Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Pinzgauer - Why don't we use a military disaster to industrial advantage.

According to TV One all the Army's armoured version of the Pinzgauer all terrain vans are suffering from cracked axles. [http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/faulty-armoured-vehicles-can-t-all-taken-service-former-army-chief-6076752].
The New Zealand army is reluctant to take the vehicles out of service because they are the only light armoured operations vehicles we have. Whether shipping a vehicle out for deployment knowing that it might break an axle in dangerous deployment situation is any better is, I would contend, questionable, at best. What the six month delay in the provision of axles really shows is that the logistical problems with this system are beginning to become significant.
The vehicles were bought in something of a rush because the Army's old landrovers were seriously crapping out after years of neglect under the National Party (which usually invests much less in the military than Labour). Background to this system is provided by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) [http://www.oag.govt.nz/2008/defence/appendix/appendix6.htm]. The vehicles had 'teething' problems from the outset, particularly with their gearboxes, and the state of the axles suggests that the 718 Pingauer plus armoured kit do not perform as well as a purpose-built armoured vehicles in the field.
The armoured Pinzgauer has proven itself to be a rather unhappy mixture. The British armoured Pinzgauer "The Vector" has performed badly in Afghanistan logistically and the armour has not proved as effective at preventing casualties from IEDs as purpose-built vehicles like the South African RG-32M (now owned by Denel) [http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-11/bae-systems-sells-south-african-armored-vehicles-unit-to-denel.html].
To my mind the decision to purchase the Pinzgauers at all reflects the army's slavish following of the British or Australian armies in most of its acquisitions. A more independent acquisition policy would lead to more broad-minded thinking about the nature and purpose of light armoured operations vehicles.
According to this depreciation chart from http://defence.allmedia.co.nz
The Pinzgauers are among those systems reaching a crunch point at about 2020 when they will have largely been depreciated to almost nothing. At this point it would make sense for the army to review the total cost of operation of the system into the future.
Pinzgauers are falling out of favour with European armies which have switched to the more expensive Duro II and III. Support for the system means that parts will become increasingly expensive and the already difficult logistic link (given new axles for the armoured Pingauers won't be available for another six months) will simply get worse. This suggests to me a replacement will be needed in the not too distant future.
This page https://sites.google.com/site/nzdf2020/future-force/combat-elements/vehicles contains a discussion on replacement candidates for the Pinzgauers. It proposes a joint development of a New Zealand vehicle with Okotar of Turkey, Gibbs Technology and Denel to produce a light armoured operational vehicle with the flexibility of the Okotar Cobra, the amphibious capability of the Gibbs vehicle and the protection of the RG-32M.
As the Koreans have shown development of a new vehicle is not necessarily much more expensive than buying one. The Korean K21 AFV is built using fibre glass. New Zealand is very good with carbon fibre. Military vehicles are typically exempt from all the expensive development testing standards which apply to civilian vehicles so hull design need not be beyond us. Use of Commercial-off-the-shelf engines and transmission systems (like the Cobra) would certainly improve serviceability. The vehicle could then be licensed back to Okotar for manufacturing. Turkey is definitely interested in building new military vehicles especially with an amphibious capability. Gibbs has undoubtably got the best high speed amphibious technology on the market and Alan Gibbs is a New Zealander.
Of course what this would require is a certain amount of balls by both defence and its Minister.
This is precisely why Singapore profits. Singapore's ST Kinetics builds that nations own armoured vehicles and it has recently licensed Gibbs High Speed Amphibian technolology. Singapore too is working with the Turks. Many New Zealanders think Singapore has become wealthy because it is well-placed and full of clever Chinese. In fact the Chinese aren't any cleverer than anyone else, but they do have the balls to take risks.
Why don't we?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rockets Away

There are very few space programmes in the world that do not stem from missile research. Japan's is probably the only one. Weirdly enough New Zealand has just woken up to the fact it actually has one.


Is not an American firm. It's a Kiwi firm based in Auckland and its planning to shake up the satellite launch business with a totally new rocket engine and carbon fibre rockets. The net result is the firm believes it can but a 100kg satellite into a 500km low earth orbit for $6 million instead of the usual $150 million.

The ability to launch LEO reconnaisance satellites from New Zealand should not escape the defence, civil defence and environmental agencies in New Zealand. Quite apart from being way cool it also changes the whole ball game when it comes to monitoring our extremely large EEZ.

The Rocketlab developed  "Instant Eyes" system is a rocket fired tactical reconaissance system. A strategic system would obviously be bigger but probably could never match anything like the KH-11 Crystal satellite which reportedly cost US$4.4 billion each.

Low Earth Orbit surveillance satellites could be used to carry out disaster impact surveillance, monitor ship emissions in our EEZ, and generally provide a low cost alternative to the Orions.

Plus the benefit of low launch costs is that there is no need to worry about the launched technology becoming obsolete in space. Satellites can be relative cheaper because they can be built using commercial off the shelf technology rather than higher tech spec technology built for a longer life.

If New Zealand was threatened the Electron booster could also launch anti-shipping warheads. A 100kg warhead is not that big in international terms but dropped from 200km up a solid metal terminally guided warhead would make it through re-entry and could make a pretty serious hole in any warship.

While RocketLabs doesn't change what the defence force should do, it may well change how it does things significantly.