Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Services retention woes have a common cause

The Navy is having so much difficulty retaining technicians that is is offering them a $45,000 bonus to remain in service for three years. The technicians are normally paid $48,000 per year but Navy staff have recognised that unless something is done to retain its men it will not be able to put vessels to sea.{http://www.stuff.co.nz/4319076a6000.html}. The Navy is not alone in losing key staff. The services in general have an on-going shortage of trained personnel {http://www.stuff.co.nz/thepress/4284803a6427.html}.

The fundamental problem to my mind is the whole philosophy of manpower planning in our armed services. This was addressed at length in my defence review.

Traditionally the armed forces have worked on the assumption that they recruit young cannon fodder, train them up for a bit of excitement and then when they finally want to settle down let them go again. And given you would have to be fairly young and fairly stupid to put up with the working conditions the military expect people to work under (dying either by enemy action or from a court martial is a potential obligation under your employment contract) then it isn't surprising that has been how they have operated.

The problem is the real world doesn't work that way anymore. Military equipment is more complex than ever before. Military planning and training expertise is now subject to intense competition from the private sector whether it is from ordinary civilian life or private armies. You can't press people into service with a crown in someone's tankard and a tot of rum or strokes of the cat won't keep people in service either.

Fundamentally the armed services have to pay people for their skills not their rank. This is the proposal on page http://defence.allmedia.googlepages.com/integratedranks of my review. Currently the armed services promotes people to non-existent commands in order to retain experience. But you can't do that without upsetting the command structure of any organisation. It would be absurd for naval technicians to be made Warrant Officers in order to retain their skills.

My review recommended setting six skill levels based on civilian parity plus a loading for the obligations of military contracts. On top of this there was a rank bonus to reflect the level of independence and responsibility an individual was expected to exercise. The rates quoted are based on 2002 levels and should be inflation adjusted for the past five years.Thus an advanced technician would end up earning almost as much as an officer in a less technical field such as a truck driver for the operations brigade. Equally important their military service would eliminate the need to repay student loans for study.

To remain functional the armed services need to recognise that they are not a vast training operation waiting for a time of war to swing into action and ramp up their numbers. World war two is not going to happen again. Instead the armed services needs to see itself as an intelligent corporation modelled along the lines of private armies or consultancies for dealing with exceptional circumstances. It should attract and retain expertise with both suitable remuneration but also with an engaging career that can span a lifetime.

Currently 1,766 staff are engaged in operational duties at home and abroad which is claimed to be a stretch. The NZDF however employs 9,051 regular force, 2,240 territorial force service men and women and 2,261 civilian staff. That means that 11,312 people are employed full time but that 9,546 are needed to support those being operational. By contrast the Police have 10,300 staff and most of them are operational.

A private army with 11,312 staff but only 1,766 on billable assignments sounds rather unlikley. In fact any private operation with such a ratio would be facing serious questions from its shareholders. In my view the services are too large and too underpaid. They should be even more tightly integrated (including the Ministry) and run much more like a civilian operation. This means a smaller, more efficient, even more professional organisation equipped with the best money can buy and able to adapt to all possible emergencies.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Fighting off the fish pirates

Stuff reports that the long awaited fishing war in the Pacific is beginning to warm up {http://www.stuff.co.nz/print/4311619a11.html}. Spanish trawlers flying Senegalese flags of convenience have been after Swordfish in international waters off the Kermadecs. The report dramatically states one of four trawlers was "caught" by the RNZAF - but in fact this means the Orion videotaped the poachers in action.

While the boats were "caught" in international waters it is obvious that there is a growing need to patrol our EEZ as catch pressure forces fish into our waters, and to enforce international fishing conventions. The arrival of HMNZS Otago and HMNZS Wellington, the new Offshore Patrol Vessels, cannot come soon enough. New Zealand needs a platform for interception operations - using the Seasprite helicopter if the trawlers try to evade.

In carrying out my defence review the thing I discovered about fisheries is how much deterence and accurate information matters. Where most civil disasters involve a massive initial capital loss followed by a period of rapid recovery fishery losses can become a sustained loss of cashflow in a relatively short period of time. Once a fishery dips below a recovery level (as for example our disastrous management of Orange Roughy demonstrated) the cashflow from that fishery is lost for considerable periods (decades) before the stock is once again at a harvestable level.

As Mark Kurlansky shows in "Cod", his book about the disastrous collapse of the North Atlantic Cod fishery, fishers are usually the worst people to ask to manage the resource. Fishers have to buy vastly expensive capital equipment and then face the gamut of interest rate increases, while banks watch them like hawks to ensure they have a recoverable asset should the fishing firm fail to make its payments. For fishers cash is king and without a catch there is no cash. Thus all fishing is innately over-optimistic about the possibility of a catch because without optimism nobody would put to sea at all.

"Cod" shows there are two things the fishery has to be protected from: mistaken over-allocations of resource and wasteful harvesting.

In New Zealand there is only two ships engaged in resource assessment. Both the RV Tangaroa {http://www.niwavessels.co.nz/tangaroa} and the RV Kaharoa {http://www.niwavessels.co.nz/kaharoa} are operated by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. NIWA employs 40 seafaring staff and the annual turnover of the operation is $8 million. This is to manage an EEZ of 4 million square kilometres.

The Ministry of Fisheries relies on NIWA research voyages to monitor fish stocks. It also places fisheries inspection officers aboard vessels operating from New Zealand ports. And finally it relies on the Defence Force to provide patrol craft to police the fishing fleet at sea.

The New Zealand defence force will shortly have two Offshore Patrol Vessels and four inshore patrol vessels plus No.6 Squadron's Seasprites and No 5 squadron's Orions for surveillance and response.

While wishing the force all the best my review concluded this force was inadequate to the task. I note the Irish, with a far smaller EEZ, have eight offshore patrol vessels.

I proposed three very long range maritime surveillance jets, five shorter range twin turbojet fisheries surveillance aircraft, five long range intervention maritime helicopters, two long range UAVs, two survey ships (able to host the helicopters), two environmental patrol vessels (also able to host the helicopters) two ice-capable offshore patrol vessels, four coastal patrol boats, plus an expanded coastguard function with 75 Rhibs. Even within the terms of my own review this was a stretch which required a fair bit of dual functionality to be justified.

