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?