No Minister

An RNZAF Air Combat Capability Redux – Part 2

with 26 comments

Could an ANZAC solution be the way forward and how could it work?

Op Ed by Ueda Station

In Part One I proposed that a workable solution to revive a Kiwi Air Combat Capability was for New Zealand to acquire and then integrate an air combat component into the RAAF Air Combat Wing structure. I prefaced this by noting that New Zealand is likely to be seriously tested as grey zone threats (“The grey zone includes cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns and falls short of an actual shooting war”) and geo-strategic competition ramps up across all relevant domains – especially in the merged air-maritime context of the South Pacific and that a tactical air combat capability is becoming increasingly an imperative for New Zealand.

Of the current RAAF multi-role strike platforms, namely the F-35A, the EA-18G Growler, and the twin seat Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet – it is my view that the logical solution is the Super Hornet. It has the best overall fit with what the RNZAF needs to generate an air combat component in terms of its affordability and our required employment contexts in the years ahead. Principally this is long-range maritime strike, tactical reconnaissance and airborne electronic warfare. Nevertheless as the Super Hornet is a multi-role combat aircraft it can be called upon to conduct a wide range of other missions as directed by the New Zealand Government. Since the Super Hornet uses the probe and drogue air to air refueling system it could quickly become interoperable with our new C-130J-30 Hercules. By retrofitting Cobham re-fuelling kits on the Hercules they can act as an air-tanker for a Kiwi Super Hornet mission package. That is something that its F-35A or F-16V brethren cannot do. Fitted with conformal and drop tanks, plus this air-tanker support, we would possess a strike platform that can then project out to a significant volume of airspace within our South Pacific and Southern Ocean areas of immediate strategic interest. All together as a package the Super Hornet is a very formidable multi-role force enabler and force projection capability – particularly within the cross-domain air-maritime context.

A Kiwi Super Hornet component that is integrated into the RAAF air combat fleet fleet solves the complexity and cost of trying to rebuild a tactical air combat capability from scratch. The synergies of learning and building up a new platform capability like the Super Hornet alongside a mature system operator like the RAAF, will greatly truncate the time, complexity and cost that the RNZAF will spend rebuilding the capability. It would be embedding into an established operational fleet, with existing training, support and sustainment structures in place and New Zealand would simply be paying our fair share of the bills to the contracted firms providing this – principally Boeing Australia, GE and Raytheon. New Zealand would also be expanding the operational synergies and strategic weight to the combined Anzac force structure and achieve economy of scale advantages to boot.

Though I do not have the latest annual cost of operations for RAAF 1 SQN’s Super Hornets the best projected estimate using Australian National Audit Office and Australian Budget figures are that the full extracted cost to operate their 24 F/A-18F capability is AU$245m per annum. A simple extrapolation of those figures means that if New Zealand were to contribute to the operation and sustainment of 12 additional aircraft to the existing 24 RAAF Super Hornet would it cost a further AU$122.5m p.a (NZ$135m) on top of this. Of that amount around $50 million would go towards the contracted support providers, the remainder is the cost of direct operational costs such as fuel, expended weapons, salaries, and administration.

However the clock is ticking if we want brand new Super Hornet aircraft. An incoming New Zealand government in 2023 would need to immediately start a dialogue with the Australian and United States governments to offer a proposal that focuses on the win-win aspect for all three nations in how a Kiwi component towards a joint RAAF-RNZAF Super Hornet squadron would work. It will have to move quickly to secure what might be the final production slots on the Super Hornet line at the Boeing St Louis plant. The US Navy wants to start redirecting money away from new-build Super Hornets and squirrel it towards its future NGAD (Next Generation Air Dominance) project as well as buy more carrier based F-35C’s. The House and Senate are not so convinced. A US$900 million budget extension in FY 2022 for the production of 12 new-build Super Hornets was a late inclusion in the revised 2022 National Defense Authorization Act unveiled by the House and Senate Armed Services committees on Dec. 7 last year following pressure from Mid-West based Senate and Congress members. But that was in extremis, and only for 12 further aircraft, to keep the St Louis production line busy through to Christmas 2024. Maybe another production block of 12 aircraft forced through in FY23 by House and Senate Armed Services committees could happen but that is as yet highly uncertain.

Like what happened with the final run of C-17’s these final 12 Super Hornets will possibly end up being “Whitetails”, meaning they are unlikely to be assigned USN serial numbers and will eventually become available on the open market as a commercial sale. So a narrow window of opportunity exists for New Zealand to take advantage of these final production aircraft – the worry would be if oil rich Kuwaiti grabs them first as they, along with the RAAF, are the only other operators of this aircraft type.

If the circumstances and timing were such that New Zealand could acquire these final dozen Super Hornets we should seize the opportunity. A Kiwi squadron of 10 operational aircraft and a training flight contribution of 2 aircraft embedded within the RAAF force structure would cost us US$900 million (NZD$1.33B). This is the “Gross Weapon System” (GWS) cost for the latest Block III Advanced Super Hornet variant, based on the US Department of Defence contract last December with Boeing for delivery in late 2024. Though the actual fly-away build cost of the Advanced Super Hornet is US$67.161 million per unit – the higher GWS cost is the true cost in that it allows for initial support, spares, training etc.

