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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

An RNZAF Air Combat Capability Redux – Part 1

with 15 comments

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

Op Ed by Ueda Station

The strategic context we are now moving into is not benign and represents significant challenges for New Zealand. The South Pacific is now the soft underbelly of the Indo-Pacific region and the merged air-maritime domain is where we are likely to be increasingly threatened. China has now breached the first island chain with its defence ‘relationship’ with the Solomon Islands and this strategic foothold for Beijing will see it will begin to further engage in the use of sharp power tactics. China will increase the tempo of naval and air tasking deep into the South Pacific and indeed the foothold in Honiara will permit the opportunity for it to disrupt and coerce defence and civilian operations of both New Zealand and Australia from its newly acquired sphere of influence. Over time China will translate this advantage into an Anti-access and Area denial (A2AD) strategy. Simply put, freedom of access into the South Pacific as we know it will simply get much more harder, which will effect – trade, travel, communities, families, resources, the economy – indeed the South Pacific the way it wants to be. It is a modus operandi that is classic Sun Tzu as seen in the South China Sea over the last 15 years.

This is a radical change of circumstances for us in comparison to the context of how we as Kiwi’s saw the Pacific 10 – 20 – 30 years ago, when rational though naive decisions were made to let go of our core defence capabilities that possessed strategic projection and resilient deterrence. We seemingly believed that we did not need them at the time, nor ever would. Our political discourse made a ‘soft power’ approach to defence a more virtuous direction of travel. This introversion by New Zealand has created a strategic vacuum, particularly in our South Pacific front yard. One that is wide open to exploitation from state actors, like China and potentially Russia, who have a completely different set of value judgments concerning the environment, societal cohesion, free markets, human rights, rule of law and the positive role of liberal democracy in bringing about equity and prosperity.

Though our benign strategic environment is now dead, the issue our Defence Force faces, hindered by the Helen Clark era acquisition blunders, is that we are woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead. Furthermore, New Zealand must explicitly understand, as we have failed to do for the last 25 years, that Australia as the regional ‘smart power’ possessing actual combat capabilities – cannot alone do all the heavy lifting on behalf of us in the South Pacific. We as Kiwi’s need to share this responsibility and be proactive about it, because as a nation we could quickly lose favour with Canberra, Washington, Brussels, London, Tokyo, Singapore and other ASEAN nations to our economic detriment. Tokyo learnt the hard way in 1991 during the first Gulf War that being “content to benefit from the efforts of the rest of the international community while avoiding taking direct responsibility” had its costs. (Freedman and Karsh 1993, p121). Democratic Leader of the House Richard Gephardt sent a letter to Prime Minister Kaifu threatening major export restraints on Japanese automobiles into the United States if Japan failed to make what U.S. policy makers deemed to be a sufficient contribution to the war effort. Gephardt’s letter was reiterated by US Secretary of State James Baker and later by US Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady. In the end the US, UK, the Gulf States and France forced Japan to pay for 20% of the costs of the first Gulf War, some US$22 Billion and Bush 41 then vomited all over the Japanese PM as a thank you. Don’t think for a minute that any of the above Capitals in our wider region will let a laggard New Zealand off lightly if things go pear shape and we prevaricate or want to virtue signal off our own song sheet.

In light of this strategic upheaval the reality is that it is not possible go back 25 years to a 40 aircraft, 3 Squadron, Air Combat Wing anytime soon. To build back an air combat capability at the level as we previously had is too hard, too time consuming and too expensive. Any future Kiwi air combat capability needs to address our existing capability gaps with respect to maritime strike, airborne electronic warfare and tactical airborne reconnaissance. To maximise and future proof the capability any platform will need to also have the fullest possible utility to deal with the spectrum of issues that are coming down the pipeline over the next 20 years. It will need to deal with grey zone disruptors and A2AD tactics. The employment context required is very different from the time of the A-4 Skyhawk. A re-hash of the traditional close air support role of the A-4 Skyhawk with a bit of maritime strike on the side is not what this capability is about in the 21st Century. In fact the cancelled F-16 was going to take the RNZAF air combat capability fully into the 21st century by the time it had been upgraded to Block 50 Falcon Up standard at the end of its 10 Year lease. These future employment contexts for the F-16 were known within air staff planners, but somehow those critics commentating from outside the acquisition team thought that the F-16 capability was simply just a faster A-4.

A modern multi-role air combat platform allows for air power to be distributed across not just the air domain, but also the maritime and land domains to achieve certain kinetic effects or assist another platform, like a P-8A or special forces element, in achieving those kinetic effects. These kinetic effects can be lethal or non-lethal, offensive or defensive in application. Due to their agility and pace within a hostile threat environment air combat assets are cornerstone force enablers to get things done – a flexible, fast way to deliver support at the tactical level, through a multitude of payload packages. The flexibility is such that these can be maritime strike, tactical reconnaissance, electronic warfare (EW), combat air patrols (CAP), close air support (CAS), interdiction, air security, air superiority, or suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) – all on the single platform. It is not a silo capability but a combat capability that integrates the air domain with the land and maritime domains like no other. Air combat platforms have now become highly versatile and reconfigurable, allowing adaptation to a wide range of roles generating an even greater combat efficacy. Boyd’s loop of Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) is a key part of this cross-domain synergy and an air combat capability is a core determinant in connecting this loop.