The advantage of this line-up is that it more than doubles the nation's research capability; and provides constant on-station patrols of three deep-water vessels at any one time (compared to one OPV). This is linked with the ability to island-hop the long range helicopters so that operations off the Kermadecs in the North or the Campbell Islands in the South can be used to enforce New Zealand's sovereignty to the limits of its EEZ.

As the world gets hungrier and richer we can only expect the price of seafood to rise. As the price rises so too will the reward for those willing to risk their vessels to plunder our waters. The pressure on New Zealand's sovereignty will come not from multi-billion dollar naval vessels but from multi-million dollar trawlers who will gamble on the vast area of our EEZ, their own numbers and our inability to catch and arrest them to harvest our resources.

Fisheries protection does not require expensive hardware. The South Africans have employed a US$19 million 83 metre Environmental Patrol Boat to patrol their southern Ocean to protect the Patagonian Toothfish. It is a very economical platform and is scarely armed at all because the average fishing pirate is in no position to fight. But fisheries protection does require good information and that means having both the presence and the ability to respond quickly to developing situations.

New Zealand's defence force is progressing in this direction. It is just a shame that it is still overburdened by WW2/Cold War style thinking that is so clearly out of place in todays political-economy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

COTS beats military procurement every time

Der Spiegel {http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,519953,00.html} has reported that the 20,000 per Euro per soldier infantry combat system the German Army has been trialling has been a failure. Soldiers complain the ITC is inadequate and the armour too heavy.

Frankly I am not surprised. The problem is military procurement is almost always an exercise in gold-plating. The result is non-standard technology that is expensive to maintain, and ends up far behind the technical facilities of commercial-off-the-shelf in no time. That said I see no problem with a 20,000 Euro per soldier infanty combat system. I assigned US$20,000 per combat soldier system in budgeting for my review of New Zealand defence/civil defence needs. This is a reasonable sum to spend in making sure a nations soldiers are as comfortable and safe as they can be.

In working through the available technology for the review of New Zealand forces {http://defence.allmedia.googlepages.com/infantrysystems} it soon became apparent that for ITC the technology was moving too quickly for it to be worth developing a hugely expensive solution. Thus all I proposed was a standard top-of-the-line waterproof sports wristwatch including metabolic sensors and GPS and a ruggedised PDA for carrying and exchanging map and mission data. A standard Television Equipment Associates air-link for individual soldiers and Harris radio could be linked into the PDA via the IP stack.

The object is to make the infantry information network simple rather than intensely robust. The principal applications are merely to exchange messages, map data and pictures. New Zealand forces are unlikely to be dealing with opponents who have sophisticated netwarfare systems and, if they are, they should not be so reliant on the technology that they don't know what to do without it.

When it comes to protection the most important aspects are camouflage and armour. New Zealand forces in Afghanistan have tended to borrow desert camouflage from other nations because their own disruption pattern uniform is patently out of place and out of date.

But I have been rather surprised, I have to admit, by the rather odd camouflage being adopted by a number of nations at present. In an era of global peacekeeping it seems strange that so many nations are adopting a woodland pattern when the liklihood of their being deployed in such terrain is rather remote. The German Flecktarn is one example but the Canadian Cadpat is not much better. The US army's new digital pattern seems to be designed to be equally obvious in all terrain settings. Of all the new digital camouflage patterns only the Marine Marpat patterns seem to be the only genuinely global pattern base. In video footage of Afghanistan I have seen the Marpat is distinctly less visible than other uniforms around it - perhaps a survival advantage - when foes have a choice of target!

It seems to me that military camouflage designers could do a lot worse than look to globalised animal species for inspiration. After all they have been evolving for millions of years - far longer than we have even been aware of camouflage.
None of these animals are green - not even the birds. All adopt a grey-brown fleck which blends very well into a wide range of terrain types.

Because the New Zealand Army is very small by world standards my review assumed more money should be spent on making the uniform comfortable and adaptable for climates from -40 to +40 degrees celsius. This is not commercial-off-the shelf but specialised. The benefit of investing in a uniform that can maintain user comfort and safety in a variety of terrains is worth the investment. There is not much of a technology risk associated with clothing as the industry is very good at mass production and scale-up.

When it comes to ballistic protection I concluded that the sensible thing to do was to go where the mercenaries go. After all a mercenaries top priority is survival. Survival means first being quick enough to get out of the way with enough resistance to minimise serious damage. There is no point earning US$1000 a day if you can only spend it from the comfort of your wheelchair. Once again the small size of the New Zealand force meant that it was better value to buy the best than save 20%. The only exception to this was the standard US Army kevlar helmet which is adopted largely to improve IFF - American soldiers not being very good at distinguishing between non-American friends or foes.

When it came to weaponry I concluded that a small force should simply not compromise. Special forces should have the US SCAR while irregular (territorial) forces needed the simplicity and ease of use of the SAR-21. Auxiliaries need a weapon that can be holstered - that suggested the mini-Uzi. These may be more expensive than your bog-standard infantry weapon but the order size was not large as New Zealand rarely deploys more than a company, and almost never a battalion.

The New Zealand force as I envisaged it would have more in common with commercial armies than the bloated public service organisations most countries (including New Zealand) tend to operate. That is it would operate excellent quality survival systems and commercial level infomatics but not get drawn into Quixotic quests for the perfect infantry combat system.

As the German experience has demonstrated in the end it comes down to what the soldier in the field thinks. If he (or she) is wearing a uniform that keeps him (or her) comfortable and safe, has not been compromised by penny pinching, and is as close to what he (or she) would choose for themselves with the same budget, then you will have their confidence. Inflict impractical rubbish on them and you have their emnity. That is not good for morale or retention.

In a world where private armies are rapidly attracting away the best and brightest soldiers it is essential that national armies think less about the needs of the general staff and potential headlines and more about the man or woman on the ground. Infantry combat systems need to be designed from the ground up to be comfortable, safe and simple to operate in demanding environments.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fighting fires

How funny. According to this story {http://www.stuff.co.nz/4291957a11.html} on Stuff the Army has managed to burn 600 hectares of tussock and scrub by firing live rounds at it in the middle of a drought.

