Saturday, May 9, 2015

A400M Crash should cool RNZAF ardour

Not only is the A400M outrageously expensive, it also appears to be unsafe. The much delayed aircraft first certified in March 2013 has now racked up its first crash ( killing four and seriously injuring two. The crew were making an emergency landing in response to a fault warning when they hit an electricity pylon. It is unknown at this stage whether the fault was related to the unexpected wheel to the left the plane made on approach or whether this was due to other factors.

Airbus has been campaigning to have its transport considered by New Zealand's Ministry of Defence as a replacement for the aging C-130H aircraft. It has even taken out advertisements for the aircraft in the local Dominion Post newspaper, a tactic often used by corporates to undermine journalists asking difficult questions. To date the Dominion Post has not written anything about the aircraft replacement even though replacement of 40 squadron's C-130s would probably be in the order of half a billion dollars. The Ministry of Defence (which is notably slow to post projects on its website, not even announcing the medium heavy support vehicle contract until after the winning vehicles had been delivered) has no information about the upgrade either.

The A400M is only one of a number of aircraft which could fit the RNZAF's requirements. However defence acquisitions in New Zealand are usually closed shop negotiations to avoid the controversy which surrounds expensive acquisitions of questionable utility. This allowed the NZDF to acquire over 100 LAV III's at a unit cost of over US$3.5 million each, which was about 50% too many according to succeeding Minister's of defence, and compared to comparable acquisitions by other militaries for about 50% too much per unit as well.

It must be hoped that the A400M crash will at least delay this secret campaign to appropriate half a billion of taxpayers money for another dubious defence acquisition.

11 June 2015
The BBC is reporting a software error may be to blame for the crash.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Where angels fear to tread

Fairly soon a small New Zealand contingent will be deployed to Iraq to assist it with training troops to meet the threat posed by ISIS. Exactly how this will make any difference to anything happening in the region is completely beyond me given the Americans spent billions doing exactly the same thing only to produce an army that either fled or changed sides as soon as ISIS were upon them.

Exactly who benefits from embroiling small, distant nations in the multi-millennial blood-bath of the middle east is something of a mystery. Naturally the defence force is full of people who hate training for something they never actually do so cannot be above the suspicion that they have effectively dictated foreign policy by leading politicians by the nose.

Whatever the reason our politicians seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that the whole region is a powder keg on the verge of war. Do they really want us to end up being mixed up in what could quite quickly become seriously nasty indeed?

For the battle for Aden currently being fought by the Shia Houthi's vs the Sunni 'government' and al qaeda is a crisis of terrifying significance. Obviously Aden is a vital strategic port as it commands access to the Red Sea and the Suez canal. The Houthi, who have until recently been fighting largely for survival against genocidal Sunni Yemenese army and Saudi air support, have suddenly reversed their position and captured the Yemenese capital S'ana.

Their success has been largely put down by Saudi Arabia to the intervention of Iran who have supplied the Houthi with moral support if not weapons. The sudden emergence of a new front in the Saudi war against Iran has shocked the entire Sunni Arab world which is rallying to Saudi's standard and pledging support to help drive back the Houthis. From Morocco to Pakistan Sunni leaders are pledging to support the Saudis, while all Shia backed regimes, including Iraq and Syria are supporting Iran.

This sudden drawing of battle lines has only brought into stark relief the size and strategic danger of the region. Turkey, which is rapidly becoming an industrialised police state under the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a member of the NATO alliance. Pakistan, whose ISI until recently hosted Osama Bin Laden, is a nuclear armed rogue state. And both have sharply criticised Iran which is economically suffering under Israeli inspired US led sanctions for intervening in the Yemen.

On this occasion Russia too has told Iran to pull its head in. But given that Russia is the state supplying nuclear technology to Iran and given that Russia and NATO are already in a tense stand-off over the Ukraine it is clear it would not take much of a shift in the direction of the wind to end up with a Russian-Iranian alliance.

