$639 million upgrade poses question of whether we need frigates

By   /   December 15, 2017  /   19 Comments

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The frigates Te Mana and Te Kaha are a huge drain on the taxpayer. They cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year in running costs and regular upgrades. The current electronics upgrade is now priced at a whopping $639 million.

The frigates Te Mana and Te Kaha are a huge drain on the taxpayer. They cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year in running costs and regular upgrades. The current electronics upgrade is now priced at a whopping $639 million.

Instead of racing ahead with this expensive upgrade – 70% up on the original $374 million budgeted cost – the Labour/NZ First Cabinet should have reassessed whether we really need frigates. With two off-shore patrol boats, four in-shore patrol boats and the multi-purpose vessel Canterbury, New Zealand is well-served for fisheries patrols and disaster relief in the South Pacific and the southern ocean.

Having the frigates undermines New Zealand’s independent foreign policy, because they are optimised to join a US-led flotilla, as Defence Minister Ron Mark in effect admitted on RNZ this morning when he talked about their use for the Five Eyes.

The current upgrade – for missile defence, radar detection and torpedo decoys – is only needed against a sophisticated well-armed enemy, and in Donald Trump’s terms this can only mean China and/or North Korea.

Earlier this year Te Kaha actually put itself under the authority of the USS carrier Nimitz task force in the western Pacific, replacing the USS Fitzgerald, which had been damaged in a collision with a Philippine container ship. Reading our navy’s publicity material, it’s clear the frigate crew got a kick out of playing in the big league – but is that where we really want to be.

We can play a political role as a peacemaker in disputes in the Asia/Pacific, but having NZ frigates as part of a US-led task force runs counter to this.

The Greens have long called for phasing out the frigates. I wish Labour would wake up to the fact that having them is not in New Zealand’s best interest.  The money wasted on them could be better used.

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19 Comments

  1. Lois Griffiths says:

    Thanks for this article Keith.

    We should be untangling ourselves from the American and Israeli military hegemony and instead showing solidarity with American peace groups including CodePink, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, World Beyond War,
    and Black Alliance for Peace.

    Who are the Green Party spokespeople for Foreign Affairs and for Defence?

  2. Lois Griffiths says:

    Thanks for this article Keith.

    We should be untangling ourselves from the American and Israeli military hegemony and instead showing solidarity with American peace groups including CodePink, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, World Beyond War,
    and Black Alliance for Peace.

    Who are the Green Party spokespeople for Foreign Affairs and for Defence?

  3. Sam Sam says:

    Contracts are signed and payment going through. Because New Zealand must prepare for world the U.S can no longer police. And China or North Korea isn’t our number one threat. They are one of our largest trading partners. Believe it or not we have frigates for constabulary duties at sea. Take East Timor as way of for instance. I think it was one of the older lender classes or an ANZAC chased an Indonesian sub out of Timors EEZ. These kind of tactical decisions to with draw 1 of New Zealand’s 3 tier 1 strategic assets have strategic consequences.

    • Draco T Bastard says:

      And China or North Korea isn’t our number one threat. They are one of our largest trading partners.

      That doesn’t mean that they aren’t our number one threat.

      These kind of tactical decisions to with draw 1 of New Zealand’s 3 tier 1 strategic assets have strategic consequences.

      True. We actually need more defensive capability.

      • Sam Sam says:

        Firstly let’s just Assume China is New Zealand’s number one strategic threat to New Zealand’s sovereignty. China’s economic achievement has less to do with globalization. It is related to trade and export. China has gradually become an export-oriented country. No one, myself included, is opposed to exports. But this is not globalization. It is, China has become a factory in the Asian production system. Look at the whole region, it’s very dynamic. China’s export volume is enormous. But there is something we have overlooked. China’s export relies heavily on the exports of Japan, Korea and the US. These countries provide China with high-tech components and technologies. China is just doing the assembly, and labelling the final products as ‘Made in China.’

        China has developed rapidly by following wise policies. But while millions of people were lifted out of poverty, costs such as environmental degradation are high. They are merely transferred to the next generation. Economists will not worry about them, but these are costs that someone needs to pay for ultimately. It may be your children or grandchildren. These have nothing to do with defence.

        Secondly instead of saying “defensive capabilities” I like to call it ‘end game.’ N ew Zealand has very long trade and communications corridors. So fixed positions are less useful to New Zealand’s defence. It’s vital New Zealand can forward deploy either the SAS, P3 Orions, Frigates and be supported with combined arms manoeuvres, or all of the above. And be able to go it alone.

        Thirdly climate change is Mew Zealand’s number 1, 2 and 3 strategic threat to New her economic sovereignty. How ever questions remain on this front as the Washington consensus does not believe in climate change.