It is becoming obvious that we as a country need to do something and fairly quickly, because the strategic context is now very different from when Helen Clark was on the 9th floor of the Beehive. So if rehashing the past approach we took with the former air combat wing is not viable and having no air combat capability is potentially an even worse state of affairs – what do we do now? How do we solve the problem?

The solution to the Kiwi air combat dilemma lies with New Zealand seeking capability integration with the RAAF. The overarching driver to make this happen is the 1991 Closer Defence Relations Agreement (CDR) between New Zealand and Australia, which exists to seek an evolutionary process of examining the practical possibilities of cooperation in aspects of training, doctrine and equipment procurement. Such mutual defence cooperation could be a transitional situation like the current RAF-Qatar Eurofighter/Hawk joint squadron set up, or could be a permanent RNZAF-RAAF joint force operation. Personally, I think a hybrid of the two would work best, where the sustainment, support, training and doctrinal development remains within the RAAF structure, but New Zealand is able to eventually generate an independent Ohakea-based expeditionary sized squadron.

The idea of a integrating our air combat capability within the RAAF force structure is not a new one. Back in 1991 our fellow No Minister contributor Wayne Mapp first suggested the idea in an article he published in the Spring edition of Policy titled Restructuring New Zealand’s Defence Force as one of the future options. Thirty years on as Cold War 1.0 ended and we are now well along the way inside Cold War 2.0 Wayne’s suggestion may have found its time and place.

The RAAF themselves are now taking a whole-of-force approach to airpower application where the capabilities of individual platforms are enhanced by networking across their joint force. This produces sophisticated cooperative engagement effects by linking their distributed sensor platforms with their effector platforms through the sharing of critical mission data and situational awareness to circle the Boyd OODA loop. Their air power strategy focuses on effects, including deterrence, denial, influence, counter-influence, counter-coercion and cost imposition. Through Project Jericho they have begun to arrange this strategy to ensure that their new sophisticated platforms, like the P-8A, MQ-4C, F-35A, KC-30, EA-18G Growler, E-7A, E-55 and F/A-18F all have relevance in the emerging cross-domain grey-zone scenarios and can then provide the Australian government with flexible options. Within that strategic air power context – and there really is no escaping it now whatever wishful conceits some may have here – New Zealand has to find its place in this reality and proactively contribute.

By 2023 the RAAF will fly 72 F-35A, 12 EA-18G Growlers and 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets, across five operational squadrons. They will also retain a residual number of 24 F-35A aircraft pooled in 2 OCU for training and fleet replacement reserve. They have future acquisition options under Phase 7 of Project AIR 6000, (link is to Phase 2A/B) which will consider an additional purchase of 28 further airframes to form a fourth and potentially fifth operational squadron at RAAF Base Amberley, generating a total of around 100 F-35A’s. The F/A-18F Super Hornet is tasked as their main maritime strike platform and is crewed by a Pilot and Air Warfare Operator in the back seat. The fleet of 24 aircraft usually average 4800 hours per annum, which is around 200 annual flying hours per aircraft. Finally the EA-18G Growler, which is an evolved F/A-18F is the main electronic attack platform with an Electronic Warfare Operator in the rear.

In the second part of this commentary I will offer my suggestion as to which of these RAAF aircraft is the platform that would work best for New Zealand in re-establishing an integrated air combat capability with Australia. Affordability is always going to be an issue, and people will ask why not the F-16’s as they are potentially cheaper? In reply I would say that a similar new capability of 12 F-16V Block 70’s, even though it is an absolutely cracker of a strike platform, would see New Zealand spend in the ballpark of twice the cost with respect to real acquisition costs. We would also have to spend a lot more time and money rebuilding such a capability, as we would lack the advantage of partnership integration with the RAAF. Going down that route will take twice as long and twice as much, unless the Singaporeans or Yanks help us big time.

By 2026 according to Treasury’s December 2021 HYEFU New Zealand is going to have a projected GDP of $413.7 Billion and core crown debt of $137.9 Billion, some 30.2% of GDP. Since New Zealand loves to benchmark Scandinavian countries in public policy, if we want to use them as a guide to where they are going with respect to defence spending, Norway and Denmark have set a target of 2% of GDP by 2028 and neutral Sweden and Finland are almost begging to be let into NATO, which also has a 2% target. If we take out the P-8A and C-130J projects New Zealand is still only spending around 1.2% of GDP. The bounce up to 1.4% and 1.5% over the last couple of years is entirely down to these two projects almost running simultaneously, once they’re delivered we will likely drift back to an underwhelming 1.2%, which will not gain influence and keep friends in a deteriorating Indo-Pacific region.