Stupid enough perhaps, but then it has to hire four civilian helicopters to help put the fire out! That's about 4 x $1500 = $6000/hr or $10/hectare per hour for what benefit? Once again the single-minded pursuit of military objectives by our defence force shows up the failings of our defence thinking.

This raises all sorts of obvious questions:
1. Was there a pressing need to fire explosives in the middle of a drought?
2. What sort of army fire-fighting resources were standing-by in case of fire?
3. What sort of fire-fighting resources does the force have anyway?

The simple fact is the army doesn't have much in the way of fire-fighting resources anyway. They have a few old fire-tenders, mostly for responding to fires around their own camps. Ohakea has crash tenders but obviously they have to remain available for the airforce - especially the C-130s who might need them.

The reason the army isn't really equipped to mount fire-fighting operations is that it isn't the army's main role. The army is there to kill people and blow things up. Fighting fires is the role of the fire service.

The review I carried out takes a completely different view. Because it is predicated on an all hazards response force the ability to fight fires is very much part of the force design. This ranges from the 3 IL-76MF transport aircraft, the 2 Mi-26 heavy lift helicopters and the MAN SX 8x8 fire/watercannon platoon. Obviously the EH101 and A109M helicopters would also be capable of fire-fighting.

The IL-76 is a very well regarded waterbomber and even the US Forest Service has called for IL76s to be used to fight US forest fires over their own C-130s because the intensity of the heavier payload extinguishes fires more completely. The Mi-26 can carry 10 tonnes of water at a time as indeed can the MAN SX 8x8 fire appliance. Put together the Mi-26's could keep the MAN SX tenders supplied with water or dump it directly on the fire.

The reason the hypothetical force is equipped for fire is simple. The hypothetical force is meant to be able handle all hazards. While fire is properly the domain of the fire service in the event of a major earthquake the fire service could well be overloaded. More to the point the availability of reticulated water would be compromised. Fire is the biggest destroyer of property after earthquakes as was proven in San Francisco in 1906, Tokyo in 1923 and indeed Napier in 1931.

Of course it is also possible that civilian services are cheaper than using force personnel. In my view this should not be the case. The defence force might be marginally more expensive in terms of dollars per hour due to a quality premium but there is no reason why they should be that much more. In fact one big Mi-26's plus the MAN SXs may well be cheaper to operate than four smaller choppers. And more to the point it can also be considered an impromptu training exercise if fire fighting is part of the force's overall remit.

So there we have it. Our existing force sets fire to hillsides and has to hire civilians to deal with it. The hypothetical force, were it dumb enough to forget the fire risk (stupidity being a human constant) could at least respond quickly with its own equipment to contain the damage if needed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Domestic terrorism

The evidence presented to the Manukau District Court on the Tuhoe Terrorists or 'Guerillas in the mist' revealed in the Dominion Post this morning quite clearly shows that these people were modelling themselves on Al Qaeda or the IRA.

Even if the apparent ease with which authorities monitored their rather teenage enthusiasm for mayhem indicates that these people were always more of a threat to themselves and their friends and family than they ever were to society the fact is that the intention to terrorise New Zealand was there.


There is a world of difference between the business violence of criminal gangs and the anarchic violence of terrorists. Criminal gangs are essentially into making money by pushing the edges of civil society. But without the boundaries of civil society they are out of business. If cannabis were legalised the criminal gangs would soon lose their market share to well-heeled corporates. Criminal gangs rely on the Police to keep the rest of society in line so they can maximise their advantages at the boundaries.

By contrast terrorists like the IRA, INLA, RAF, the Nazis, Hamas or El Qaeda are at war with the state. They will mimic criminal gangs in their methods but their objective is not to get rich and retire (like Michael Corleone) but to destroy the soveriegn organisation of a nation and replace it with another. They are fundamentally opposed to some of the structures on which the United Nations rests.

The motivation of criminal gangs is simple: greed, anger and lust, are the main deadly sins. But the motivation of terrorists is almost always based on a belief that negotiation with a state is impossible. That the only way to bring the state to negotiate is to kill people and blow things up.

Why do Tuhoe believe they cannot negotiate with the Crown?

Well the fact is the Crown has been cynically stiffing Maori since Labour came to power in 1999. The Treaty negotiation process started by Doug Graham has stalled and Labour has allowed the treasury to deliberately exploit the delays to the State's advantage. The good will which existed in the 90s has evaporated to a rather deep frost and Maori are bloody angry.

The good news is Maori are not really interested in terrorism. It is obvious that these would be terrorists were penetrated by informants and skeptics a very long time ago. These informants and skeptics were obviously crucial to planting the bugs that gathered the evidence presented in court. Some of these informants may be Police informants anyway, while others were simply scared by the enormous stupidity of trying to start a guerilla war in their own back yard.
But the bad news is there is no indication that the Government has learned a thing from this unusual conspiracy. To date its sole reaction has been to propose increasing the powers of the Minister in charge of the SIS (The PM) and amend the fatally flawed terrorism legislation it pushed through. None of this addresses the issue.

Look at it this way. If the terrorists had got off the ground and you were given the job of eliminating them how would you go about it?

The nation with the most success in defeating terrorism is Great Britain. It defeated the Malay insurgents, the Yemeni insurgents in the Aden and the IRA/INLA.


In every case it simply made not fighting more profitable than fighting. In the case of the IRA/INLA it was more the success of the Bertie Ahern government in attracting direct inward investment to the Republic than the success of MI5/6 and the Paras that stopped the bombings and killings. In the other two cases the counter-insurgency force combined rapid armed response and enlisting local support (in a way the Americans so spectacularly failed to do in Vietnam) to deny the terrorists the hearts and minds support they desperately needed.
So if your mission had been to deal with Tuhoe terrorists one of the most important steps you would have to take would have been to isolate them by providing an alternative form of hope.

