Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine 'Flu and Defence

In my last post I asked the crucial question which the forthcoming review of Defence has to answer. What is the $1.6b we spend annually on defence to protect us from?

In my review of Defence the answer was simple: every extrordinary threat to New Zealand. This included outbreaks of contagious human diseases.

This had an annual operational valuation of $217 million. Justified as follows:

The reappearance of the H5N1 bird flu strain is reminding authorities of the damage caused by the so-called Spanish flu in 1918. Government reports have estimated that such a pandemic would cost New Zealand up to one third of its GDP. In a historical context this is not much different to the great plagues of history and may someowhat underestimate the ability of modern medicine to contain the loss.
Treasury has published this report which calculates the possible loss of up to $30 billion in the first year.
The armed services may have a role in a pandemic where public order is called into question and for duties such as mass burials however in general terms such a pandemic is essentially a matter for civilian authorities.

Loss Potential: 20% of GDP ($31 billion)
Recovery in years: 7
Historical Frequency: 1 in 100 years
Probability in 20 year cycle: 4%
Mitigation value of defence capital: 20%
Estimated loss on occurance: $108 billion
Mitigation risk weighted period value: $4.357 billion
Annual Value: $217 million

The most important line here is the estimated Mitigation value of defence capital: 20%.
This was of course based on the assumption that the Defence force recognised that 14.6% of its task was being prepared and ready to respond to the needs of responding to a Pandemic.

My review therefore put a great deal of emphasis on capital equipment and organisation able to respond to such an emergency. The Support Brigade included a Medical Battalion (one of the few structures retaining part-time staff) while the Operations Brigade included a biohazard Response Company and not forgetting the Emergency Brigade. Naturally the rest of the structure provided the logistics and support necessary to keep such an operation working. It was assumed that most of the staff of the Pandemic unit would be academics or practictioners who would take up their roles in the defence structure as needed.

So far with just 11 cases reaching New Zealand we are a long way from needing such a response capability. Authorities have moved quickly and efficiently to contain the potential spread of contagion. However it must be said that, like SARs before it, the Mexican Swine Flu has not shown any high degree of virulence, and, to date, civilian structures have proved more than capable of responding.

This does not mean, in my view that there is no need for the Defence Force to not be involved in planning and operations of anti-biohazard responses.

It would be nice if the Defence Review recognised the waste of spending so much money on defending our nation against non-existent military threats when there are very real medical and agricultural ones all around us. Any holistic understanding of the term "defence" would surely recognise this at once.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review or Whitewash?

The Government has announced that it will be carrying out yet another Defence Review. Defence Review 09 is the first post 9/11 Defence Review and its terms of reference have been revealed to media but not as yet posted on the Ministry website.
The objective is apparently to take a hard look at the number of bases, the airforce aircraft, whether the LAVs are worthwhile and when and how to replace the ANZAC frigates.

All of this is sensible is you know the answer to one important question first, and that is this:
"What is the New Zealand Defence Force going to defend us from?"
Until you know the answer to that question there is no point reviewing the NZDF.

My Defence Review took a look at the following factors:
= The strategic environment around New Zealand
= The diplomatic concerns facing New Zealand, from the Ross Ice Shelf to the Tokelaus
= The economic cost of military threat
and it basically concluded that we are spending twice as much on pure defence as we ought to. We are under even less threat than Ireland and far more heavily armed.

It then took in other factors such as:
= Civil Defence issues
= Coastguard and Fisheries protection issues
= Biohazard and border security issues
= Environmental protection issues
= Terrorism threats
And came to the conclusion that unless these were included in the NZDF's remit and incorporated into NZDF doctrine; the organisation was too large.

All of this suggests the NZDF needs to become more dual-use. Yes it needs a sharp front end, in the form of more special forces troops. But following behind the spear head is a more dual-use spear shaft made of dual-use logistics support troops, able to operate equally well in supporting battlefield operations and in civil emergencies. Troops that can be upgraded to combat capability but who specialise in very long range logistics, emergency response and operations. Moreover this organisation should comprise mostly of career professionals who are paid according to civilian pay scales, not thousands of weekend warriors who get paid to indulge in silly fantasies about how New Zealand might end up being a military playground.

In other words the NZDF should be mostly a trucking fleet, a freight airline, and a Pacific shipping line for dealing with emergency situations: military or civil. As such it should make use of the best of civilian technology and techniques rather than constantly over-engineer the force for a "battlefield" that is most unlikely to eventuate.

It will be fascinating to see how professional this Review actually gets. My hope is it will outclass my own review in every conceivable way. My worry is that it will simply be the same tired old rehash by the same stuck-in-their-ways thinkers we have always had.