If new build Block III F/A-18F’s were not available there is the alternative option of acquiring used ex USN F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornets that have all gone through the same spiral upgrades as the RAAF aircraft. To give you an idea of the cost of a used Super Hornet, the value of ex US military aircraft is based on a US Government Accounting Office calculation of current airframe hours deducted from the US Navy Specification SD-565-3-2 structural fatigue safe life standard, which in the case of the Super Hornet is 6000 flying hours. This is calculated by a percentage value that corresponds to the original GWS cost of the aircraft when delivered new to the US Navy. For example if the GWS cost was originally US$77.3 million per unit (the historical GWS average cost) and the aircraft in USN service had flown circa 4500 hours of its 6000 hour limit, then its present value would be 25% of its original GWS cost when new. In other words that Super Hornet would be now worth US$19.3 million dollars if sold to New Zealand as an US Excess Defence Article.

However, all these aircraft would require undergoing Boeing’s Super Hornet Service Life Modification (SLM) program. The first phase is an 18-month process of inspection, modification, repair and restoration that will extend the service life of the aircraft from its current 6000 flight hour (SD-565-3-2 limitation) to 7500 flight hours. During this phase, each Super Hornet is extensively disassembled, thoroughly inspected, and undergoes a restoration and repair process that takes 5000 man-hours at a cost of US$11.45 million per aircraft. At the end of this first phase the aircraft would be technically the same as the RAAF Block II but with an additional 2000 hours on their airframes. Nevertheless, an airframe that had 4500 hours prior to Phase 1 of the SLM would be able to fly for a further 15 years or around another 3000 flying hours in USN service flying off their Carriers. The reality though is that the refreshed Super Hornets would now be using military runways like RAAF Amberley and RNZAF Ohakea where the structural load stresses on the airframe are far less than the undulating short deck of a Carrier with catapults and arrestor gear. This alone can extend their structural fatigue safe life by a further 1000 flying hours (based on fatigue testing difference between carrier and non carrier airframes), which would give enough annual flying hours to see these ‘refreshed’ Super Hornets through to the late 2040’s.

For around NZD$46-50m per aircraft this “refreshed airframe” approach is a reasonable option. The only foreseeable issue is that the majority of them available would be the single seat F/A-18E model as they have numerically been the dominant variant of the USN Super Hornet fleet. This does have some repercussions in that the tactical reconnaissance role won’t have the same level of capability output or situational awareness due to the loss of the back seat role. It still can be done, but the pilot workload increases. If the decision is made to go down the cheaper “refreshed airframe” route it may be worth considering slightly increasing the number of airframes from 12 to 15, to allow for 12 single seat E models for operational tasking and 3 additional twin seat F models for training based at Amberley. These 15 airframes could be delivered in annual tranches of 3, starting with the 3 F models for training and the subsequent E models over the next four years. With the 2-year delay between ordering these “refreshed” aircraft and the Phase 1 upgrade process and delivery, prospective aircrew could start their training process. The expectation that 15 “refreshed” ex USN Block II Super Hornets would cost circa NZD$700-750 million to acquire. This compares to NZ$1.33 Billion for 12 new build Advanced Block III aircraft.

The future second phase of the SLM program, which can eventually run concurrently but over a further 12-month process, will see extensive additional modifications where the aircraft is effectively remanufactured to Advanced Super Hornet Block III standard like the most recent new-build aircraft now coming off the St Louis line. It is very likely that the RAAF Super Hornet and Growler fleet will be upgraded to Block III Advanced status within the next ten years. This Block III service life + upgrade which will roll out across the USN’s Block II fleet over the next 15 years adds another layer of utility and capability to the platform.

Some significant points stand out. Each airframe is essentially remanufactured to ensure a SD-565-3-2 airframe life of over 10,000 flying hours. Engine upgrades will see a 20% increase in thrust and fuel economy and combat range is extended by 20%. There is a 10% reduction in radar cross-section (RCS), and a further drop in RCS is achieved by use of ‘Have Glass IV’ like external stealth coating and a conformal fuel tank option is available increasing range even further. On the avionics side the mission computer, cockpit, and sensors have capabilities nearly on par with the F-35A. As yet there is no reported costing estimate available for the Block III upgrade as the Phase 2 SLM wont be given an allocated budget appropriation until FY24. Nevertheless consideration must be made for this future upgrade package, as it would seemingly be a wise synergetic circumstance in the context of the RAAF’s future F/A-18F and EA-18G developmental pathway.

But an air combat capability for New Zealand is not all about high level threats against the PLA(N) and PLA(AF) conducted under the umbrella of a joint Anzac air task force. Eventually, an Ohakea based squadron of 10-12 aircraft would also enable the RNZAF to conduct what is known as the Tactical Air Support for Joint Defence Operational Training role and thus provide the NZDF with greater integrated training across the land and maritime domains. These are tactical support and training roles that were a routine aspect of the former Air Combat Wing, which disappeared when the A-4K capability was disbanded.

Tactical Air Support (TAS) to Joint Defence Operational Training, are force enabler activities, which assist wider Defence Force elements in generating their readiness and training. TAS encompasses:

  • Air Defence training for RNZN and RAN Frigates,
  • Land-Air Integration Training for NZ Army Battalion Group Exercises,
  • JTAC/FAC training for 1 NZSAS and 1 RNZIR,
  • DACT for RAAF and other Pacific Forces,
  • OpFor(Air) for ADF/NZDF Exercises.