        The way I see it is China is our friend and the U.S is our number one strategic ally and climate change is our number 1 strategic threat. And unfortunately coast guards are not designed to operate in contested waters aboard.

        The NZDF 2015-2016 annual report for some cost figured has a pie chart at the top right of page 13… http://www.nzdf.mil.nz/downloads/pdf/public-docs/2015-2016-nzdf-annual-report.pdf

        It listed for components for the budget of NZD$2.459 bln. as follows:
        * Capital Charge 18%
        * Depreciation 15%
        * Operating 30%
        * Personnel 37%

        Vote Defence budget is stated to be about 30% higher than what NZDF receives in real terms. This makes NZDF budget for the time period was vs. NZ’s approximate GDP (PPP), and the Vote Defence amount was only ~1% GDP, with the NZDF budget in real terms being an “extravagant” 0.67% GDP.

        There might be a notional NZD$20 bil. CAPEX spend available to reach Future2035 goals, but it does seem like what will be available for Operating and Personnel expenditures will still be quite limited.

        On a potential plus side though, this could drive the NZDF to purchase more upscale kit than is has been, to gain the most capabilities without needing to increase personnel and/or operating costs. An example of what I mean would be like replacing the HMNZS Endeavour with something the MSC vessel. They are similar in capability and crew requirements, but the MSC has a hanger, can carry more stores and personal, and has significantly better offensive, defensive and supporting systems.

  4. CLEANGREEN says:

    “Endeavour” is to be scrapped in March 2018 and we need to but a new ship at $600 million in 2020, but wat do we use for a fuel tanker until then??????

    • Sam Sam says:

      I mean this requires an answer imo.

      Displacing 24,000 tons fully loaded the Maritime Sustainment Capability (MSC) vessel is approximately 12,000 tons heavier than her predecessor the HMNZS Endeavour. Designed to embark an NH90 in its hanger as well as being ice strengthened for Antarctic missions. It’s also designed to support larger land and sea deployments.

      One of the draw backs of the current OPV’s is when they have Helicopters embarked the weight pushes the water line above its steel belt making it dangerous to take a helicopter on arctic patrols. So RNZN procurement officers have sort to address this capability gap with the new MSC.

      Additional while on deployment near the Arabian gulf a sea Sprite helicopter embarked on one of our ANZACs (a few years back now) malfunctioned days after arriving in its patrol area. Replacement parts could not be flown out and neither could the helicopter be flown back or a replacement helo be flown out. It wasn’t until the ANZAC arrived back in NZ that the helo could be repaired, 6 months after living port. Making flight ops combat ineffective. The MSC seeks to address some of these short falls in capability outputs.

  5. Denny Paoa says:

    Need to turn the Navy into a CoastGuard Service. Hunting illegal fishers, doing the Maritime Fisheries job & supporting the Pacific Islands when they get hit by hurricanes/cyclones for disaster support/relief.

    It’ll be cheaper & a ROI for the taxpayers and the seamen & women will get out to sea more!

    • Draco T Bastard says:

      Need to turn the Navy into a CoastGuard Service.

      Nope. We need both but our necessary coast guard would put our present navy to shame. It would be far more powerful, have many more ships which would be far more powerful and actually be used.

  6. Draco T Bastard says:

    $639 million upgrade poses question of whether we need frigates

    No it doesn’t.

    It poses the question of if our previous government was capable of getting a good deal or not. It seems that they weren’t

    Instead of racing ahead with this expensive upgrade – 70% up on the original $374 million budgeted cost – the Labour/NZ First Cabinet should have reassessed whether we really need frigates.

    Indications are that we do. In fact, indications are that we need bigger warships. Ones that are actually capable of defending NZ waters.

    The current upgrade – for missile defence, radar detection and torpedo decoys – is only needed against a sophisticated well-armed enemy, and in Donald Trump’s terms this can only mean China and/or North Korea.

    Or the US itself.

    We really do need to be able to defend ourselves. This isn’t optional.

    The Greens have long called for phasing out the frigates. I wish Labour would wake up to the fact that having them is not in New Zealand’s best interest. The money wasted on them could be better used.

    On that the Greens are wrong. And the latter statement is a false dichotomy.

    the reason why we can’t ‘afford’ stuff is because of capitalism – not because we have a minor capability of defence which is less than what we need.

  7. Historian Pete says:

    We are at war- a war on poverty.That should be our first priority.New Zealanders are dying because resources are being wasted on N.Z war forces.They are not defence forces.When every person in the country has a decent affordable house to live in,adequate income, and social services that cater for the population, is the time to concern ourselves with “Defence Forces”!