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.