Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Greens need a new defence spokesperson

Having spectacularly dropped the ball on the Labour-Green-NZ First coalition government's utterly irresponsible decision to buy submarine hunting aircraft for $2.6 billion, Green defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman is trying to make up for it by attacking [https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/391812/defence-force-s-1b-spend-unnecessary-greens] the purchase of C-130J ("Super Hercules) aircraft [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_C-130J_Super_Hercules] to replace the old C130H Hercules for No.40 Squadron as "unnecessary".This demonstrates Ghahraman knows nothing about defence and should be replaced by someone who does.

While the C130J decision is typically unimaginative of the NZDF it is not at all irresponsible. Our C-130H's are 54 year old flying hulks that desperately need to be replaced. The C130J is one of five western aircraft able to fulfill the task. It is probably not the best aircraft but there is no question that the capability is needed. The task of flying supplies and equipment around the Pacific and to the Antarctic is absolutely central to all of our defence tasks whether military, scientific or humanitarian. To not have heavy transport aircraft with rough field operating capability is to effectively to ignore our neighbourhood.

The C130J has the huge advantage that the support structures for this aircraft are already established. New Zealand firms and air force personnel don't have to do as much to adapt from the J to the H version. Once the P8a Poesidon sub hunter contract was signed the choice of the C130J was pretty much logical.

The deal of $1.1 billion depends very much on how many, and of which model aircraft we are talking about. That has not yet been clarified. The German Luftwaffe bought six C-130J-30s for $1.6 billion in 2017 [https://www.reuters.com/article/us-airforce-lockheed-germany-france-excl/exclusive-germany-plans-to-buy-six-lockheed-c-130j-aircraft-for-900-million-euros-idUSKBN16O2P0]. While the French Armee de Air bought two KC-130J-30 tanker variants for $539 million in 2016. [https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/french-government-confirms-c-130j-buy-421606/] If the New Zealand deal is for five C-130J-30s (replacing each of No.40 squadrons five C-130Hs) then the price is actually fairly reasonable and was probably cheaper than Responsible Defence's preference for the much more capable Embraer KC-390.

However, the blunder, as far as Responsible Defence is concerned, was for Ghahraman to drop the ball buying a $2.6 billion submarine hunting aircraft that really is unnecessary . This was where the Greens essentially traded off defence for their other policy objectives. Why? Because the P8a is an on-going and total waste of much needed taxpayer funds for saving lives in health. And the more fuss Ghahraman makes about the C130Js now the more she demonstrates how useless she is as a defence spokesperson.

No.5 squadron's new P8a Poesidon is basically a Boeing 737NG or MAX passenger jet stuffed full of sophisticated sensors for finding submarines and intelligence gathering combined with a bomb bay for missiles, torpedoes and bombs.After the contract was signed Ghahraman argued we should not let the aircraft be armed [https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/top/361466/defence-minister-ron-mark-urged-to-not-put-missiles-and-bombs-on-new-aircraft]. Why anyone would buy a $2.6 billion war plane squadron and not arm it makes no sense. If you don't want an armed war plane maybe you don't want a war plane at all. If the public thought the P3K Orion replacement was $2.6 billion for finding lost boats at sea they were misled by NZDF and the puppy dog media. But Ghahraman did absolutely nothing until after the contract was signed to question the purchase.

Responsible Defence has long argued that there is actually no need for the no.5 (anti submarine warfare) squadron at all. The first reason is that there is not and has not been a submarine threat to New Zealand since 1990. There have been more reports of UFOs than there have been of submarines. Secondly because there is nothing that No.5 squadron can do can do that a suitably equipped No.40 squadron couldn't do.

That is because the aircraft used by the US Coastguard for ocean patrols is none other than the C130J. In other words No.40 transport squadron will be operating an aircraft more than capable of very long range air-sea rescue and fisheries enforcement operations. If your main purpose is EEZ patrol and humanitarian support to the Pacific you don't need no.5 Squadron. Hell, even if you do want to drop bombs in the Pacific the C-130J is perfectly capable of doing that too.

So lets take a look at Green party defence policy.[https://www.greens.org.nz/page/defence-and-peacekeeping-policy] "
"Roles for the NZDF: 
  • Assisting in civil defence emergencies, disaster relief and search and rescue both within New Zealand and overseas; 
Transforming our capabilities:
  • Review the structure and governance of the NZDF
  • Phase out any equipment that is not optimal for such tasks". 
So in this example the C130J is clearly optimal because it is necessary and capable of all roles while the P8a Poesidon is sub-optimal because it can be replaced. No 40 squadron is optimal and no.5 squadron is not.

So Ghahraman is demonstrating that she does not have the ability to translate her own parties policy into effective political action, remembering - and let's be quite clear about this - that the Greens are part of the governing coalition. So in effect the Green Party is endorsing NZ First defence policy over its own.

Why? Well apart from knowing nothing about defence it appears that the simplest way for NZ First to keep the Green party off its back is to mention climate change. [https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/391792/defence-force-20bn-upgrade-climate-change-driving-much-of-plan-minister-ron-mark].  And if Ghahraman is naive enough to believe that, she's dumb enough to believe any-fucking-thing. Somehow, I don't think she really is.

Ghahraman may be a good lawyer. I have no idea. But she has not done her homework as a spokesperson on defence and her political judgement has been at best self-serving, and at worst a betrayal of her own party's policy. Either she should leave the portfolio to someone who actually cares about it or she should pull finger and do some work.

So far nobody has grilled the Minister of Defence about the 737NG/MAX underpinnings of the P8 Poesidon. Boeing's order book for passenger 737MAXs has collapsed because of two high profile aircraft crashes due to problems with the software avionics, and here we are promising to spend $2.6 billion on four of these aircraft. I am sure there is no wriggle room in the contract but the Minister should be held to account if we end up buying an aircraft which end up grounded because of safety problems.

So there is a simple test. If Ghahraman can do this sort of thing she is not a complete waste of space. If she won't, she definitely is.