As it happens, however, it appears that the real reason for the Houthis success has little to do with international geopolitics and much more to do with the complex and difficult politics of Yemen itself. It appears that the real reason for the "Houthis" success is actually former President Ali Abdullah Saleh who having been deposed by Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is now teaming up with his former enemies to reverse his fortunes. Whether once his goals are achieved Saleh will attempt to rapproachment with his former buddies in the US, Saudi, Egypt and other governments currently bombarding his faction remains to be seen.

What it does, however, illustrate is that in the middle east politicians are still effectively warlords. A politician without armed clansmen isn't a politician but a noise. The rise of ISIS has come because the US did not exterminate the officer corps of Saddam's Revolutionary Guard. Still playing World War two they somehow thought that like the SS officers they turned a blind eye to, the Iraqi equivalents would fade away into history and go find jobs elsewhere. Instead the US put them in prisons. The same prisons as Al Qaeda and through that pressure cooked up the associations which became first a splinter group of Al Qaeda and now ISIS.

ISIS is not really a state. It is not a Caliphate. It is a mess. An anarchy of young men with guns and nothing much to lose.It is a symptom of the politics that surrounds it. The writhing and manouverings of Turkish factions, Kurdish factions, Iranian factions, the Assads, various Saudi and Arabian princes, and the factions within Israel. The whole place is a pit of vipers.

Into it, our defence boys have rushed, hoping to see some adventure, some action, to justify all their equipment and all their training. That they are helping one massive viper against another does not interest them. They have closed their minds to everything but 'doing our job'.

It was exactly the same idiocy that got us embroiled in World War One, A war which cost us 17,000 dead and 43,000 injured and lead to us importing Spanish flu that killed 8,500 New Zealand civilians and wiped out a third of Samoa. World War One was a pit of vipers as well, but as a young an naive nation wishing to prove our worth to the home country (Britain) our nation rushed in to assist. Our young men died because of a war waged by and for capitalist industrialists. In this case we have rushed in to assist to prove our value to "the international community" which effectively means a lot of middle aged men having lunch in expensive hotels.

One would have hoped that remembering sacrifice would rise above sentimentality and lead to questioning the way stupid decisions get made. It obviously doesn't.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hercules failure, Embraer worth waiting for

The news from Stuff (March 17 2015) that two RNZAF Hercules aid flights to cyclone Pam stricken Vanuatu failed because of instrument failure can only raise more questions about how much longer these near half-century old aircraft can be kept flying. While the Labour Government spent $226 million to extend the life of the aircraft to 2015, it is now obvious the day of reckoning is getting closer.
Prof Peter Greener of the Victoria Center for Strategic Studies trotted out a rather pathetic analysis in the Dominion the other day which could have come directly from the closed minded, idiots which seem to dominate New Zealand military thinking. It was, essentially, look at what the Australians are doing, with reference to some ancient RAAF AIR-9000 studies which must be at least a decade old by now.

Meanwhile a more important story was recently published in Aviation Week detailing the first flight of the Embraer KC-390. Based on Embraer's commercial regional COTS aircraft technology but taking into account the needs of modern medium sized nations flying old C-130s, the KC-390 is a sight for sore eyes.
Way faster, significantly cheaper (~US$50-60 million), with the huge added bonus of intrinsic air-to-air refuelling the KC-390 flies rings around turboprop equivalents. It has exactly the same payload to range specification as the C-130J, the latest Hercules offering from Lockheed Martin which starts at US$72 milllion a copy according to the latest US appropriations. With a bit of work the KC-390 could make sense of the airforce's otherwise undeployable NH-90 helicopters.
The NH-90 does not have the range to reach any other country by itself, and when it was delivered it had to be transported in a Russian Antonov 124 - one of the largest freight aircraft in the world. By installing air-to-air refuelling on the NH-90s they could finally make long range flights into the Pacific if needed.
The other benefit of the KC-390 is that it can refuel other KC-390s enabling longer ranges with larger payloads. Lockheed Martin charges an arm and a leg for the KC-130J which is a dedicated tanker aircraft, not a multi mission aircraft like the KC-390.
The alternatives to the KC-390 all have serious problems. The A-400M turboprop is twice as expensive as the C-130J , although it is bigger and faster it isn't twice as big and won't easily carry either the NH90 nor the LAV-III any useful distance. That means the cost benefit of the A400M is not competitive.  The A-400M has also had significant teething problems and it has a very long existing delivery list.

