Wednesday, October 8, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A fair day's pay?

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

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

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

and for Engineers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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