The TAS role is expanding now to include tactical support missions at the lower end of the threat spectrum such as Low Intensity Close Air Support for SASO (Stability and Support Operations) missions, Rapid Tactical Reconnaissance in HADR (Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief) situations, Maritime Enforcement Support in our Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ – think the Kin Nan incident) and would give New Zealand a baseline domestic Air Security & Response capability for our AIDZ (Air Defense Identification Zone). Therefore just on these wider joint operational training and direct security benefits alone, bringing back a squadron sized tactical air combat component is not just a smart and prudent strategic hedge, but adds real depth to our wider force training competency and security posture. This is irrespective of it being primarily a deployable frontline kinetic combat asset within a Joint RNZAF-RAAF air strike package.

Building up to a 12-15 aircraft Kiwi air combat contribution would expand the joint RAAF-RNZAF Super Hornet fleet to 36-39 airframes, allowing for the eventual generation of two expeditionary squadrons each with 12 operationally tasked aircraft. The remaining element of 12-15 training aircraft based at RAAF Amberley would remain as the core pipeline for RNZAF and RAAF aircrew training as well as high level depot support and sustainment. If for any reason the Australian Government wanted to independently deploy its own “expeditionary” squadron and the New Zealand Government had reservations about such a move, the Australians are still free to do so within the context of their own existing airframe numbers. New Zealand would not detract from them being able to operationally uncouple and pursue its own defence needs. The core training structure would be intact. Likewise, if New Zealand noted a rise in direct grey zone security challenges, for example in the eastern South Pacific, to provide a presence and deterrence tasking, and Australia likewise did not feel it was in a position to commit its own assets towards this, New Zealand would still be in a position to do so with our own assets. Since both countries will always possess their claims of an independent foreign policy when push comes to shove, being integrated as per the above force structure does not restrict or force both countries to go against their independent stances on particular issues.

An incoming New Zealand government, as part of its air combat capability proposal to Australia, would also need to work with the RAAF in establishing a pipeline for Kiwi aircrew for Fast Jet Pilot (FJP), Air Warfare Officer (AWO) and ground technician courses – to prepare aircrew for that leap from our 14 SQN T-6C Texan II’s into the Super Hornet. The creation of a separate new LIFT (Lead In Fighter Trainer) capability like we had with the Aermacchi MB-339C is unnecessary and costly for the small size of our future air component. Obviously the New Zealand government would have to pay their way for each aircrew candidate seat on each FJP, AWO and Ground Support Technician courses. The competency of the RNZAF T-6C Texan is such that Phase 1 of the 14 week Introductory Fighter Course, can be carried out at Ohakea, before aircrew move to Phase 2 LIFT training on the BAE Hawk with RAAF 79 SQN at Pierce. Following Phase 2 of the LIFT course aircrew progress to a 20 week advanced air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons course with RAAF 76 SQN at Williamtown.

Fortunately there is some spare annual flying hours capacity within the RAAF Hawk fleet to train 2-3 Kiwi aircrew per annum, through both the Phase 2 LIFT course and advanced weapons courses as the RAAF are flying just 4050 annual flying hours on the Hawk fleet, which has the latent capacity to fly well over 6000 annual hours. Obviously, the New Zealand government will need to pay a pro-rata percentage of the AU$180m annual cost of the RAAF Hawk trainer capability for each candidate FJP and AWO. There are no current RAAF figures at hand regarding the cost per student pilot, however the closest comparison would be the Hawk T-2 at RAF Valley, which has a cost per student of £2.7m or NZ$5.2m through the Phase 2 LIFT and advanced weapons courses. The Canadian and RAF Phase 2 LIFT and Weapons courses possibly are alternate training options – if for any reason an RAAF course has a capacity issue.

Only once those two phases on the BAE Hawk are completed could Kiwi aircrew progress through to type conversion on the F/A-18F Super Hornet with 1 SQN’s training flight at RAAF Base Amberley. This eight-month long operational conversion course covers all facets of F/A-18F flight operations from the basics of flying the aircraft through to conducting complex tactical sorties including electronic warfare, tactical reconnaissance and maritime strike. From start to finish following around 3 years and 6 months of training on the Texan, Hawk and Super Hornet would the newly minted Kiwi aircrew will be considered operational.

There is also a way to truncate this length of time on the aircrew training front and kick-start a locally based capability faster. This can be achieved by the use of qualified FJP’s and AWO’s who are eligible for a lateral transfer into the RNZAF from Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States of America. The NZDF already has a number of slots for personnel from our FVEY (Five Eyes) partner nations in highly specialist war-fighting roles who are eligible to serve as they either hold a Permanent Residence Visa with indefinite stay or following consideration from the Minister under s72 of the Immigration Act in light of their critical skills. This could be a way forward in that we would start with a mix of established experienced aircrew from our FVEY partner nations on short-service commissions, along with RNZAF graduate aircrew selected for the Super Hornet assignment. Of particular note this may be very useful with respect to getting hold of experienced Qualified Weapons Instructors, Qualified Flying Instructors and Qualified Air Warfare Instructors with Fast Air backgrounds.

