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.