If New Zealand’s defence spending was held above 1.75% of GDP benchmark through the second half of the decade and through the first half of the 2030’s New Zealand would not only be able to afford all of its Future 2035 Defence Plan that came out of the 2015 Defence White Paper, but three or more capable frigates and the joint air combat capability (as Part 2 will detail), plus add an extra P-8A and a couple more C-130J’s above the bare bones minimums we have recently acquired. There are programmes within the United States Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) that could assist New Zealand as it is a NATO+5 nation and under the Biden administration the DSCA is looking to be more creative in assisting countries in the Indo-Pacific region who, are struggling to acquire new capabilities. With the clout of Australia in Washington backing us, we should be able to strike a deal to get a modest, yet effective air combat capability over the line. New Zealand would be helping the Anzac nations get that 7th and vital expeditionary air combat squadron just about the time we and our regional partners will very much need it.

New Zealand is likely to be seriously tested as not just as grey zone threats rise, but as geo-strategic competition ramps up across all relevant domains. Possessing combat capabilities in all of these key domains is becoming increasingly an imperative – especially in the merged air-maritime context of the South Pacific. The continuation of a piecemeal force structure approach that treats an air combat capability as a silo output, one that we can pick and chose to have or not to have is long gone. Time, tactics and technology have marched on – along with the deteriorating strategic environment. New Zealand cannot sit by and do nothing with respect to redeveloping an air combat capability, yet we are hindered by the fact that the cost of attempting to rebuild the previous air combat capability model from 25 years ago is too expensive and too hard to do by ourselves.

In my opinion the practical solution is the development of a squadron sized air combat component integrated within the current RAAF Air Combat Wing structure. This 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. In Part 2 of this opinion piece I will explain in greater detail how it could work. Nevertheless, a redux of a Kiwi air combat component that is integrated into an RAAF strike wing will send a message to all our regional partners from Washington DC to Singapore, from Tokyo and Canberra, that we are once again serious about playing our part in building genuine deterrence capabilities as our contribution to the regional security architecture during this time of increasing geo-political challenges. That we Kiwi’s are becoming self reliant in partnership again and are going to step up and take responsibility in helping to address the strategic vacuum in the South Pacific with a force for good. That we are moving on from being a fading regional ‘soft power’ and looking towards a future as an emerging ‘smart power’ that, upholds the liberal democratic values, fair and free trade, and the rules based global order.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 24, 2022 at 11:35 pm

The Replacement of the RNZN Anzac Frigates.

with 26 comments

What are the Requirements? Who are the Contenders? 

An Opinion Editorial by Udea Station

A frigate is essentially a class of defensive vessel, which provides a protective screen for merchant ships plying their trade through our sea lanes and for our deployed naval support ships with embarked personnel, against a range of threats above, below and on the ocean. Their employment context is very different to a fast attack missile boat or an Arleigh Burke destroyer launching long-range Tomahawk missiles. Frigates are more of a guardian within our maritime domain and less an aggressor. So, if you get the opportunity to gently explain that to your neighbour Karen, please do so.

The Anzac replacement will likely be sourced from the current FVEY (Five Eyes) nations supplier base. There are capable Korean and Japanese options, but they won’t be any cheaper and may have some significant ITARS (International Traffic in Arms Regulartions), IP sharing, and integration hurdles which would need to be addressed. European frigates are also capable, however a directly sourced European Frigate often possesses combat and sensor systems which are European-centric and often are not as seamlessly integrated into the US-Australian maritime networked architecture which we have historically used. There are also questions about the level of sustainment support from EU defence suppliers. Furthermore, there is often no tangible advantage regarding acquisition costs compared to our traditional FVEY frigate suppliers. 

Because of our long SLOC (Sea Lines of Communications), broad area of maritime interest and that the chosen platform will have a 35 year operational lifespan, it is important that room for capability growth in the platform is accounted for in terms of sensors, weapons and machinery. Therefore any future RNZN frigate will have to be comfortably over 5500 tonnes full load and possess long range and extended endurance characteristics suitable for Trans-Pacific operations. Furthermore, with the present crew restraints in operating a small Navy, each Frigate must sail with less than 150 embarked personnel and be highly automated. Neither the cheapest nor the most expensive options are the best. There is more to the cost-capability spectrum than meets the eye. 

The Type 26

The Canadian variant is likely to be the most compelling of the Type 26 class in terms of its overall capability package for the RNZN. However, it is a whopping NZD$5.3 billion per hull. The RAN (Royal Australian Navy) variant is slightly cheaper and the RN (Royal Navy) variant, though the cheapest, is less capable than the other variants. Yet it is still too expensive for the capability it possesses.

There is a massive cost penalty to be paid in purchasing the Type 26 as all variants are part of a local naval shipbuilding programme, which is just as much about creating local industrial capacity and local jobs, as they are about their role as surface combatants. The Type 26 for the RNZN is basically dead on arrival because of its huge sticker price.

The Type 31

The Type 31 option referred to in a previous thread by Dr. Wayne Mapp, seems at first glance an acceptable solution. It is substantially cheaper than the Type 26. It is a design variant of the Danish Iver Huitfeld Class, which is an AW (Air Warfare) frigate evolved from the earlier Absalon Class flexible support ship. However, in its cut price RN configuration, the Type 31 has only an austere level of CMS (Combat Management System), sensor and weapons fit-out. It actually offers a capability slightly less than what the upgraded ANZAC Class will be. Its ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) abilities are, in my opinion, weak. I suspect that Wayne, based on the estimated final cost he provided, has cost-factored in all the likely additional capabilities per CMS, sensors and weapons that would be required so that it is able to conduct ASW, EW (Electronic Warfare) and AD (Air Defence) and actually be survivable as both a SLOC escort and submarine hunter, or being able to be tasked on independent operations at long range even within the periphery of the intensive maritime shatter zones that will be a feature of the Indo-Pacific post 2030. In its RN specification it only has an AD capability that would enable it to survive attacks as they would be expected in constabulary type operations.

