speech endorsing the work of the defence force and holding it up as a useful model should not be written off immediately as the defence force acting as "baby-sitters" (by the right) or red-neck militarism (by the left).

For the fact is that for many young people the Defence Force is a family which provides them with a sense of purpose, a source of pride and a world with clear and enforced rules based on the ever present reality of violence (mostly from hostiles) to focus the mind. The Defence Force doesn't have pointless family group conferences, nor does it take any bullshit. This no-nonsense structure provides many kids with the best learning environment they have ever had. And when it comes to cocky know-it-all teenagers they have very effective ways of taking them down a peg or two.

But there is a world of difference between the Defence Force training its own and its training outsiders. As it is structured the Defence Force exists to train soldiers - typically Territorial Force soldiers. The job of soldiering is no longer about being given a gun and told to go and shoot the enemy. In today's world soldiering has become a serious professional career involving legal, logistical and even political assessments. It is not the sort of job for young criminals from South Auckland.

What young criminals from South Auckland need is the sense that someone cares what they do (in a positive way, rather than simply looking for an excuse to arrest them), hope that they can find a better way of life, and freedom from drugs and dibilitating peer pressure. They need tough love - with the emphasis on tough. This is because they have tough lives and people that don't - no matter how well meaning - simply can't relate to the level of resilience these kids have to have daily simply to survive. As such tough kids need tough teachers. People who they can emulate, look up to and admire and frankly the average secondary school teacher simply isn't that person.

Moreover, and lets be entirely blunt about this, the fact is many of these young hoodlums are Maori. They are Maori because Maori have significant alcohol problems, have been marginalised into crime (as for example have many other occupied peoples e.g the Irish 100 years ago), and have serious child-rearing problems relating to the breakdown of traditional family structures over the past three or four generations. Many Maori have tough lives and many Maori are tough people. However the only role-models many Maori kids see are the local gang-leaders while more deserving role-models like Corporal Willie Apiata V.C or Major General Jerry Mataparae remain largely remote from their daily experience.

Once again the problem is the terms of reference of the defence force. Because these are so narrow the purpose of the defence force is to prepare for combat. My Review concluded that given the relatively low risk of New Zealand needing to defend itself and the scope of other threats with which New Zealand is faced that combat should be considered only one of the risks that the Defence Force should be prepared for. Other risks such as civil emergencies or biohazards are equally worthy of Defence Force purview.

Unfortunately threats such as biohazards (such as H5N1) or major civil emergencies cannot be handled tidily by Government agencies alone. The way the population responds to these emergencies is equally important.

When the great Hanshin earthquake struck Kobe the Japanese population responded with a degree of civil discipline which would only be regarded as miraculous in most other parts of the world. There was no looting, no stampedes at hospitals and no riots. If a major disaster struck Wellington or Auckland, in particular, I have grave doubts that New Zealanders - especially in South Auckland or Porirua - would be as disciplined. Indeed looting, riots and even arson might be expected. Thus to achieve greater levels of civil defence the civil population needs to have a greater level of civil discipline.

No agency is better placed to train civilians in emergency response, survival and engender civil discipline than the defence force. Thus when reviewing the defence forces as part of my study I concluded that the whole training component of the defence force should be regarded as a branch of the services just as the Air Force is today. This branch would train not only defence personnel but civilians - including youth at risk - as well. It would also manage defence force exercices and audit performance to further refine new training.

Some might argue that seperating training and operations is a mistake. That operations are, in effect live training and if they are seperate trainers can become too theoretical and operations can loose touch with training. Personally I don't think this cannot be managed. Trainers can be dispatched as observers along with operational staff and trainers can also be seconded to operations as needed. There is, however, a big difference between a good coach and a good fighter and one should not confuse the two. Great coaches should not be retained in operational units simply because there is nowhere else for them to go. Moreover the skills of the great coaches of the Defence Force could also deliver great value to the civilian population of New Zealand as well as the Defence Force.

