Co-pilot and Squadron Leader Brett McKenzie of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, aboard a P-3K Orion aircraft, looks for objects during the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in April. New Zealand is almost finished upgrading its Orions. (Getty Images)
WELLINGTON — New Zealand on Tuesday released its Defence Capability Plan (DCP), which calls for increasing the defense force’s “proficiency at joint operations and growing its combat, combat support and combat service support capabilities,” said Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman.
The DCP is the second such document since the 2010 Defence White Paper, and is not merely a list of projects, Coleman said.
Work has commenced to quantify the size of the defense force’s airlift requirements as a first step toward providing options for replacement of the Air Force’s C-130H Hercules and Boeing 757 fleets, between 2018 and 2025. This will require a significant investment, the new report said. All but one of the five Hercules have completed the type’s life extension program and the final aircraft is scheduled to be returned to service next year.
The P-3K Orion mission systems upgrade project — upgrading the aircrafts’ over-water and over-land sensors, in addition to mission management, communications, and navigation systems — is nearing completion, with the sixth and final aircraft scheduled for acceptance in mid-2014. In the meantime, “consideration” is to be given to upgrading the Orions’ underwater ISR capability too.
The eighth and final NH90 helicopter is due this year, and the first of three new SH-2G(I) Seasprites is expected to arrive by March 2015. During 2018-2019, attention will turn to “a refresh” of the A109 helicopters’ systems.
A Maritime Sustainment Capability to replace the naval fleet tanker Endeavour is underway. The replacement vessel, to be in service by mid-2019, will be capable of refueling and sustaining the joint task force at sea and from the sea.
A littoral-operations support capability is sought to replace ships Manawanui, Tui and Resolution. The new ship will support the Navy’s Maritime Survey Team, the Operational Dive Team and the Mine Countermeasures Team and ensure navigational safety for Navy and other maritime vessels in littoral areas.
A replacement for the 5.56mm Steyr rifle is expected to enter service during 2016-2017. New pistols, sniper rifles and grenade launchers are to follow and heavy machine guns and mortars are to be upgraded.
“In order to allow our special operations forces to maintain and enhance a high level of operational readiness, a new Battle Training Facility is under construction and scheduled to be completed in mid-2015,” the plan said.
The vehicle fleet will be fully refreshed by 2025. Also, Javelin guided missiles have proved highly effective on operations and upgraded missiles, to provide more flexibility, will be acquired as they become available.
A “rolling refresh” project has been put in place for night-vision equipment to keep pace with technology advances and a project to develop a deployable counter-improvised explosive device capability is also underway.
A global SATCOM system has been approved and acquisition activities are underway. Options for addressing obsolescence issues in the defense force’s high frequency radio network, providing an alternate, long-range, bearer should satellite communications fail or are unavailable, are also to be considered.
In the future, the plan said, “Defense will explore whether remotely piloted vehicles could be acquired to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in support of ground forces and surveillance of the exclusive economic zone.”
It is worth noting that in May 2013, then-Chief of Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Peter Stockwell said unmanned aerial systems (UAS) will be seen as complementary rather than as replacement capabilities. Although he encouraged the Air Force to learn more about UAS “so that if the opportunity presents … you can contribute to their successful introduction and employment in the [defense force].”
Looking further ahead, the DCP said the defense force of 2035 will “be adept at leveraging emerging technologies to augment traditional capabilities, particularly IT. It will need to be able to operate in complexity not readily understood at the moment; therefore, previously discrete capabilities will need to be part of an integrated system that is readily adaptable to unforeseen challenges.”
Independent defense business analyst Gordon Crane said the quality of the 2010 Defence White Paper is evident in the latest DCP. “The latter owes its professional gloss to the former.”
A new Defence White Paper will be released next year.