Last week the current NZ Defence Minister Ron Mark, released Extreme Fire: a changing thread landscape and implications for New Zealand Defence (PDF), a NZ Defence Force (NZDF) Assessment on Extreme Fire Events relating to climate change within NZ. It is an interesting assessment outlining current trends in regards to extreme fire conditions in New Zealand, but also what happened last year in Australia in conjunction with the NZ Government (NZG) and NZDF response to the Australian Bush Fires.
To the untrained eye the NZDF appears to have the situation in hand at the moment or does it?
Well in the short term I would say yes for the moment, but taking into account the medium and long term trends associated with climate change not only within NZ but within the greater South Pacific, then the NZDF is not in a position to support concurrent operations both at home or within greater South Pacific, and other mandated tasks the NZDF is required to do over the NZ Summer period.
Since the 90’s the NZDF has been in managed decline, losing capabilities both in terms of manpower and equipment not being replaced in some cases, or the false sense of equipment upgrades like the ageing RNZAF C130 Hercules aircraft in the early 2000’s, with a complete lack of investment across the broad.
What equipment that has been brought since ’91 has either been by the cheapest bidder, or with a complete lack of strategic direction at Government or within the NZ Ministry Of Defence/NZDF. The long term impacts of CC related events in regards to disaster relief or the use of lethal deadly force/warlike conditions due to diminishing natural resources being the worse case scenario.
Because the NZG, the political classes and the NZ taxpayer doesn’t want to spend a lot on Defence for various reasons. Only the bare minimum has been brought, without any thought to long term over-utilisation of equipment due to increasing deployments of both equipment and especially manpower. Mental health, including in that family/marital issues, and ongoing medical costs via Veterans Affairs if one is medical discharge, are also an issue.
The other big show stopper is the ability to concurrently do two jobs at once. The mantra of all military forces is ‘Raise, Train and Sustain’ while conducting ongoing operations while also training & preparing.
So where do I see a short fall in the NZDF preparedness for Extreme Fire Events resulting from climate change?
Firstly the lack of numbers especially in the Army’s Regular & Reserve Forces in particularly those within the South Island which has been the hardest hit since the 90’s in terms of:-
So how would I fix this?
Firstly address the manning issues. Folks – this is our greatest capability. Manning in the NZDF has been vexed issue. The Reserve get stung twice with tax, Income Support screws Reserve members via the stand-down or docking welfare payments, and there are lack of pay and conditions issues for Defence civilians compared to other public sector employees like health, education and Police.
The other is addressing equipment shortfalls. I would add an additional four NH90 helicopters to fleet, increasing it to a fleet of 12. Therefore I can deploy four overseas, four for training, two for short notice Ops within, and two in maintenance. Cost €36.6m/ USD 52m per unit 2013
I would move the current A109 Mako helicopters to the Central Flying School and ask for a business case at purchasing a dozen twin engine UH-1Y Venom Huey helicopters similar to the ones that US Marine Corp and the Czech Republic uses. These can be deployed via the new C130J Hercules and they can be also deploy by ship as the Huey’s have been design to operate in a Maritime environment. USD 26m Flyaway cost 2014.
For Fixed Wing Aircraft I would purchase nine C295 transport aircraft in a six vs three format, six Transport versions and three Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Transport version 28m 2013
Probably one of the best Defence buys has been the MAN Trucks with the Multilift Load Handing System. I would purchase additional modules/pods which can be built in NZ to Aus/NZ standards (Trade & STEM training) and possibly more Trucks. The additional Pods would be water tanks, bulk fuel supplies including Aviation Fuel Pods and other assorted bulk delivery pods to be stored at either of the four main centres and various reserve depots.
This would ensure flexibility, some redundancy to the NZDF, a quicker response time and above all the ability for the NZDF to mount concurrent Fire Operations in Extreme Fire Events in NZ supporting our neighbours such as Oz, and other current operations such as Peacekeeping or HADR.
Also you will note, I haven’t made provisions for the RNZAF to have a Roll on/Roll off Airborne Tanker System as I believe the current system of single engine (Ag Aircraft converted to Fire Bombers or purpose design Fire Bombers) and the use of Helicopters to be more effective.
They can also achieve a far greater turnaround than a medium to large Aerial Fire Bomber, providing the necessary Logistical support is close to the Fire Event. There are a large number of public and private airfields/airstrips in NZ to support a private fleet of Fire Bombers. Most are close to a water source or a high pressure water supply for a high pressure single point refill tank fitted to most Aerial Fire Bombers, which can be operated by a single person while refilling the tank.
My Background: I’m a former Department of Conservation High Country Fire Team Fire Fighter from the North Canterbury Area (ie Christchurch). Former NZ Scots Light CAV Reconnaissance operator RNZAC and I almost know every goat track and Airfield/dirt air strip from Christchurch to Riverton in the south.
Ex RAAF Ground Defence Specialist with a wide area of operational expertise including including CBRND warfare with four main overseas deployments, with the last 3-4 yrs of service in a Ground Defence doing Training, Plains ie looking at long term future developments like climate change and the likely effects. Operations planning current peacetime mandated Tasks to contingency planning of short notice moves from Defence Aid to the Civil Community and up to Non Warlike HADR.
Currently a retired veteran on a medical pension still fighting for his entitlements and a member of the Dundee Bushfire Brigade of NT Bushfires in the Nth’ern NT.
~ The Scud