Using the defence force to re-orientate youth at risk as proposed by John Key has significant merit - but only if the defence force is re-orientated first.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

NZDF and 'the ice' - more commitment needed!

Stuff has two stories today once again demonstrating our military's narrow frame of reference when it comes to equipping itself for potential missions.

The Japanese whaling fleet is once again wreaking havoc in the Southern Ocean - with the Australian military copping flak for failing to live up to undertakings to maintain surveillance{ } while a British trawler (Argos Georgia - intent on ravaing Toothfish) is locked in the ice {}. Meanwhile duty Ministry Jim Anderton says the military are too over-stretched to operate in the Southern Ocean. Too short-sighted more like.

The Navy has five vessels capable of operating in the Southern Ocean. Two expensive ASW frigates, two OPVs (still being trialled) and the Canterbury LSV. The OPVs and Canterbury are Lloyds C-class and so aren't really meant to go into the ice. The frigates can go into the ice but because they are so expensive they have chewed up all the Navy's potential resources.

By contrast my Review (using the same amount of capital) postulated purchasing two research vessels (of the kind used by Nordic oil men), two environment patrol vessels (as used by South Africa to patrol for raiders on the Patagonian toothfish), two Lloyds B-class transport ships (as used by the Chilean Navy to service its Antarctic bases), and two ice-breaking environment patrol vessels ( as used by the Norwegians to safeguard Norways northern coast all year around. Any one of those vessels (although the ice-breakers would be the best choice) could have carried out these missions with ease.

It isn't that the Navy couldn't have resources available for such operations. They just didn't want to. Saving whales and extracting fishermen are not jobs that the Royal New Zealand Navy has much interest in. Exactly what the RNZN is interested in, however is unclear. For some time it seemed to want to join the Royal Australian Navy but now that it has got Project Protector delivered it is torn between being an inadequate combat navy (with only 2 frigates) an inadequate fisheries protection agency (2 OPVs for the 4th largest EEZ) and an army transport which has already managed to kill one of its crew.

The fact is the RNZN needs at least four more OPV/EPV vessels to cover the amount of sea that it needs to operate in. What it does not need is two MEKO class frigates. Unfortunately military machismo runs deep and the need for a boat with big guns is crucial to the self-image of our Navy officers. However as I have always argued, in reality the only kind of ships the RNZN is ever likely to need to counter in our quarter of the Earth's surface is unlikely to have any weapons at all. Big guns are simply redundant.

New Zealand has long held a protectorate claim to the Ross Sea Ice Shelf under the Antarctic Treaty. In practice we have done precious little to protect the Antarctic and relied almost entirely on the United States to support our access to the Pole at all. If New Zealand wants to be taken as seriously as other Antarctic protectorate nations (such as South Africa, Australia and Chile) we should do a good deal more to demonstrate our logistical commitment to the ice.

So far our Navy's contribution is inadequate and our airforce's capability is failing. The C-130Hs are being re-winged so they can keep flying but they remain very very old aircraft. Its plans to acquire Airbus A400m's seem to overlook the fact that as yet no A400M as flown yet alone landed on the Antarctic. By contrast my Review proposed the IL76MF - a much larger aircraft design than either the C-130 or the A400M which has been landing on ice for decades. It also proposed the DHC-6 light operational aircraft which also has a long history of operations on the ice.

And while the Antarctic is a demilitarised zone the fact is that every Antarctic treaty nation relies on its military to provide the services to operate in such an environment. New Zealand's Army however only operates the Pinzgauer light operational vehicle which might be able to cope with summer roads but certainly nothing else. By contrast my Review recommended the purchase of 48 BvS210 armoured all-terrain transports - closely related to the "Hagglunds" tracked vehicles used at Scott Base.

Once again none of this was ever beyond the potential of NZDF/ NZDM planners. They just weren't interested in thinking about the Antarctic. It is an omission that New Zealand as a nation may yet come to regret.