When capacity is built up on the training and personnel side and sufficient New Zealand owned Super Hornets are in service, eventually we would begin to transfer operational aircraft and crew back home across the Tasman (leaving a permanent joint training attachment at RAAF Amberley for our ongoing training requirements). Working with Boeing Australia, who is the prime support and sustainability contractor to the RAAF fleet, a small Ohakea based operational maintenance and unscheduled repairable item replacement facility similar to what exists within RAAF 1 SQN would be required. This would include provision for hangar space, considerations for weapons storage, test and support equipment, administration, line maintenance facilities and potentially a flight simulator. A budget for this would have to be further investigated. However as an example of the size and scope of this facility, it possibly would be similar to RNZAF 3 SQN’s $43 million aircraft maintenance facility at Ohakea. Under this proposed integrated (though partially distributed) basing model our higher levels of depot level maintenance, engine sustainment, and general fleet support on the aircraft would still remain under the existing Boeing Australia, GE and Raytheon sustainment and support contracts that have already been in place for 12 years.

So there you have it folks, a pathway to a redux of the RNZAF air combat capability. One that can affordably provide New Zealand what it requires to cover our own direct air power needs, but also deliver a timely and appropriate force enabler to our closest and officially only defence ally – Australia. One that can get that 7th and vital Anzac expeditionary air combat squadron over the line in just about the time we and our other regional partners are going to need it. Without it the 2030’s could be very bleak.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 25, 2022 at 1:00 pm

26 Responses

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  1. Very interesting, Udea, but you’re still left with the problem that integrating 20% or whatever of a greatly increased defence budget into Australia’s foreign policy has to overcome the political obstacle of our so-called independent one. Can’t be done. If we abandon our current bipartisan stance (which I advocate BTW, abandon it and get real) then we can debate the merits of air, sea or land but until then the argument is moot.

    Cassandra

    April 25, 2022 at 2:52 pm

    • Well its a pretty small world Cass, its not difficult to identify who our main enemies are, they start with R, currently invading Europe, and then the Big C, plus a host of other ones with a religion at variance with our core beliefs

      If you think R + C are going to honour our ostrich policy you would have to have rocks in your head.

      Simply put if Australia falls, we fall.

      You dont need to invade NZ, why bother because once Australia falls we would surrender. Unless of course the USA invaded us to establish a base to retake Australia.

      On that logic, and given we exist as an independent country given the steel velveted glove, its pretty simple to work it all out.

      C’mon over cobber, we want to help!

      rossco

      April 25, 2022 at 5:58 pm

    • There is no 20% of Defence budget to do this. That is a completely inaccurate figure. The cost to operate and sustain 12 aircraft would not be 1 billion a year. That is like saying that RAAF 1 SQN is costing $2 Billion a year to operate their Super Hornets. The Australian are operating theirs for about AU$11-12 million a year per aircraft meaning that each flying hour they fly in each aircraft is $416,000p.a. Try a tenth of that. The point is that we would be substantially integrating into their cost structure. On the acquisition side the aircraft would be paid for in annual tranches spread – for example the Poles had 13 years to pay for their F-15 Block 50’s a few year ago.

      You do seem to confuse the “narrative” for public domestic consumption about “independent foreign policy” if it is actually like a form of neutrality that we practice. It is not. Nor do you seem to understand that as strategic pressure mounts in the Indo-Pacific New Zealand is in no place to be a contrarian.

      Udea Station

      April 25, 2022 at 8:46 pm

      • I’m not advocating “neutrality” etc (read what I wrote, please). I’m describing political reality. I’ve been through this before – I was the ANZUS desk officer (DD plans) during the ANZUS meltdown, when my seniors and colleagues were also in denial, and look where that got us. As I said, your paper is very interesting – my RNZAF family members also feel that – but the obstacle is political will and at this stage integration with nuclear-powered Australia will not happen. Reality. I disagree with this stupidity but that’s the real world in NZ. It’s why I retired early as a colonel. As for the 20%, I thought it was the figure Wayne had calculated. And in any case, it’s really integrating the entire Defence Force (you can’t be a little bit pregnant) and foreign policy, so it’s actually vastly more.

        Cassandra

        April 26, 2022 at 9:38 am

  2. And just to underline that important first step, in The Australian this morning there’s a front page headline: Australia Must Prepare For War. Can you imagine any NZ politician saying that? The speaker was the Defence Minister (and future Lib leader) Peter Dutton. Sure, he’s a loudmouth but he reflects a widely held Oz point of view.

    Cassandra

    April 25, 2022 at 3:20 pm

  3. A most informative piece.

    For many years I have wondered simplistically why we did not host an Aussie fighter squadron at Ohakea and pay a good chunk of its running costs.

    adolffinkensen

    April 25, 2022 at 5:03 pm

  4. Great piece Tom. Ueda Station

    However the guts have been ripped out of military aviation in NZ, the policy you advocate is a 10 -15 year rebuild plan. We are not a Germany or a well to do Scandinavian one, we are working ourselves down to relative poverty.

    Ideally we should buy about 12 of the Australian Hawk trainers as a first step, if they would sell them.
    The problem here is that Australia is spending $1.5b to upgrade them, rather than replacing them which NZ could have tapped into. But nearly 1000 have been sold world wide so surely there maybe another source of second hand ones we could source.