The Kawasaki Heavy Industries C-2 is potentially a very good aircraft. It is like a commercial off the shelf version of the C-17 Globemaster. Cheaper to own and operate it is not designed to the same intense military specification as the American aircraft. Given that most of the missions the RNZAF fly are not military grade (hence their very clever acquisition of the B757 combis) the C-2 can't be excluded. The only problem is the Japanese are very touchy about both military exports (not allowed under the constitution) and whales (which could be a point of conflict).
While dreamers may talk up the C-17 it is simply not an option. At $333 million each one C-17 would cost almost as much as an entire new no.40 squadron, and one aircraft is a nonsense.   New Zealand taxpayers will not be interested in spending billions on dollars on military aircraft when far cheaper alternatives exist.
The KC-390 is not available just yet, but there is no doubt in my mind that this is the aircraft which should replace the venerable Hercules when it is finally decided to put it out to pasture. Anything else would be a huge waste of public money.

Addendum 17 April 2015
Airbus Defence has recently taken to advertising its wares in the pages of the Dominion next to ads about cheaper cuts of mutton. Obviously very few shoppers have $250 million dollars ready to buy one should the thought occur. Such advertising is placed, however, for different reasons. One is leverage over reporters. Reporters can't help being slightly cowered by interviewees telling them they have spent significant sums on advertising. Another is to signal to the Ministry of Defence they are ready to take their wares to the public should a specification be written so narrowly that only one tenderer can win. (As Thyssen Henschel did when the LAV III spec was clearly written so that only the LAV III could win it - a pity as the Fuchs II was a far better overall solution for New Zealand than the LAV). And of course, the third reason is to draw public attention to the fact that defence planners are obviously kicking aircraft tyres and to stir public debate - of the kind this post is aimed at. It will be interesting to see whether the Dom prints my letter to the editor on this subject. So far they have excluded by comments possibly on the grounds that they linked to this blog. The alternative, of course, is that they are in the pocket of their advertisers.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

What are we fighting for?

The Prime Minister, John Key has gradually changed his tune, as the topic of an alliance to fight ISIS has been raised over the few weeks since his re-election. His initial reaction was almost a skeptical "why would we do that, and with what?" But it has become apparent the defence force is trying to show that it isn't a waste of time and could be useful for something.

Doubtless they see the SAS doing raids and frigates policing embargoes, maybe with the 757s doing a bit of air transport for us and Australia. But the Prime Minister has pointed out there are important things a nation has to weigh up before sending its military anywhere to fight. Things like "what are they fighting for?"

This is a list of wars the United States has waged in the past thirty years. Only one of them, Desert Storm,  was for something -- the liberation of Kuwait. All the others were against something. The US has only won, one of these wars, yep, the liberation of Kuwait.

It's easy to dislike ISIS. They are going out of their way to portray themselves as terrifying and awful. And let's not forget the most successful regime in Iraq in the last 50 years (Sadam's Baathists)  was terrifying and awful. Being terrifying and awful is what you need to get fear, respect and compliance. Curiously though compared to the Sinaloa or Los Zetas in Mexico ISIS are amateurs. Count the beheaded bodies. Check the outrages. The only thing ISIS are good at is stirring up the United States.
And maybe that's because the United States wants to be stirred up. Or maybe not so much the US people but the Lockheed Martin's, the BAEs, the General Dynamics, etc etc who need the ongoing orders they have enjoyed for the past 10-20 years in the US war against phantom enemies to keep their factories generating huge profits. With so many senators, effectively sock puppets of the military industrial complex why would the US want to put down its gun?

It's like George Orwell predicted in 1984. Eternal War to keep the wheels of industry turning.


But the reality is that ISIS is part of a war which has nothing to do with the west. Watch your TV screens. Yemeni Sunnis attacking Shia aligned Houthi rebels . Sunni rebels attacking Shia aligned Hexbollah/ Lebanese armypositions in Lebanon. Sunni ISIS massacring Shia in Iraq. The simple fact is that the real war is between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Weirdly the US (which generally supports Saudi Arabia industrially and with military exports) is effectively lining up on Iran's side.