One could say that such a step plays into the hands of terrorists, but in fact it doesn't. Terrorists are people who want to spread terror. They like bombing and killing. They will only get support if it seems (in the famous phrase of Margaret Thatcher) There IS No Alternative. If there is an alternative to the bitter business of civil war most people will opt for it.

This is where the role of the executive and the guardian of the constitution (and commander of the defence force) need careful consideration.

In my view the defence force has a legitimate role in combating terror - homegrown or otherwise. Its role is the big stick. The role of the Police, however should be to be the ones who talk softly. The Police should not be playing stormtroopers. The only time you need anyone with automatic weapons and body armour is when someone is actually shooting people. If they are terrorists then the armed forces are the experts and should be called upon.

How does one distinguish between criminals and terrorists? In my view it is actually quite simple. Terrorists are illegally armed with military style weapons such as machine guns and including biological weapons (that kill stock, crops or their biological support structures), WMDs, Molotov cocktails and bombs. Criminals are armed with illegal pesticides, pistols, shotguns and hunting rifles. The difference is the terror of indiscriminate mass murder or economic sabotage instead of criminal murder. If you have equipped yourself with weapons of mass murder you are a terrorist. This cuts through all the legal palaver about who formed an intent to do what when and how. It means Police deal with assassins with hunting rifles and the military take down anyone armed to carry out indiscriminate killing. Certainly this might make terrorists of criminal gangs but frankly I cannot see why anyone would want to argue for the right of the Mongrol Mob to carry machine guns or make fertiliser bombs. Similarly while the executive may consider assassinations terrorism the average person regards has little patience with "l'etat, c'est mois" type declarations and regards them as simple murder of one individual by another.

However the guardian of the constitution should only deply the big stick when the state is actually threatened and, moreover, should also consider removing the chief executive if their policies are contributing to the instability. Their interest is solely to preserve the state as an institution.

There is no doubt that terrorism is a new kind of warfare that requires a very deep reconsideration between the rights of citizens to dissent and the ability of the state to preserve the rule of law. New Zealand is not alone in being tested in this regard and there should be a good deal more debate about it than there has been to date.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Change to Hypothetical comparison force

The recent news that the airforce's A109M helicopter acquisition was not to be included in the NH-90 order, and in fact adds another $110 million to defence capital has led me to a quick skip through my study to see if there is anything I would have spent another $110 million on, had I had it.

I took a short look at COIN/Trainers such as the Embraer AT-29, the Raytheon T-6 (PC9) and the Pilatus PC21 but came rapidly to the conclusion that the threat from suicidal civilian pilots could either be met by the Falcon maritime patrol jet or wouldn't be met at all. While the need for aircraft to beat up fleeing fishing boats could be met by simply putting an HMG pod on a DHC-6.

Instead I revisited the question of maritime security.

I confess I was struck recently by a documentary showing the HMNZS Manawanui plodding around the Ocean inspecting the paperwork of fishing vessels. Two things struck me about this. The first was that for such a routine operation this was far too far out to sea (over 200nm) for an EH101 to be used. The second was the sad part when the Manawanui (max speed 11 knots) could not catch a foreign fishing boat that refused to acknowledge its radio messages and slipped away.

Project Protector has allowed for two Offshore Patrol Vessels (Wellington launched last week and Otago). My hypothetical force allowed for two OPVs as well (based on the more capable Norwegian OPV design of the KV Svalbard class). While the hypothetical force would also have survey vessels these would be busy and may not have time for maritime security.

It also seemed to me that two deep sea patrol vessels seemed very few for the fourth largest EEZ in the world. Ireland has eight and only a fraction of our maritime territory.

Happily the answer was already in the study. With the extra allowance I have added two Environmental Protection Vessels of the Sarah Baartman class to the hypothertical force. This 83-metre OPV is perfect for our deep ocean fishery having good sea-keeping, heavy helicopter support, RHIB launch, oil-spill containment, towing capability and a 20-knot pursuit speed. Completed in 2004 Sarah Baartman cost the South African Department of Environment and Tourism US$19 million ! It has a small crew but can remain at sea for up to 45 days.

Moreover for missions to remote Pacific or southern ocean bases or islands the Sarah Baartman class vessel is ideal in that it can also carry six TEU containers. Replenishment missions to Raoul Island or Campbell Island quite apart from minor aid missions to Vanuatu etc would be well within the scope of this vessel.

Thus the hypothetical force now boasts four 80-metre vessels for maritime security in addition to the two maritime resources survey ships. Plus the hypothetical force is linked by heavy maritime helicopters able to operate at up to 200 nautical miles from land for extended periods.

Once again the counterfactual force can deliver significantly more useful capability for the money than the actual one.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Airforce A109Ms

The Royal New Zealand Airforce has recently announced it is spending $110 million to acquire five new A109M helicopters and a flight simulator.

The A109M is an excellent light military helicopter. Originally designed for search and rescue it has also been adapted into a missile platform for the anti-tank role, and is used widely as a light naval helicopter as well. Being small it is readily air and sea lifted with minimal adaption.

In fact the A109M is such an excellent helicopter it raises questions about why the Airforce bought so few of them versus so many NH-90s, and the future of the Kaman Seasprites.

To remind readers the Airforce acquired eight TTH-NH-90s (plus one for parts) for $750 million. That's roughly US$40 million per helicopter plus odds and ends, training, manuals, flight simulators etc. All for a helicopter that can carry 24 passengers or two tonnes.

Now the A109M can only carry six passengers and one tonne. But the real point is you get four of them for the same money as a TTH and it is far more flexible. It can carry AT-missiles or be equipped as an air ambulance. Plus, if you lose one, you haven't lost a goodly portion of your airforce. It all comes down to what you see as the main role of the helicopter.

The TTH is a utility chopper for carrying half a platoon or a very light vehicle (but probably not a Pinzgauer). It is too light to be a heavy lift chopper for any meaty loads and too heavy to be wasted on recon, air ambulance etc. In my view this is the wrong sort of machine to base your fleet on.

Light tasks require a lot of nippy light choppers. Hauling infantry from place to place is a very small part of what you want a helicopter for. Sometimes all its there to do is observe. Small choppers can drop small teams, provide low risk contact with outlying posts or operate from smaller areas. They are perfect for special forces based deployments.