I am not sure though if Wayne has included in his upgrade estimates the acoustic rafting of engine room machinery required for an ASW platform, where quietness is paramount. In my view the Type 31 is hindered by its diesel-only propulsion and the lack of an electric drive mode. The vessel will require further adaptation to include a towed array, which is a fundamental component that an ASW frigate must have. All these required must-haves will blow out the acquisition cost. The vessel would require a further design review to get it at a capability level we would require. The warning I give is that the so-called cheap Type 31 may not be so cheap in the end. 

Any future Kiwi frigate will have to be extremely competent against a capability peer rival in the context of the Indo-Pacific. If New Zealand were in the Caribbean or South Atlantic where the Type 31 is likely to be deployed then fine. However, for a Type 31 to work in the context of the Indo-Pacific post 2030, it will need to be fully interoperable within the Air-Space-Maritime domain architecture of our close partners – principally Australia, the USN (US Navy), Canada and possibly the JMSDF (Japan). This means the essential inclusion of Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), Aegis Baseline 10 software, a very capable AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and a solid EW (Electronic Warfare) capability.

A Type 31 frigate will not do the job that we or our partners require a RNZN frigate to do, if it is going to have a level of capability that the Royal Navy is acquiring. To get it right for the kind of operations that it will be expected to be tasked on will require the virtual evolution of a new ship. It is possible to build such an evolved and improved vessel, but there will be delays and in my view there is in existence an ideal turnkey solution that offers a better way forward. The Type 31 and Type 26 programmes are not the only frigate options to focus on. 

The Constellation Class

The only alternative left is the new USN FFG-62 or ‘Constellation Class’, based on the proven FREMM design. This vessel is the peer of the Type 26 in a combat capability sense, but at only slightly more money than what a Type 31 would end up costing following all the additional and complex changes required for it to be able to safely operate independently in the Indo-Pacific of post-2030. The USN’s proposed FY2022 budget requested US$1,087.9 million (NZD$1565m) for the procurement of the third FFG-62, which includes all the essential government furnished equipment (GFE). It is a true multi-role surface combatant, able to conduct the required spectrum of ASW, ASuW (Anti-Surface Warfare), EW and AD roles.

The USN was able to get costs down because they started with a set of tightly prescribed requirements to get the frigate fit-out configuration they required. They drew upon existing machinery, propulsion, combat and sensor systems that were already in hot production or within supply chains across the USN fleet. Another aspect the USN used in getting cost processes under control was by selecting a prime builder (Fincantieri Marinette Marine) who had an existing design (the FREMM) and a prime systems integrator (Lockheed Martin), who has a considerable supplier and product line depth to draw upon and at scale. 

A future RNZN frigate programme could tack on to a planned USN production block order for the Constellation Class and thus be able to tap into the long lead-line bulk buyer advantages that the USN can achieve through their supplier pool depth and weight of purchasing scale across the build programme. New Zealand was able to take advantage of this kind of economies of scale recently with respect to the P-8A and C-130J acquisitions because of our FVEY privileges within the US DSCA (Defense Security Cooperation Agency) regime. There is also the potential for further cost savings as some items from the current Anzac Class (following a refresh or block upgrade) can be cross-decked over into a Kiwi Constellation Class as they are already pre-integrated into the vessels combat management systems software. For example the Phalanx 1B CIWS, the Mod-5 127mm main gun, the Sea Ceptor missiles and decoy systems. 

The ‘keep it simple’ approach in going down the Constellation Class route is definitely worth serious consideration in what will be the biggest defence procurement project in NZ history. It is the most de-risked option in my view. The US support and sustainment chain is the gold standard (both the Brits and Europeans are pretty rubbish at that) and as a platform has been been conceived principally for Indo-Pacific operations. In terms of combat survivability it is better than the Type 31 as it is being built to full US Naval warship construction standards where as the Type 31 is planned to be built to Lloyds Register Naval Ship Rules. The Constellation Class will possess full interoperability with our close regional partners in terms of being able to tap into the full networked architecture of the air-maritime-space domain well as with other synergetic NZDF assets such as the P-8A, the WGS-9 (Wideband Global SATCOM system) and the likely Sea Sprite maritime helicopter replacement, the MH-60R

Finally, the Washington DC welcome mat is much bigger for New Zealand, opportunity wise, than Number 10 Downing Street. If New Zealand were placing a Constellation Class order, it would be prudent to leverage FTA (Free Trade Agreement access with the US as a complementary MFAT initiative with negotiations running in parallel. Defence-Diplomacy-Intelligence-Trade are not silo’s in themselves, but interdependent with each other and it may well be the final puzzle that gets NZ the US FTA bi-lateral it has desired for the last 25 years. I have never been able to understand why that golden penny hadn’t dropped in Wellington much earlier. Washington, when the right buttons are pressed, looks more favourably upon trade access into their markets when security considerations utilising their defence export industries enter the FTA quantum. 