    We could also ask Australia what trainers they would like us to buy as I understand they looked at a number

    Alternatively there is a huge range of light attack aircraft in the market that would allow us to get started from single seaters at around 850 mph to ones that exceed Mach 1.

    We are starting from a low infrastructure base in the airforce, both in numbers and technical expertise.

    Its going to be a a long slow climb out to get to operational height.

    rossco

    April 25, 2022 at 6:14 pm

    • Oops, sorry Ueda, not concentrating !

      rossco

      April 25, 2022 at 7:46 pm

    • An integrated Kiwi squadron within the RAAF structure could be built up in about 8 years so by 2031 if the start button was pressed in 2023. It is about building the trained aircrew capacity within that existing structure. That is why it takes time.

      We are starting using the RAAF infrastructural base and the technical expertise even they buy in that at the DLM level. That is the point. We integrate into their existing structure – and NOT try to do it all by ourselves.

      There is no need to buy trainers. To put 3-4 people a year through a couple of people through 20 months of Phase 2 and the weapons course? The RCAF and RAF can provide that on a buy a seat per course basis.

      Your light attack aircraft suggestion – they lack range and have zero maritime strike capability. Besides the cost difference in buying used refreshed Super Hornets and new build light trainer / attack aircraft are basically the same. And we would not have the cost rationality of leveraging in as a partner – expanding an existing going concern from 24 to 36 aircraft. We would not really achieve much by going down that approach.

      Ueda Station

      April 25, 2022 at 9:29 pm

  5. Sadly I must agree with Cassandra above when he says that our foreign policy is basically one of neutrality, even though it’s never been argued for specifically by more than a handful of people/politicians. His comment on Part 1 is pertinent:

    Costa Rica was given as the example for NZ to follow. For lots of people “independent foreign policy” means neutrality.

    And that would not be an issue if we had any politicians in this country willing to get into the argument and then push beyond that as to what that should mean for a defense force.

    I’ve been saying for some time that our future is one of a combined child-raising and retirement home; good for kids (as we tell ourselves – not sure how true that is looking at our education stats), and a pleasant place to see out our final days. Obviously the likes of Ngāi Tahu and their wannabe competitors are here for the duration and who knows where we go with our immigrant populations swelling because we need workers – but for the Big Middle of young people looking to be able to have a decently paid job, afford a house and build a family, let alone the real go-getters – overseas is looking better every day, starting with our big neighbour.

    I can’t help the feeling that underneath all the words our foreign policy is a reflection of that.

    Tom Hunter

    April 25, 2022 at 7:15 pm

    • You need a ‘Donald Trump’ to turn the sick joint around.

      adolffinkensen

      April 25, 2022 at 7:40 pm

      • 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

        The Establishment vomited Trump out of their “sacred” environs in the USA, where there’s a much higher tolerance for people who rock the boat.

        In NZ? Not a fucking chance. 🤣

        No, it’s going to take the traditional path of democracies: a crisis that forces the issues and their solutions to the front of people’s minds, circa 1935 (NZ), 1939 (UK), 1941 (USA), 1984 (NZ)…..

        Tom Hunter

        April 25, 2022 at 7:58 pm

    • The Japanese had it about right, a couple of oversized brown fluffy Kiwi fruit rolled out to greet our PM!

      Mind you that was probably revenge for her changing her kids shitty diapers in their room at the UN without permission.

      rossco

      April 25, 2022 at 7:50 pm

  6. The first problem with an Anzac solution is sovereignty and that will be a sticking point for both sides. The second and more important point is why should the Commonwealth of Australia trust New Zealand? They have no reason to, especially after the Helen Clark government of 2000 – 2008 and subsequent governments. They have said as much as well, although not publicly. NZ governments have welshed on defence understandings before and the Australians haven’t forgotten.

    Next point is that the Australian government haven’t decided whether or not they will permanently retain the F-18F Superhornets. They have been acquired as an interim acquisition because of the F-35A delay. Now that the F-35A is being delivered regularly there is no guarantee that the F-18F will be retained permanently because they aren’t the F-111 replacement. The F-18G Growler is a new capability for the ADF. If the ADF decides to retire the F-18F we would be left with an orphan platform in the region because the USN & USMC are the only other operators and they are replacing them with the F-35B & C. In that context any F-18F acquisition by NZ is to risky in the medium to long term. One thing about the Super Hornet, for what NZ requires it is too short legged – lacks range WRT fully laden combat radius. That’s a problem with all of the F-18 series of aircraft.

    Yes, you can tank in and out of strike missions but they cost and add complexity, plus hose and drogue takes a lot longer to transfer fuel than boom systems because they can’t pump with the same pressure through hose and drogue as they can with boom. Retrofitting C-130J-30 for hose and drogue refueling is I believe not possible, because the aircraft’s fuel systems have to be completely re-plumbed, so they have to strip both wings down and the fuselage down before they can even access the existing fuel lines. Then they have to strengthen the outer wings, add a new hard point out board of the out board engine on each wing, plumb and hard wire them for data transfer. After that they have to add the new plumbing to the existing fuel system, add in new fuel transfer pumps and alter the aircrafts fuel programming, centre of gravity programming and all that. So it’s very expensive, complex, and time consuming. It would be better to order extra aircraft in the form of KC-130J-30. That would be far better Value for Money (VfM). Even better would be to bite the bullet and acquire three A330MRTT because they have both systems and are a force multiplier. It’s the same platform that the RAAF operate and it would add a very good capability for our our sole ally and coalition partners in the region. The Singaporeans also operate the aircraft.