For heavy tasks you need seriously big beasts. Heliharvest Ltd operates New Zealand's largest helicopters including Mi-8s and Boeing Vertol (Chinook's) quite successfully and has provided civil assistance in both Timor and after the Boxing Day Tsunami in South East Asia. If you want to move a platoon or a vehicle you need something bigger than an NH-90 and it wouldn't have costed that much more either.

But perhaps the (rather belated) interest in a better equipped airforce shows one thing that is seriously wrong with defence spending in New Zealand. And that is each arm of the armed services tendency to run to treasury whenever they think they have a need and enough politial support. Where is the capital cap on the Defence Force in toto? Does the Navy have to trade off against the Army or the Airforce or do they all just have to take turns on a thirty year cycle: first the Navy then the Army and then the Air Force? IS there an overall cap? Or can the defence force expand and expand its capital just because its kit has worn out and it prefers one set of goodies to all the others?

In theory the capital cost of operating the defence force is operationalised into the annual budget cycle. But it would be perfectly feasible to buy a huge catelogue of shiny equipment and then never use it operationally because there's no budget. IS the intention to expand the defence force budget to 1% of GDP? My study showed that this can be justified but only if half of the force is tasked with concern for civil emergencies including biological hazards and similar national risks.

One can only endorse the Airforce's decsion to go with the A109M but the worry is that it has bought it for all the wrong reasons.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Economist catches on

The Economist has a new lead out featuring the latest thinking from the Pentagon on dealing with insurgency: http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=10024437

Its amazing its taken the Pentagon so bloody long to work out what everyone else already knew: The military task is innately political and in an assymetric war the role of troops is more complex than simply killing anyone who might look like a "bad guy" (because in assymmetric warfare pretty soon everyone looks like a bad guy)

New Zealanders have an innate understanding of this, perhaps inherited from the British. The British Army was extremely successful in assymmetric wars in Malaya and Yemen. Many New Zealand soldiers served in Malaya where they learned the dual role of soldiers in befriending the populace and demoralising the opposition. By contrast the US has never learned the lesson and after storming in guns blazing has been sent packing with its tail between its legs repeatedly over the past 50 years.

The weird thing is that while the NZDF does assymmetric warfare well, due in large part to the quality of its officers and soldiers, it persists in maintaining a doctrine and an approach to equipment which persists with World War Two thinking about fire and manouvre. Thus we have soldiers in Afghanistan who are largely equipped as Americans because none of our equipment can be readily transported there and because it isn't what's wanted anyway.

Take the LAV-III, the brother of the Stryker. It is always a combat vehicle because it has a very expensive 25mm cannon weapons system mounted on the turret. Its hard to be low key when you are armed to the teeth. A demountable weapons system is far more flexible, takes up less internal room and allows the armoured vehicle to be used for less aggressive operations without annoying anyone. Running supplies through dodgy roads or acting as an armoured ambulance are two functions which come to mind.

The Pinzgauer could also meet this role, but isn't to be found in Afghanistan much either, for the obvious reason that it has no logistic support whereas Humvees and Landcruisers have plenty. Once again we spend large sums of taxpayers money on a vehicle programme only to end up having to rent some other kind of vehicle (Humvee or Landcruiser) for operational reasons because the vehicles we bought are too expensive to operate on remote deployments.

In my view there is rather a lot of army vehicles sitting around just to make a bunch of hairy-chested blokes feel better about themselves being in a "real army". A far more sensible use of the funds would have been to acquire readily deployable vehicles which meets all the challenges of assymetric warfare including the humanitarian aspect in the first place.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Steyr goes off wounding two

Yet another report of a NZDF soldiers Steyr rifle going off accidentally in Afghanistan. This time while in a Humvee ( curious that we never hear of Pinzgauers over there).

Last time this happened the soldiers involved were charged. However it is well known that the Austeyr rifle is not the safest combat rifle in the world. I very well remember a presentation by Lt Colonel Haynes of the Logistic Support Regiment back in the 90s describing how a Steyr went automatic on a soldier on a rifle range and he simply couldn't stop it discharging the entire magazine. This was due to a manufacturing fault. Since then there have been numerous reports of "unexpected discharges" from the rifles, notably in Afghanistan.

The AusSteyr was selected purely because the Australians were buying/making it and New Zealand tried once again to piggy back on the the Australian military instead of thinking for itself. There is no reason why New Zealand had to buy Australian, or, for that matter even make its own, as Singapore has done most effectively with the SAR-21.

Another reason for choosing the Steyr is that the army believes it needs to equip six battalions of territorials with combat rifles! As we will never field six battalions of territorials (the most we have ever had on active duty is about 1,500) it seems very odd that we have selected a relatively cheap personal weapon when, for a not much more, we could equip our troops with the very best.

Only when the size and mission of defence force is properly balanced against economic risk will we end up with an organisation that is scaled appropriately. Once it is recognised that our forces come in effectively three levels:
1. special forces - of which we need many more
2. territorials - of whom we need a good many less
3. auxiliaries ( i.e drivers, medics, engineers etc)
then we can think about equipping them appropriately. My pick is the US Special Operations Command FN 5.56mm rifle for the special forces, the Singapore SAR-21 5.56mm for the territorials, and the Mini-Uzi 9mm for those who need a weapon but will normally keep it holstered. That way the special forces guys get the level of specialist kit they need, the territorials get a weapon that is very tolerant to user error (its a Kalashnikov mechanism with factory zeroed sights) and the auxiliaries get a weapon that is easy to keep near-by even when busily driving or building things.

Of course its always possible for people to forget basic weapons safety but accidents like this are much less likely when the weapons are well made and much more closely match the needs of their users.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What's a molotov cocktail between friends?

The recent reports that a band of disaffected 'activists' have been playing commandos in the Uraweras should not, on the face of it, have middle New Zealand shaking in its shoes. After all boys will be boys and I'm sure they all came home feeling very excited and invigorated.