As for numbers, three hulls are the absolute minimum number of Frigates the Kiwi Navy requires for the next 30 years – a fourth hull, though optimal, can be ordered later. Nevertheless, the RNZN must also have what is called a “Zero Ship”; in other words a land based frigate training centre that replicates onshore all functional competency tasks required thus allowing the 3-vessel frigate fleet to spend more time at sea conducting security operations.

This means far less sea-days devoted to onboard training and a shorter timeframe conducting pre-deployment work-ups. This means the generation of a 4th crew rotating through the ‘Zero Ship’ under training whilst the other frigates are deployed. Moreover, the plug and play nature of modern modular frigate designs and advanced shore maintenance management and sustainment support systems, also mean that 9 month long refits every 5 years can be greatly reduced getting the ship and crew out on the ocean with greater frequency. In many respects that ‘Zero Ship’ is the “Fourth Frigate” of the fleet.

My final word is that – all going well – it takes 6 years to build a frigate from the time an order is placed with the ship yard if it is a vessel currently in hot production, until it finally gets commissioned into a Naval service. If it is a first of type for a Navy to get to grips with, it can take further time for the crew to fully introduce the capability. This means that the incoming government in 2023 will have to make its decision within that three-year term to lock into a frigate build programme like the Constellation Class and have the first new vessel in the water before the first Anzac Class is decommissioned. We must not find ourselves again in the situation whereby we have a lengthy period of time when there was actually no frigate capability like what happened recently. The risk is too great considering the level of strategic uncertainty in the Indo-Pacific region from now on, which includes a push by a super power using ‘sharp power’ tactics right into our South Pacific neighborhood. 

Written by Tom Hunter

April 4, 2022 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Military, New Zealand

Tagged with

The future of New Zealand’s Defence

with 11 comments

My co-blogger The Vet had a very interesting post earlier on the rather sad state of affairs with the NZDF.

This is the accumulated result of thirty years of our military suffering death-by-a-thousand-cuts via successive Labour governments who really don’t like the concept of killing people and smashing things, with “peacekeeping” as the desired goal, and National governments who have looked at the cost/benefit and concluded that a slow and steady (very slow and steady – and quiet) replacement of assets is the way to go. I should also add that when you look at things like the godforsaken LAV purchase, a case where Labour did spend a lot of money, the advice they got from our military was not very good in the face of 21st century developments. As far as I know about half of them continue to sit in splendid preservation because we don’t have enough people to man them.

To that end the following video from Reason is interesting as it looks at possible lessons that can be drawn from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine about what defending a nation and military combat may mean in the 21st century.

Key comments from the video:

Every Russian tank that gets fried in Ukraine is sending the message that traditional armies can no longer expect to dominate simply because they have more troops, weapons, and money. Russian armored vehicles are falling victim to Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapons (NLAWs), which can be carried by individual soldiers, unslung in seconds, and deployed with little training and fatal accuracy.

That’s the reality of contemporary warfare: Smaller, nimbler groups fighting back effectively against lumbering, dumb relics of the past. Despite being the fifth largest fighting force on the planet and starting the war with five times the number of active military as Ukraine, Russia has been stymied in what virtually all observers expected to be a cakewalk.

I’m sure my Dad would be amazed at the idea that individual soldiers could inflict fatal damage on things like tanks, helicopter gunships and even jet fighter bombers. In his day, and perhaps even as recently as the Vietnam war, a single soldier or even a group of them, would usually have to go to ground in the face of such weapons unless they had support from their own tanks, planes or helicopters, or at a minimum, anti-tank guns and SAM. But the reality of today’s technology is that an awful lot of firepower is now boiled down into man-portable missiles.

As weapons have become smaller, cheaper, more effective, and more widely dispersed, it’s harder and harder for old-style militaries and countries to quickly and effectively achieve their objectives through brute force as they meet resistance at every turn. That resistance includes “information warfare”

The future belongs not to the ignorant armies of the night who seek to command and control but to those who embrace and empower the decentralization of weapons, technology, information, currency, and individual ingenuity and courage.

Now there are several caveats to that piece. Reason is a libertarian place so of course they’re going to sneer at centralised systems. But the reality of nation-state warfare is still that the side that doesn’t centralise efficiently and effectively is usually the side that loses. In the USA there was no alternative but to centralise for the Revolution, the Civil War (the Confederates rapidly got sick of “States Rights” when that meant lack of cooperation from bolshie States), WWI, WWII and the Cold War. That was not just done for the military but for the massive industrial effort required to support them in modern warfare.

I should point out that one of the problems for society was always winding back such centralisation when the war was won, something that was done successfully after the first two wars, much less for the others even as the size of the military shrank dramatically after each conflict. It’s part of the reason for the failures of today’s US military, as covered in these two posts:

But even in Ukraine you can bet that there are some aspects of centralisation that are in place for intelligence gathering plus command and control that directs those drones and Javelin-armed men towards their targets. It must also be remembered that Ukraine is not producing these weapons but relying on a somewhat centralised system of production in other nations.