Because it's a relatively safe place to go (unlike Raqqa) Kobani is attracting a lot of media coverage. The Turkish Army and foreign correspondents are all lined up to watch the battle between ISIS and the Kurdish Peshmerga. The Kurds want international help but the NATO Turks aren't going to give them any.

Why not? Because ISIS is selling oil to the Turks for US$20 a barrel or a whopping 66% discount. The Turks can triple their money every time an ISIS tanker crosses the border. And given that the Turkish Army has always been a dubious political-industrial underground entity anyway it is more than certain that the roads those trucks follow are lined with Baksheesh.


The fact is ISIS exists because the Sykes Picot agreement was a gentlemen's agreement to divide up various "wog" lands so that gentlemen (i.e. the British and the French) could access oil. The borders, like so many borders the UN inherited from the League of Nations are fundamentally imperialist relics. This is the legitimate attraction of ISIS.

The other people who want ISIS are a bunch of deeply disillusioned young men in Syria and Iraq. They've lost all hope of employment, marriage, and in the ability of the political process to deliver anything more than petty corruption. So they are doing what young men do: fight and fuck, or more accurately rape. This is dressed up in a religious millennialism similar to the despair at the Umma's failure to defeat the West that gave rise to the Wahabi movement in the first place.
The result is that Raqqaq is a sad arse hole as boring and miserable as Kabul was under the Taliban.
As Chelsea Manning (the nominal traitor) has pointed out, their worst fear is that the West might leave them alone. Then there will be nobody to fight at their hoped for armageddon in Dabiq, North Western Syria.

Another lobby which finds ISIS helpful is Israel. ISIS helps cement in Western minds that Muslims are satanic crazy men and in the spirit of "American Sniper" the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim. This provides excellent cover for Israel's gradually pushing the citizens of Gaza into the sea.
The threat of ISIS to human life on the North American continent is less than that posed by native wild animals but due to the strange disassociation of Americans which leads them to identify with Israel the ISIS threat is considered clear and present.

For some reason Australia has also become very excited about the threat posed by ISIS. The new Prime Minister Tony Abbott appears to have taken on Dubya Bush's mantle as chimpanzee in chief in leading the world to oppose global Jihad, even though there isn't much Jihad to be had in Australia. The disappointment when the Sydney restaurant siege was actually the work of an Iranian nutjob and not some ISIS cell was palpable. The desire to rush manfully into battle against the forces of Sauron, uh I mean ISIS, seems to have gripped the imagination of some obscure part of the Australian defence establishment's imagination.

The same is clearly true in this country. It has been obvious from the outset that is has been the defence force pushing for New Zealand's inclusion in any mission to Iraq. While the Prime Minister has been sounding uncertain the defence force has been liaising, planning, training and making visits. The defence force is not the servant, it is setting the agenda in favour of some fresh adventure to justify its budget and career objectives.


So the militant forces of the West and ISIS are setting themselves up for conflict. The mission is "stop ISIS". With a mission like that, they could be there forever. In effect its a conflict between dispossessed young men from two worlds. ISIS is there to defend the honour of Islam's prophet.The West is there to defend the profits of arms manufacturers. The victims will be the families on the battlefield and the young fools who seek to prove their manhood in pointless conflict.

My fear is that the West will fail. Instead of denying ISIS an enemy it will half-heartedly provide one and ISIS will turn any half hearted effort into a massive propaganda victory for its crazed millennial mentality leading more dispossessed young men on both sides to flock to the meatgrinder and be reduced to blood and bone.


The US successfully ignored the deadliest war since World War Two (the first and follow-on second Congo Wars). It stayed out of the Syrian civil war. It won't dare provoke the North Koreans. It ignores Boko Haram. It has manifestly failed to tackle its drug problem and the Mexican cartels. It ignores the plight of the Palestinians. In short the US is very selective about the reasons why it picks some fights and says schtumm on others.