And certainly the liberal press has been yapping around the ankles of Police Commissioner Hoard Broad demanding to know where the terrorism charges are, and whether or not the Police have cocked up here and there, acting like stormtroopers.

For the Police have been casting their net, in their search for the "guerillas in the mist" (as the Dompost so brilliantly described the largely Tuhoe gathering) very widely. No doubt some have enjoyed a bit of good old fashioned stormtrooping to give their otherwise often depressing and annoying occupation a bit of a lift.

But in my view it comes down to this. You can be real pissed off about the failure of the Clark government to progress treaty claims. You can hold demonstrations. You can denounce the Government publically and even shoot the flag if you like. But when you make a molotov cocktail, fertiliser bomb or acquire an automatic weapon illegally you have crossed the line. You are a terrorist by definition.

The only reason for having automatic weapons, bombs and molotov cocktails is to kill or threaten people. That is about spreading terror. I don't care if criminal gangs have armed themselves with such weapons in the past, because as far as I'm concerned they are terrorists as well. The difference between a terrorist and other forms of political violence is discrimination. Terrorists are indiscrimminate. They don't care how many innocents are killed in the process of political action. Terrorists are into maximising 'collateral damage'. And I have no pity for terrorists. In my view they are combatants.

Fighting terrorism is never an exact science. Intelligence can be very fuzzy. The rule of thumb must always be to under-play the situation but be ready to escalate it very very quickly. In my view the Police have got it wrong. They have over-played the situation from the outset. They have upset people by doing the stormtrooper thing.

In my view the Police should go into these people's houses quietly but firmly and carry out their searches with the minimum of drama and the maximum of cooperation. They should be told, politely, if there is any resistance or the slightest sign of a threat the anti-terror squad will arrive in ten seconds. Military helicopters should defintely play a role.

Some might imagine that as the beginnings of a Police State. Under the current constitutional role of the Defence Force at present that might be a fair accusation. It will certainly be one reason the Defence Force will not be involved. But in my view however there is no reason why the military should not be involved in supporting anti-terrorism operations. Terrorism goes beyond policing because it is an attack on the ability of the state to enforce the law. It is contesting the sovereignty of the state and the state has a valid recourse to military force where its sovereignty is challenged.

This does require a degree of constitutional and organisational change however. The military must have a direct responsibility to the upholding of democracy. Every soldier must be trained in the law and in their role in the maintance of democracy. Only those who choose to arm themselves as soldiers should ever need to fear being treated like enemy soldiers. There is no room for armed political gangs running around New Zealand as they did in the Weimar Republic. The army must be the sole repository of political violence kept on the heavy chain of the law. Would be ursurpers must be discouraged, not indulged.

Counter-terrorism is a bit like peacekeeping. Firmness, politeness and the threat of immediate and massive retaliation are the only way to deal with people playing on the edges of terrorism. That way they see the fire they are playing with before its too late and have no grounds for nursing a grudge. For a grudge can be nursed into a very dangerous monster it is not nipped in the bud. Hopefully the Police have not started one growing through their recent heavy-handedness.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Shopping list - Transport planes

The Defence force has announced that it wants to spend over $1 billion more on new equipment over the next ten years. Top of the list is a fleet of new transport aircraft for the Airforce.

It has been obvious for some time that the Airforce has been biding its time waiting for the A400M to start production. The Airbus military aircraft is shortly about to make the transition from brochure-ware to hardware, removing any objections that might be proposed to its meeting a tender specification.

The typical approach by the NZDF when it has its eye on a specific bit of kit is to write the specification in such a way that there is only one possible complying option. That the Airforce has not followed the RAAF toward the C-130J spoke volumes about its intention to replace its aging C-130Hs. The Airbus is a larger aircraft able to carry more further than any of the C-130J variants (stretched or otherwise).

But while the Airbus certainly is a good aircraft it is going to be very expensive. At current prices around $200 million per unit. That would mean it would definitely cost $1 billion to replace all five C-130Hs.

And there is another alternative, which airforces the world over lease, but seem reluctant to buy. The IL-76MF, is even bigger, with an even longer range lands in the same footprint and could carry a tank to Fiji and back if needed ( if we had any tanks). Its main drawback, however, is that it is Russian, and our military, with their brains firmly rooted in the 1980s see that as too risky.

By contrast Jordan recently bought a pair of such aircraft for $US50 while the Indian airforce uses the IL76MF extensively.

Adding another $1 billion a year in capital will add another $100 million in capital costs to the NZDF's overhead. Evidently it thinks it will get the budget increase needed to cope with this without compromising its other efforts at growth.

This commentator remains convinced however that the NZDF is already unjustifiably large for a purely military role. Increasing its budget will make it roughly twice the size it ought to be compared to the threat.

In my view the NZDF should be a lot smaller, rely less on territorials, be far more canny about its purchasing and have a civil defence objective written into its doctrine. Only then will it fit into any rational threat envelope New Zealand may face.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Would you open the door?

The Army's latest "TV Challenge" shows a bunch of kiwi soldiers driving along a mountainous road in Pinzgauers when they come upon a group of women with babies on their backs. One of the women approaches the Pinzgauer and thumps on the door asking the soldiers for help. The question is: would you unlock the door? The solution from the Army website is "Did you notice the large firearm strapped over her left shoulder? She's in distress and she's armed. You should only unlock the door for this woman if you're ready to immediately disarm her".

Think about it however. She's in the mountains with other women and babies. She's armed because everyone else there is armed and because there are probably wolves about. Is she about to get into a firefight with a bunch of foreign soldiers? Very, very unlikely. The only real possibility for danger is she's part of a suicide squad but then if she's that close to a Pinzgauer its already too late. If she's wired up like a bomb she'll destroy the vehicle and kill half its occupants because Pinzgauers, even the armoured ones, could not withstand such a blast at that range.

The interesting thing about the question is however two assumptions which stem from the nature of the Pinzgauer itself. The first is that you have all these soldiers huddled inside this poor-mans APC increasing the risk because there are so many "eggs in one basket". The second is that the lock on the door will protect our wee darlings from the nasty foreign lady outside.