Also, with regard to New Zealand, some of this stuff just doesn’t work anyway because it’s very unlikely that we’re ever going to be invaded, so Ukraine and Swiss-style defences really don’t come into the picture here.

No, for better or worse our defence strategy remains as it has for over a century; partnerships with friendly, allied nations that pull the focus of our defence into projection overseas before anything can get close enough to hurt us. Sure, as the Left will point out (and perhaps an Isolationist Right?) that means we may get dragged into foreign wars, but if we’re talking about stuffing up China’s Navy and Air Force than that is something we want to have happen well away from our shores – unless you thrill to the idea of trying to shoot at such things as they patrol off our beaches and fly in our skies?

So what does all that mean for actually doing military things in NZ. I’m going pick up three points from a NZDF commentator’s suggestions, with one additional point from Wayne Mapp:

  • A deployable combat brigade.
  • A combat navy well-geared against submarines;
  • Both supported by an air force for tactical airlift and aerial reconnaissance / surveillance – and submarine attack.
  • The rule of three to be applied to all of these: the army needs to be at least three times as big as a brigade, to allow for training and respite posts, the navy needs three frigates to be able to sustain the deployment of one at a time.
  • Special Forces providing high quality maritime surveillance and protection.

Still, the Ukraine lessons could be applied to such home defence as well, noting the Reason commentary above that “it’s harder and harder for old-style militaries and countries to quickly and effectively achieve their objectives through brute force as they meet resistance at every turn..”.

In other words, even if we think a direct attack on NZ is unlikely, it wouldn’t hurt to provide some military capabilities that show even the Chinese that they’ll take a lot of damage, forcing them to ask themselves whether it’s worth it or not. Sad to say I’m sure a blockade and/or cyber warfare against us would be just as effective, but still:

  • Long and short-range, land-based, mobile anti-ship missiles.
  • Long and short-range mobile anti-aircraft missiles.
  • Remote and possibly autonomous air and submarine drone forces (there’s some references and links about this in my old post on the Aussie-US submarine deal).
  • Cyber warfare, both offensive and defensive: as with other capabilities the best we can do is demonstrate that we’ve got smart people and systems that can integrate attack or defense with our allies, something we’re undoubtedly already doing with the GCSB in Five Eyes.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 28, 2022 at 12:25 pm


with 26 comments

Seems most New Zealanders prefer a head in the sand approach to what it happening in the Solomon Islands with revelations of a not so secret agreement (still to be ratified by the Solomon Islands government) that would allow the stationing of Chinese troops in the Island nation and the construction of a naval base that would allow the Chinese government to project (naval) power into and over the South Pacific.

The Chinese have invested a ton of capital in a number of pacific island territories and now they are seeking to make good on their investment helped by the fact that the Solomon Islands are hardly a functioning democracy not helped by the ongoing enmity between the Malaitans and the Isatabus.

And ‘our’ response … a ritual wringing of hands because the reality is that there is nothing much we can do given that we are treading a tightrope in respect of our relations with China … and there’s nothing much the Pacific Forum can do either. The Chinese hold much of the cards in the form of debt owed.

Australia … a different story. They’re prepared to tackle China up front and accept the fall-out. Their military is undergoing a significant expansion which gives them muscle. And that brings me to my next point. The New Zealand military is contracting, beset by morale problems (don’t underestimate how much damage was done to morale using them as security guards in MIQ facilities) and a funding squeeze. The modernisation programme foreshadowed by National and given teeth by Ron Mark is on the back burner with only the Orion and C130 replacement programme a done deal.

I cannot in all honesty see Te Kaha and Te Mana (ANZAC frigates) being replaced. The two platforms are a quarter of a century old and while they have been upgraded the reality they are quickly becoming obsolescent. Across the ditch the Australians have already placed orders for nine Hunter Class frigates at a projected cost of AUD35b (sure to increase) with construction due to start this year. I don’t see any appetite here for that sort of expenditure. Rather I suspect the frigates will be replaced with a new generation of our existing Offshore Patrol Vessels (civilian spec ships without the combat redundancy of combat ships) which will effectively consign the RNZN to Coastguard status.

Our ability to contribute to offensive type operation will reduce to the five Poseidon Maritime Patrol aircraft and elements from the SAS Regiment. I do not count either 1 RNZIR or 2/1 RNZIR as capable of anything more than very low level combat/peacekeeping operations. Their ORBAT has them at between 400-500. The reality is (and always has been) that in order to deploy at that strength would require the virtual gutting of the second battalion and, consider this, Australian infantry battalions can comprise up to 700 personnel and so our ability to contribute effectively to sustained multi-national, mid to high intensity operations, is a moot.

Our neglect of the military is long standing and there is a price to be paid for that. Our ANZAC partners have long considered us to be freeloaders … that exasperation is likely to increase. I cannot imagine our Defence Minister had an overly comfortable meeting with his OZ counterpart in his trip across the ditch last week.