    In a benign strategic environment and if we were supporting Australia in their Emu wars, we would have time to follow your plan’s timetable, but we don’t have the time because of the fraught geostrategic environment with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the more strident PRC claims on Taiwan and the South China Sea. It’s security agreement with the Solomon Islands that was announced in the last week, also heightens tensions within the South West Pacific and that now creates problems for NZ and Australia as well as the Pacific Island Forum nations. Part of the PRC – SI Security Agreement was the deployment of armed PLA and PRC security forces in the Solomon Islands to assist the Solomon Islands government to restore order in times of civil disturbance. Once they arrive they won’t leave because of the SI strategic location. That places NZ within range of PLAAF & PLANAF H-6K bombers if they are based in the Solomon Islands. It also places them firmly astride our SLOC to Asia and North America.

    We would actually be better to place aircrew on all our FVEY partners LIFT courses, poach – (ahem….) – I mean recruit experienced flight and squadron fast jet commanders from FVEY partners and bring them here to form the basis of two maritime fast jet strike squadrons (28 – 36 aircraft). Acquire the aircraft etc., through FMS and have them delivered in tranches over a five year period. Introduce a LIFT later and probably the Boeing – SAAB T-7A Redhawk because of the advanced training capabilities it offers. We don’t have the time to pussy foot around because it’s not tiddly winks that is being played. It takes time to stand up a new capability and ten years for a new ACF is the minimum and its time we don’t have.

    Ngatimozart

    April 25, 2022 at 10:11 pm

    • I had a paragraph, which clearly and carefully explained how the Sovereignty side would work out. Please reread. You must have missed it.

      The EA-18G Growler is pretty much a F-18F “Rhino” but for the EA equipment fitted after the cannon is removed. In fact half the Rhinos in 1 SQN have been pre wired for potential Growler Upgrade. They share the same sustainment pool at Boeing Australia. Thus your suggestion that it would be an orphan is incorrect. If the RAAF decided to exit the type (Pretty much the Block III upgrade has made the long term Rhino future very viable in the RAAF – yes back in 2007 they were ordered as a bridging capability between the F111 and the F-35A. Because the ADF loves the Rhino.) Even if they did have a brain fart in 2024 and got rid of all their Rhinos – that would not matter as the 6SQN plan to continue using their Growlers which they are looking to upgrade convert into Block II Advanced Growlers circa 2031. 12 Kiwi Rhinos and 12 OZ growlers – nah …. not and orphan.

      Cobhams have done dozens of C-130 Air-to-Air Refueling Tanker Conversion Kit upgrades over the years. It is not as difficult as you make out. Marshals of Cambridge converted C-130’s in a few weeks back in 1982 – having never done it before. Gone on to do many more.

      https://marshallaerospace.com/insights-news/fuelling-a-change-for-the-better

      Yes would have mentioned the KC-30 option but that is in the context of strategic lift and strays far too far from this conversion.

      Lastly this is about how to actually speed up the process of a capability redux under 10 years – but to rebuild a capability like you are suggesting of 36 aircraft plus another LIFT platform is at least 15-20 years and north of $10 billion dollars.

      Ueda Station

      April 25, 2022 at 11:41 pm

      • Yes I read your missive thoroughly and I understood what you said. No the capability I suggested is not going to take 15 – 20 years and yes it it will be north of $10 billion when you take into account the TOLC (Term Of Life Costs) that the NZ government does when it prepares business cases for defence acquisitions. We can speed up the process as I suggested by utilising the LIFT programs of all four of our FVEY partners, which gives us five programs, RAAF, USAF, USN, RCAF, & RAF / RN. It will also require a significant increase of annual defence expenditure and a commitment from the politicians to do so for the next 15 years.

        Furthermore, you place to much emphasis on what the RAAF may or may not do. It is still a presumption that they will retain the F-18F post 2024. Things have changed dramatically in the last wo months and Australia is responding accordingly. We didn’t see AUKUS and SSNs coming last year, and last week they cancelled their MQ-9B SeaGuardian acquisition. There appear to be changes afoot and depending upon which way the upcoming election goes there could be more, some unwelcome. We cannot hinge our future ACF on what the RAAF may or may not do in two years time. More to the point we don’t have the luxury of having the time to be able to do so. Finally ten aircraft are not enough at all. That’s a miserly and wasteful acquisition because there’s no military sense in it and it’s definitely not VfM (Value for Money). We’d get the same VfM by putting twin Vickers machine guns on Tiger Moths and I am not being facetious.

        I have had this exact same argument before with someone and I have my suspicions.

        Ngatimozart

        April 26, 2022 at 3:13 pm

  7. The costs projected by Udea are way too low. They do not take account of basing costs, capital costs, an allocation of HQ costs or training of pilots. The $245 million is literally the direct operating costs of the aircraft.