The hypothetical force on my website does not have Pinzgauers. Instead it has either big RG-33 mine protected vehicles which could protect its occupants from a suicide bomber (as they do in Iraq) or a Toyota Landcruisers with no armour but which cost a third of the Pinzgauers price. If we assume that the same hypothetical situation existed it is probable that the unit would be driving in a convoy of Landcruisers possibly with a single RG-33 in case of mines in the lead. The soldiers would probably consist mostly of Rangers, Pioneers, medical staff and intelligence officers. The main advantage of the Landcruiser is that it would only carry four soldiers at a time. Two landcruisers to carry a single section. This would make taking out an entire section with one mine, IED, or RPG all the harder.

On encountering the women the obvious thing to do would be to prepare to dismount. The RG33 would go slightly ahead. The convoy would stop and the soldiers approach the women. The rear section would dismount and approach at a different angle in a relaxed fashion. The obvious objective is to determine what the women are trying to do and whether they need any help. If the women are dodgy they will be stand-offish. If the women are desperate they will demand help. In the former case the best response is to back off but note them for monitoring and possibly surprise them later. In the latter case to render aid as available.

This is another example of the way in which the Army has been painted into a corner by being forced to adopt such a limited range of equipment. To do the right thing in a peacekeeping environment is always tricky but having your options limited by unimaginative equipping just makes it all the harder.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mr Downer is right

The ABC has got terribly excited about a A$1.2 billion arms deal between Indonesia and Russia.
It suggests that the two Kilo Class submarines included in the deal could pose a threat to Australian surface ships. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is rightly not worried.

The Kilo Class is a 4,000 tonne boat designed for shallow water operations, first coming into service in 1982. They are being replaced by the unfortunately named Lada class submarine. While a Kilo class boat is a submarine and thus always potentially a threat it is scarcely anything for the Australians to wet their pants over. The technology is 25 years old and in terms of the high-tech world of submarine warfare completely obsolete - which is why the Russians don't use them much anymore themselves. If the Indonesians were buying high-tech fuel-cell boats from Sweden or Germany then Australia might have something to worry about.

Meanwhile the Australians are buying the Poseidon P-8 ASW aircraft to replace the P-3 Orion, Aegis class frigates and upgrading its Collins Class submarines tactical systems for considerably more than $1.2 billion. The RAAF and RAN will be well placed to spear these fish should they ever prove a nuisance.

Mr Downer is actually being very polite about the Russian subs and Indonesias tendency to shop for weapons at bargain basement vendors. While the military will nod their heads gravely and pretend this constitutes in threat in order to justify their outrageous budgets in real terms two or even eight Kilos don't amount to a threat that would last more than five minutes in open combat.

Strategically the Indonesian boats are largely there to provide the ability to surrepticiously convey people and equipment among its own islands and, if required, create an international incident in the Asian-Middle East sea lane which runs through their 'backyard' north of Sumatra. They want a boat that won't show up on satellite surveillance so they can do sneaky things in their own country without anyone else peering over their shoulder. To a certain extent this capability is really more a function of geo-politics than whether they buy 25-year old submarines to carry it out with.

As for New Zealand, with a range of 7,500 miles, an Indonesian Kilo would have to sneak around the Australian continent, and rendez-vous with a friendly tanker, if it were to have any hope of attacking our shipping. It just ain't going to happen.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Kaman debacle

How embarrassing. Stuff has reported that the Airforce has been cannibalising one of its Kaman Seasprites after it smashed down on to the deck of one of the frigates in rough weather. The shortage of parts has made repairing the helicopter (which originally cost US$38 million apiece back in 1998) practically impossible.
Of course this was bound to happen. Landing a helicopter on the land is relatively easy because it stands still. Landing a helicopter at sea, when the deck is pitching, rising and dropping, is not surprisingly, pretty hard and there is a certain amount of luck involved. I have no doubt that the pilot responsible was not a particularly poor pilot, he just hit an unexpected wave, and bang! There goes $60 million bucks!
The problem with the Seasprite is fundamentally linked to the problem of the ANZAC Frigates. The Seasprite is a heavy duty ASW helicopter - and not a bad one either. But why we thought we needed an ASW helicopter in 1998 when we bought the things is beyond me. All the security threats to our economy are conveniently very slow, old fishing boats who really aren't that hard to spot compared to a submarine.
And if you aren't hunting submarines then your whole specification changes rather a bit.
While the NH90 is never going to suffer a shortage of parts (partly because the Airforce bought an extra one for that purpose but mostly because its hugely popular) the question that remains is when is it going to be deployed to do something useful. For that we wait with bated breath.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Intervention in Fiji

As the military in Fiji have now managed to take over the judiciary and ban political commentry it should become obvious that there is no roadmap back to democracy. This regime has finally made permanent what previous coups-d'etat have only hinted at: The Pacific's first fascist state.

The big question is: is there anything the rest of the Pacific can or will do about it?

The Fijian economy is based on three main pillars: tourism; the mercenary remissions of its soldiers; and sugar. Fiji is not a rich country and the effect of the military coups is to worry direct inward investors. For the moment it is trying to operate on a business-as-usual basis but the assumption of martial law means this is now impossible. Martial law need not bother the tourists sunning themselves on the beach but it effectively means that the military now decide the justice of every commercial contract made on the Fiji Islands. Martial law must inevitably slide into the worst forms of corruption and abuse.

The impact of this on the economy will take some time to take hold but as in every other country where martial law is practiced the outcome is inevitable. Military leaders become patrons, patrons begin to "borrow" resources and before you know it Fiji will look not unlike Zimbabwe.

I raise Zimbabwe deliberately because Zimbabwe has one very important friend in the world. That friend is the People's Republic of China. The PRC has backed Mugabe from the outset and without their support he woud not be in power today. If we alienate the Fiji regime too much this is the direction we might expect them to head in search of assistance.

So what can the rest of the Pacific do which will not politically alienate ordinary Fijians and play into the hands of the Fijian military's high command?

My solution is perhaps rather underhand. Instead of trying to prevent the UN from using Fijian troops for Peacekeeping I would suggest encouraging it. In fact I would encourage that as many of the Fijian military's best soldiers be hired for duties in other parts of the world as possible. Then at the right moment I would trigger a democratic insurrection, and land an ANZAC "peacekeeping force" as fast as possible.