Written by The Veteran

March 27, 2022 at 11:08 pm


Many of you will have seen the report on TV One news last night of unprecedented numbers quitting the military (particularly the Army) over their continued employment as security guards et al managing MIQ facilities. It left Chief of Army (MGEN Boswell … he of the write an essay calling out a fixation on wokeness in the Army and have your feet cut out from under you fame) lamenting that this mass exiting has serious implications on the ability of the Army to carry out its primary role. That warning was reinforced by a separate message from the Sergeant Major of the Army (WO1 Moffitt) imploring those leaving to think again for the good of the service.

Those joining the military do so for a variety of reasons … none of them being the expectation they will spend an extended period as a glorified security guard. Yes, you can argue that can be justified as a short term expedient while government negotiates with private security providers to provide long term cover …. but the use of the military in this role has clearly developed a degree of permanency and there is a price to be paid in doing that and the chickens are coming home to roost.

Question is …. does anyone care. Clearly the government doesn’t.

Written by The Veteran

November 28, 2021 at 11:33 am

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with

Australian Submarine Strategy

Richard Fernandez is one of the very interesting writers over on the PJ Media site, focusing on matters of foreign policy, military and science in general. He also writes for a number of other publications.

The recent announcement of the AUKUS partnership saw him reaching into the past to grab an article that he wrote in 2013 but never published, Strategy and Submarines. It takes a detailed look not just at what Australia wanted to do with submarines but what they might have to do, as well as the technology itself.

Once the purpose is determined, then the correct tools can be chosen for the job. Thus, every acquisition must be viewed in the context of “what is it for”. Unless the ends are defined, nothing can be said about the proposed means. Buying naval vessels is a means to an end. The determination of ends is usually called strategy.  Unfortunately, the goals of Australian naval strategy are sometimes presented as a laundry list.

He points out that the problem with laundry lists is you cannot tell which is most important. There’s also the fact that global security changed rapidly, as he shows with links to Defence White Papers from 1976 (India, China and Japan pose no future security issue), and 2000 where, in the wake of the collapse of the USSR things looked comfortable and it was possible to imagine that Australia could go it alone.

What to do now (2013):

The choice of ends has a very definite effect upon the means. To defend Australia against powerful opponents “without relying on help from the combat forces of any other country” logically implies the adoption of the naval strategy of the weaker power.

Which is how they ended up with Collins Class submarines and then the deal for the French DIesel-Electric boats. They’re quiet boats but smaller and slower than the American SSN’s, which puts them at odds with the supposed new goals of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN):

But the lack of a definite strategic choice has given the submarine requirements a Jekyll and Hyde character. On the one hand, the conventional Collins-class boats are the stereotypical weapon of the weaker power, the 21st century equivalent of the submarine and naval mine, combining the mobility of a World War II sub with the quietness of a hole in the ocean. On the other hand, many of the envisioned RAN missions implicitly require cooperation with the United States and hence governed by the strategy of the dominant power.

There’s some very interesting stuff on the history of mines and other such “weaker power” stuff, including the WWII aerial mining of Japan which “In terms of damage per unit of cost, surpassed strategic bombing and the United States submarine campaign.” It was called Operation Starvation, which potential horror should be contrasted against military invasions and atomic bombs.

There’s a lot of detailed analysis of Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) submarines which, as good as they can be, run into problems when they are detected, as well as other issues:

AIP units often generate only as much power as a family sedan so that even banks of four produce 300 kw compared to the 30,000 kw of a Virginia class SSN. With that small output, the subs are limited to creeping along at about 2 or 3 knots.

That may be of little consequence in European scenarios, where submarines must only transit a short way to station before turning off their diesels and activating the AIP. But slow speed and the small hull sizes of European off-the-shelf subs are a bane for countries like Australia and Israel, which must send their subs great distances in what are essentially modified European coastal submarines.

The detection scenario can’t be dismissed as technology improves. The article goes into some detail about robotic submarines (unmanned underwater vehicles or UUVs) ) and how advanced they had become even by 2011. Small, cheap and plentiful they present a strong potential threat to small, stealthy submarines that just sit around in shallow waters waiting for targets. UUVs also will be networked together to form a sensor net across oceans, rather like the static SOSUS net the US used in the Atlantic during the Cold War, except this one is mobile.

Some versions called an Autonomous Undersea Vehicles (AUV and also dubbed “gliders”) are specifically designed to track conventional, stealthy submarines.

Liberdade class flying wings are autonomous underwater gliders developed by the US Navy Office of Naval Research which use a blended wing body hullform to achieve hydrodynamic efficiency. It is an experimental class whose models were originally intended to track quiet diesel electric submarines in littoral waters, move at 1–3 knots and remain on station for up to six months.

You can see why the Aussies started to have second thoughts about their $93 billion French purchase, even aside from all the production problems. There’s also another aspect of the future to be considered:

Given the increasing number of complex computerised systems being operated by modern submarines, another important concept is a submarine’s ‘hotel load.’ As SSGs are limited by the power stored in their batteries (which can only be recharged by surfacing), they strictly ration power among their systems.

SSNs are capable of generating and sustaining a much greater power output while submerged due to their nuclear reactor. This power output allows SSNs to carry a greater number of far more powerful sensors and systems (which increase sensor range and awareness), greatly increasing the flexibility, stealth and usefulness of SSNs.