    Another way of thinking of this is the cost of the RNZAF. Two major bases (Whenuapai and Ohakea) with 5 C130’s, 6 P3’s, 2 B757, 8 NH90, 5 A109, 5 Texan II and 5 Beechcraft 350. A total of 36 aircraft, most of them substantially less complicated than a F 18F. The RNZAF costs $1.5 billion per year.

    Udea’s idea is essentially predicated on the RAAF absorbing virtually all costs above the direct operating costs. Ngatimozat points out the consequence of that,. We would effectively lose sovereignty over these aircraft. To all intents and purposes they would be part of the RAAF, but they would be part funded by the NZ taxpayer.

    I favour additional spending on a third frigate and two additional P8’s, which Udea has also highlighted as an option. I think that would be a substantial upgrade of our defence capability. They would be under our control, but would make a significant difference to overall ANZAC capability. For instance six P8’s would be nearly one third of the ANZAC capability. These aircraft have a lot of flexibility. Reconnaissance, intelligence, ASW, some logistics capability in the South Pacific. They would deliver much more overall capability than F18F, which are only useful in a full-scale war.

    Similarly frigates, they can do all sorts of things outside of war.

    In short, they meet a general utility test which combat jets do not. It was this factor that doomed the Skyhawks over two decades ago. It is was one of the key points of my 1993 article in Policy, which Udea was kind enough to reference.

    Wayne

    April 26, 2022 at 9:40 am

    • Wayne, the Skyhawks or any fast jets are not about “general utility”. They are a deterrent just as frigates are. The ACF was a deterrent and whilst the Air Combat Force and Naval Combat force weren’t expected to take on the Soviet and PLA hordes all on their lonesome, they told people that whilst we mightn’t give you a sound thrashing, we will make your life difficult if you try to do our country harm. That’s what deterrence is about and it would give time for friends and partners to come to our aid. By losing the ACF and downgrading the NCF we have lost that deterrence. We have also lost significant mana in the eyes of of Asian nations because of the axing of the ACF. They have little respect for a country that willingly gets rid of its ACF and that has been told to me by Asian defence professionals. You have to understand that the first and only priority of a defence force is the use of combat in the protection of the nation. Anything else is secondary and unimportant. If you don’t understand that then you should start learning so that you will.

      War isn’t tiddly winks; it’s brutal, soul destroying, hell and NZ politicians send our people too it ill-equipped, woefully underpaid, and under resourced, expecting them to put their lives on the line, which they do with some not returning home safe, and when they come back treat them like rubbish. Wounded and disabled veterans having to fight for miserly help. The politicians won’t go and put their skins on the line facing the same dangers and deprivations – I wonder why? Our people need the proper equipment that is designed to do the job that it is required of it by the warfighter. If by chance it has a secondary capability, that’s fine but that’s unimportant. It’s primary role is the important capability. That’s all.

      WRT the P-8A Poseidon, yes I agree another two are necessary, in fact I think essential, and definitely a third frigate which is essential, and a fourth frigate as well. I would add MQ-9B SeaGuardians to the mix as well because of their 25 hour persistence capability and sensor package. We have an exceedingly large AOMI and don’t have anywhere the number of required capabilities and platforms to monitor and enforce it.

      Ngatimozart

      April 26, 2022 at 3:53 pm

      • Fascinating post Udea. You make a very good case for the Hornet and tight cooperation with Australia. Buying US equipment and operating them with Australia would make good trade sense and make ANZUS amends.
        However there are a couple of bold assumptions. One is that we have the political will to commit to big ticket items that would not be cancelled by a following government. Having the political will to increase defence spending up to 2% of GDP to carry our share of the global order burden is required. Consideration of technology that has non combat uses is required.
        The second assumption is the wisdom of committing to expensive previous generation technology. Given the huge advances in drone and loitering munitions technology (https://warontherocks.com/2022/04/loitering-munitions-in-ukraine-and-beyond/) it would be interesting to hear you make the case for the Hornet vs spending the same money on the likes of the Sea Guardian that Ngatimozart linked to.

        It strikes me that the Hornet or anything we could afford would end up being like the A4 Skyhawks, never used in anger because they are not suited to the coming (and current – Ukraine ) modern battlefield.
        Rather than a small force of manned aircraft why not skip generations and move straight to unmanned. The benefit of spending the same money would be a much larger force of UAV that could provide fisheries and ASW capability.

        I would also be interested in a first principles discussion of why we should not spend additional money on building up the number of soldiers and training on peacekeeping and post disaster rebuilding rather than big ticket capital items that we would never actually commit to going into harms way due to the political and economic cost of losing something like a Hornet, never mind a frigate. Changing the nature of combat and fisheries conservation/surveillance capable drones and soldiers well trained in rebuilding and peacekeeping sounds a lot more likely to be acceptable to New Zealanders the way they are nowadays. There is also far more chance of them actually being used.

        Phil S

        April 26, 2022 at 4:53 pm

  8. That seems to me to reflect the real world, although it would involve a substantial increase in spending. In that order, Wayne? Third ship first priority? That then raises the next elephant which is the replacements. In order to have frigates ready I think I’m right in saying that the acquisition process needs to start now or next year. The current pair have got 15 years to go? And 3 x ships will cost billions. Necessary but it’ll be an interesting debate. Part of the problem is that there is little interest or experience. I live in a community of about 500 people. There are just 2 ex-soldiers. About 60 people at the ANZAC Service yesterday.