In the confusion that followed it should be possible to re-establish civilian rule with the minimum amount of bloodshed. One would then set about thoroughly restructuring the Fijian military so that it better reflected the needs of a remote island nation. Then you could start recalling the military commanders posted overseas to take part in the necessary trials etc.

Such an operation is, by necessity risky, but in terms of long term regional security into the 21st Century an ounce of early intervention could be worth a tonne of problems later.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Do we want our own Medium Range Ballistic Missile

The recent announcement of Rocket Labs Atea Rocket development raises the possibility that New Zealand could, if it wanted to, develop a medium range ballistic missile. Such a missile would be similar to the AGNI-II developed by India.

Such a missile would have to be 50%-100% bigger than the Atea to be useful with a range of about 2,000 miles.

But where most nations immediate thought for arming a ballistic missile would be a nuclear warhead New Zealand might have more restrained uses. Two that spring to mind are:
1. Research and observation
2. Delivering torpedos.

The typical 324mm torpedo weighs about 200kg and is about 3m long. Delivered to within 5km of the target zone, re-entering by parachute like the old ASROC, it could then home in on a target submarine or ship. At night it would be practically invisible sudden disaster.

If your ambition is to be able to sink shipping anywhere within New Zealand's EEZ ten minutes after pushing the launch button then such a delivery system sounds like a far cheaper way of doing so than sending a frigate, and so much quicker and less messy (in terms of who saw what when) too.

If, that is indeed, our objective.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Canterbury's Limitations

The arrival of HMNZS Canterbury in Timaru shows clearly how short-sighted the acquisition of this ship actually was. Built at a cost of around $186 million the ship is a very small ferry adapted to carry a company of infantry 24 LAV IIIs and 4 NH-90 helicopters. That is a most of the strength of the 3/1 Battalion, quarter of our LAV IIIs and half our helicopters.

The problem is not so much the performance of this ship itself. For the money Canterbury will provide an excellent expeditionary force carrier, particularly around the South Pacific. The problem is there is only one of her. This creates a planners dilemna.

If there is no emergency worth carrying some LAVs and NH90s into the Pacific for, what is Canterbury meant to do? Sit in port and twiddle its thumbs? That is a very expensive waste of $186 million given that she is unlikely to have an emergency to respond to every year. The alternative is that she sets sail into the Pacific for 'goodwill' visits with a couple of NH90s and a dozen LAVs carefully wrapped up in greaseproof paper in case they turn out to be needed. But then what happens if she is needed? She can head for the nearest port and embark personnel flown in by B757 but she will still be relatively under strength in terms of helicopters and LAVs.

And what if Canterbury is showing the flag miles away in East Timor or Chile? Relocating to the Solomon's will take rather a lot of time.

The simple fact is we have always needed more than one Canterbury. However when you break it down there are actually two tasks. One is 'goodwill' visits to the Pacific. The other is moving a lot of materiel in response to political or natural disaster very quickly. If the Navy planners had thought a little harder this is what they might have come up with:

Two aid/hospital/transport ships to provide constant contact with the islands, gathering intelligence, providing hospital services and carrying troops or refugees. Such a ship would be based on the Aranui-3. A freighter/passenger ship that sails between Tahiti and the Maqueses Islands. In place of the tourist facilities the ship would have extensive medical ones and a heli deck. This would make it useful in times of both disaster or conflict. Another good model is the Aquiles a transport used by the Chilean navy to resupply Chiles Antarctic mission - a capability we notably lack.

Naturally such a ship can't land heavy equipment. To do that these large ocean-going landing ships are used by the US Army would seem to be the ticket. Not only can they carry tanks or other heavy equipment they can delivery it on to the beach if needed. They can also carry a helicopter.

The cost of these ships is notable. Aranui-3 cost US$22 million and the land ships cost US$26 million. For the price of the Canterbury we could have got two aid ships and two landing ships. While this would have increased operational costs somewhat it would also increase operational capability enormously.

Of course they wouldn't have been quite as shiny as Canterbury - and maybe that's what this ship is really all about.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Coastguard sweats while defence spends

According to this story from The Press (30 May 2007). The Coastguard is struggling to find $17 million to pay for 25 life-saving boats to such an extent it is slashing its own administration.

As with the volunteer fire service and ambulance New Zealanders lives depend on charity rather than Government spending. The Coastguard operates 75 boats on no more than $5 million a year - not counting of course the volunteered time of the crews. For Government $17 million is not a lot of money but for a struggling charity it is a fortune to raise.

The current defence force does provide some degree of coastguard support work. Without the Orions search capability long distance rescues would be impossible. The Navy also has four coastal patrol vessels and 8 NH-90 helicopters on order than could contribute to emergencies if they are needed. But while the Navy can assist with search and rescue it is not part of its core mission which is to defend New Zealand's sealanes.

The whole point of the reorganised force proposed on my website is to bring more civilian duties into the role of the military. Thus the force proposed on the website includes four inshore surveillance aircraft(DHC-6 Twin Otter), four EH-101 response SAR helicopters, and four inshore patrol vessels. These are located in Auckland, the Chathams, Nelson and Invercargill.

This is not to mention a training EH101 plus eight A109M ambulance helicopters and three Falcon &x MPA aircraft based at Ohakea.

While this is not the same as the Coastguard's fleet of smaller vessels it should be pointed out that at 160 knots the EH101 helicopters in Nelson could attend life-threatening situations 40 nautical miles off the coast of Kaikoura just as quickly as a 30-knot coastguard boat based in Kaikoura could - and do so regardless of sea-state. The only problem with a single resource is if there are multiple rescues.

This is not to say that the Coastguard should not continue as a voluntary organisation, just that it should be the first line of security for New Zealand mariners not the only line of defence.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A wider concept of defence

This blog is an integral part of my defence review (see links). Its objective is to provide a link between the review and current events. In situations where the Defence Force is mobilised (or not) this blog will attempt to compare the capability of the actual force with the review recommended force.