There is little doubt that Israel is donkey deep in this push toward an intervention against ISIS. The obvious threat would be that if the US doesn't do something about ISIS then Israel will. And militarily Israel could easily fight all the way to the Euphrates crushing any and all opposition without difficulty. The only reason they don't is that there would be a real Jihad against them. They would unite Sunni and Shia against them and even the pliant Saudis would end up becoming involved.

But honestly the ultimate question is who's problem is all of this really? If Arab nations long for some return to the dark ages of their past who are we to try and prevent them? Why is it our business? What are we fighting for? Are we trying to rid that part of the world of Islam through some genocidal crusade? I don't think so. The Mongols tried that in Iraq with far less squeamishness than the West and didn't get far. Are we fighting for oil? No, oil prices have fallen because of the US fracking glut, we don't need mideast oil. Are we fighting to prevent another 9-11? But 9-11 only happened because it hadn't been foreseen, and frankly more people are killed in domestic violence each year in the West than are killed in 'terror' attacks. In real terms the Slender Man is a bigger threat than ISIS. Ultimately 'terror' is just a branch of criminal investigation.

To my mind the only value, the only interest the West seems to be fighting for is feminism. The West seems to believe that the Islamists mistreatment of women is deeply offensive - which it is. But if that is what we are fighting for, why don't we have any enunciation of that? I think the reason is simple. We don't know.

We are just fighting because it suits a bunch of people to start a war and it won't stop until it suits them to stop.

This could take some time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wellington looks weak

The Offshore Patrol Vessel HMNZS Wellington, patrolling in the Southern Ocean, has found a small fleet of three Patagonian Toothfish poachers, one operating under the flag of Equitorial Guinea. The NZ Herald reports the Equitorial Guinean authorities have given permission for the boats to be boarded but according to Radio New Zealand the poachers have simply refused to allow the Navy crews to do so. The Navy has decided that rather than risk the safety of its crews it will simply stand by and watch.

The relevant international conventions for Toothfish operations in the Ross Sea are the UN Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas (1958) and the the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources according to the Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators Inc.factsheet. However nations that don't sign up to any of these conventions (e.g. Uruguay) effectively fall outside any legal framework for conservation of international maritime resources. Moreover the list of toothfish poaching vessels maintained by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources indicates that there is no effective legal framework for dealing with these poachers.

 According to the Sydney Morning Herald one of the ships she is the Kunlun, owned by Stanely Management based in Panama City which is obviously a shell company just as the registration of the ship to Equitorial Guinea is a clearly a flag of convenience. In other words the owners of the ships who send their impoverished crews into the dangerous southern oceans are sheltering behind a high wall of legal niceties and lack of international cooperation making them effectively impossible to hold accountable.

This brings us back to the HMNZS Wellington. Wellington is a 1,600T, 85m long patrol ship armed with a 25mm cannon, two 0.50HMGs, a Seasprite helicopter and RHIBs. It is perfectly obvious that HMNZS Wellington could easily use lethal force against the poaching ships. The 25mm cannon could easily sink them and the 0.50HMG could turn the steel hull into a collander. But there are obvious problems with this. First HMNZS Wellington is a long way from land. She hasn't the power to tow the poachers, she doesn't have a large brig, she doesn't have a hospital able to treat anyone wounded by shooting and she hasn't got much in the way of less than lethal weaponry. So the politicians have two choices: murder on the high seas over toothfish or being ineffectual. And given a choice between being ineffectual and being hairy chested and decisive the average New Zealand politician will choose the ineffectual path every time.

Which raises the point I made on my defence site that the two OPVs (Wellington and Otago) are not really suited to operations in the Great Southern Ocean anyway. They are simply too small and too vulnerable. They can deal with small island fishing vessels but not the size of ocean going trawlers in the Great Southern Ocean.  Instead I propose EPVs based on the Norwegian EPV the KV Svalbard.

Svalbard is a 6,375T 103m ship with ice-breaking capability, serious fire-fighting capability and able to tow ships up to 100,000 tonnes. This is a ship that can use its size, its less-than-lethal fire hoses to be far more imposing on poachers than HMNZS Wellington. As always in military matters equipment dictates policy options.

The choice to be weak started when the Navy opted for cheap solutions to offshore patrol vessels as part of Project Protector.