    Cassandra

    April 26, 2022 at 11:32 am

  9. In its newsletter of 5 minutes ago ACT outlines its take on our foreign/defence policy which is to integrate with Australia. It’s back of an envelope stuff but broadly opts in to their frigate build and a squadron of F35s. A more careful analysis might modify that somewhat (we can do better) but this might encourage National to do some serious thinking.

    Cassandra

    April 26, 2022 at 1:38 pm

    • Yes definitely we could do better and the Aussie Hunter Class FFG build program is an Aussie jobs creation program. Why should we subsidise that especially as the cost will be expensive? However because it’s a continuous build program with tranches of three ships, each tranche will be an upgrade of the previous one, and after the ninth ship, they are planning to build the Hobart Class DDG replacements and after that start building the Hunter Class FFG replacements. The Anzac Class FFH program was a very successful program with the program delivering on time and under budget. Unfortunately the ships turned out to be the wrong design in hindsight for what the RAN ended up needing. That was Australian politicians not following through with the FFG-7 Adelaide Class replacement.

      We know roughly what the Hunter Class will be and have, but a lot is not known. If NZ was to join the program then we have to take the exact same variant as the RAN so that there are no differences and we would have to adopt the RAN SAAB 9vl CMS (Combat Management System) instead of the LMC CMS 330 that we use on our frigates now after their latest upgrade in Canada. In some ways the CMS 330 is better because it is Lockheed Martin product and as such it has links into the CMS going into the new USN FFG 61 Class and also because it will be easier to integrate AEGIS and the AEGIS library into it. Integration can be a very complex and expensive part of a ship build. The Australians aren’t the best at it.

      Ngatimozart

      April 26, 2022 at 4:14 pm

      • Your knowledge is overwhelming! My approach would be a bit like software – off the shelf better than trying to design what you think you need. Secondly, the most likely scenario will be going to war with the US as dominant partner. We don’t have a ship building capacity to worry about so go with them. Somewhere in their inventory is a ship which will do most of the things we need at a reasonable price. No doubt we’ll be looking at Dutch, Danish, Brit etc designs but the Americans seem the best bet at this stage. But again like the F18/35 question, let’s get the foreign policy sorted out first. Perhaps we might even get a bipartisan one if we really tried, although the markedly leftward lean of Labour does not bode well.

        Cassandra

        April 27, 2022 at 8:17 am

      • Thanks. Defence policy and foreign policy should be coexistent because defence policy cannot afford to lag behind foreign policy. The Ukraine War and the Solomon Islands Security Agreement with the CCP / PRC illustrate that. Also defence policy is about looking at risks and planning ahead because defence capabilities aren’t something that can be quickly acquired and introduced in a couple of weeks. It takes years because of the complexities of the systems. Unlike WW2 when we could take a person off the street issue them with an uniform, train them for six to eight months, then let them loose to terrorise the heathen enemy, today that’s impossible except for infantry. In WW2 the Americans were the armoury of the free world. They supplied all the combat aircraft the RNZAF used in the Pacific and most of the Australian ones. Today they cannot do that, in fact they cannot even supply enough for their own forces if they have a war against a near peer enemy such as Russian or the PRC. They simply no longer have the industrial base to do so and modern combat equipment; ships, submarines, tanks, IFV, artillery, rockets, vehicles, aircraft etc., are far more complex to manufacture, maintain and use.

        WRT to frigates, the USN FFG-62 Constellation Class has a lot to offer but wouldn’t necessarily be the best acquisition for NZ. The USN FFG CONOPS (Concept Of Operations) are different to that of the RNZN and the RAN, and their crewing philosophy is different with them having far higher crew numbers. We might have to modify the ships to a degree which isn’t a major problem. What I have been considering is taking the Babcock / OMT Arrowhead 140 design and using most of the RCN CSC fit out on it including the SPY-7 radar and AEGIS, along with the LMC CMS330 which we already use. We wouldn’t use all of the RCN fit out because they have some specifically unique Canadian things and we would do some things differently. We would use Lockheed Martin as the integrator because they are also the integrator for the RCN CSC and they will be familiar with the integration plus AEGIS is their product.

        What we could do is have the hulls built and the machinery installed overseas, shipped to NZ, with the fitout being done here, say at Whangarei. This way the government gets to claw back some of the acquisition costs through direct taxes (PAYE, GST etc.,) and indirect taxes from the increased economic activity. It would bring necessary work and employment to Northland and increase NZ’s resilience because with the addition of a drydock, we would be able to undertake maintenance, repairs, and upgrades of our ships here, instead of overseas.

        Ngatimozart

        April 27, 2022 at 4:50 pm

      • WRT to frigates,

        If you don’t object Ngati I’d like to take your last two paragraphs and add them to your last comment in the actual frigate post that was done. Udea talked about Canada only in terms of their variant of the RN Type 26 so your points add to that discussion.

        Tom Hunter

        April 27, 2022 at 11:15 pm

  10. @Tom Hunter. I have no problem at all with you taking the last two paragraphs of my 4.50pm post and placing them in the Frigate thread, which is where they belong.

    Ngatimozart

    April 27, 2022 at 11:27 pm


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