As he puts it himself, his old analysis actually indicates how Australia has made this decision now. Although he didn’t make that forecast he pointed out the strategic thinking needed to make the decision, and it looks the Aussies went through that same process.

We had deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the Attack-class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interests and we had made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest. – Scott Morrison

Written by Tom Hunter

September 21, 2021 at 8:24 am


The predictable (but nevertheless somewhat hysterical) reaction by Ardern following the announcement of the formation of AUKUS and that Australian is to acquire nuclear powered submarines that they would not be allowed in New Zealand waters (while ignoring the inconvenient fact that her government is relaxed about our frigates working with US Navy task-forces that include nuclear powered vessels) demonstrates yet again that, despite protestations to the contrary by both the NZL and Oz governments, our defence relationship with Australia remains strained.

Lets be very clear. Successive governments of all stripes and colours have begrudged every dollar spent on defence. We have always taken the minimalist approach and have happily demanded that the military do more with less. Our ‘combat’ Navy consists of two aging frigates (albeit substantially upgraded) with the reality being that we cannot guarantee we will have a ship available 24/7. Don’t be diverted by the two OPVs. The are not combat ships. They are ‘civilian spec’ ships more akin to coastguard type vessels and do not possess the redundancies found in warships. For the Army and they can deploy a ‘light’ battalion group (circa 500 strong) with all other units having to be stripped in order to maintain it for an extended period plus limited special forces elements. The RNZAF have 4xP8-A Poseidon aircraft on order to replace our 6xP3K2 Orion patrol/search aircraft and also 5xSuper Hercules due in 2024 to replace our 60 year old C-130 Hercules. Of the three services they are probably better placed to carry out their assigned roll.

My assessment is that the Labour Party has shifted left away from any form of collective defence and is comfortable in their own skin in doing so aided and abetted every step of the way by the Greens. It would be a bold person to suggest they will not win the next election in concert with the Greens made even more certain by National and ACT taking quiet potshots at each other over where they sit in the ideological spectrum. The lead-in time to replace our frigates has started and there are no signs that Labour is seized with the issue … and post 2023 and with a Labour/Greens government the issue is dead in the water. It it sits right now I see the RNZN being restructured to a coastguard type service built around OPVs (some ice strengthened) and I’m not sure the public will see this as something to worry over.

I well remember the time of the first Fiji coup when Lange mused about possible military intervention only to be told by the then Chief of Defence that any intervention ran a substantial risk of failure. It’s what happens when you run the military on a beer budget. Can I suggest not too much has changed or is likely to change.

Written by The Veteran

September 17, 2021 at 3:17 pm

Listen to The Greenies and The Frogs Squeal

Australia has ditched its ridiculous contract with a French company for the construction of a fleet of obsolete diesel submarines, ready for service after the next war is lost. In a ground breaking decision, American designed NUCLEAR submarines will be built in Adelaide.

Australia will acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines in a once-in-a-generation decision that will deliver the nation unprecedented strike capability and require a significant boost to Defence spending.

The new nuclear boats will be delivered under a historic Defence technology partnership between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom – called AUKUS – to meet rising Chinese strategic threats.

The submarines will cost more than the estimated $90 billion price tag for the now-cancelled French-designed Attack-class submarines.

Australian greenies are screaming.

French boat builders are moaning.

New Zealand is ignored. China can have the place.

Written by adolffinkensen

September 16, 2021 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Australia, Military

Tagged with , ,


Tom H highlighted in his post of 8 July the flip-flop by the Chief of Army, MGEN Boswell, over ‘his’ decision to shut down debate within the Army over virtue signalling and wokism. I commented on that post but since then further disturbing information has surfaced so as to make this post necessary.

First, and for those of you who have not read the essay you can access it here. For me and all kudos to Private Dell for having the courage and integrity to put pen to paper in a compressed time-frame in what was, by any measure, a thoughtful composition. This was no alt right (or left) hate speech. Rather it was someone from the ranks telling it how he saw it and I have to say that if the writer is representative of the standard of today’s junior soldier then I am impressed. In that respect I have say too I was disappointed in David Seymour’s backhander that the essay was not Pulitzer prize material. That David was unnecessary.

So now it transpires that Boswell’s flip-flop followed intervention by Defence Minister Henare expressing his concern directly to the Chief of Defence, AM Short who, in turn, ‘lent’ on Boswell. Even more concerning was the revelation that Minister Henare had not read the essay but instead had relied on ‘reports’ (what reports and who from?). Clearly Henare is a prisoner of and enabler of the woke culture that characterizes the Ardern government and follows on from his inability to stand up for his portfolio which saw the Defence Capital Acquisitions programme taken to the cleaners in Robertson’s 2021 budget.

As for Short and Boswell and their meek acquiescence to the Minister’s suggestion (charitable) order (reality) has damaged the reputation of both themselves and their office. More importantly it will have sent a chilling message to the men they are privileged to command that freedom of thought and expression in the military is an alien concept to be discouraged at every opportunity.

Only one person comes out of this sorry debacle with his colours flying … and it ain’t Henare, Short or Boswell.

Written by The Veteran

July 10, 2021 at 2:44 pm