The Airforce and Navy
Here’s a couple of quick questions:
– What does an Airforce and a Navy actually do?
– How much money is spent on them and for what actual utility?
– For a small country, like NZ for instance, what actually is the point?
Now I am not saying that there isn’t any need for a national presence and capability in the Maritime and Aeronautical arena’s, there patently is. But I do mean that there needs to be a very rigorous examination of what it is you are actually trying to achieve. Apart from a few people in this country who write defence white papers for instance, who else would have a clue as to what we do with our countries ships and planes. Or for that matter what ships and planes we do have. Actually, as it happens, New Zealand doesn’t have too bad a collection of assets in this regard, which is encouraging. However, on the other hand, such things as ships and planes are hideously expensive to buy, maintain, crew and operate. The other vital consideration is what you do with them – or alternatively what you don’t do with them.
If you are a big country, for instance part of the nuclear club, then you have the wherewithal to also have a blue water navy and project your power around the globe. New zealand doesn’t quite make it into that league. In fact we have enough trouble just looking after our small corner of the south pacific. Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of big military threats around here. Our nearest neighbours are some 2,000 km away – and those are the close ones. We aren’t going to be getting into a shooting war, it is as simple as that. If the point of a military is to be ready and prepared to fight, then we simply don’t have anyone to fight, whatever anyone may choose to say about being prepared, or, you never know what might happen…
Sure there are powers that could project military force as far as NZ and who knows sometime in the future something might happen. But quite frankly, any military power that could get enough force together to threaten NZ is going to have more than enough power to dominate the air and sea anyway. Nothing this country could afford or scrounge together would be any more than target practice for a an enemy large enough to threaten us here. The odds on our being threatened or being able to fight off such a hypothetical threat are so long as to be pointless. Our country has enough real problems to worry about without spending time or effort on irrelevances. Ergo, there is no point in us investing in fighting forces to combat naval and air scenarios. If for no other reason than we simply couldn’t afford a credible capability in that direction.
What we do need to give consideration to is a number of much more mundane calculations. If you want to maintain some minimal defensive posture, then maintaining military connections and alliances with allies is the better route and worth some effort. Therefore contributing towards joint objectives becomes necessary. The NZ navy has in the past contributed naval units to international coalitions involved in sanctions/blockade operations. I would seriously review how and where we got involved in that sort of thing if it was my call, but it is a legitimate argument that if at some point you wanted help from friends and allies, then you do need to be there for them when they ask for your help. Its like insurance, you pay your premiums and hope that you don’t get into trouble, but expect that there is some backup there if the worst happens. That whole question of being involved in alliances and what that might commit you to is a whole other topic, but it does impinge on the naval question so I have touched on it here. Rather more of an issues is that of securing your sovereignty over your territorial jurisdiction, ie patrolling your lands and waters and enforcing your will and laws.
However, this is where we come again to the whole issue of what is a military function and what is a policing function. I have no problem with the need for effective policing of our airspace and waters, but that is a very different thing from projecting military force. Both can involve force, if required, to resolve a situation satisfactorily, but they are not the same thing and it behooves us not to be misled into thinking they are the same, or even similar enough as to not make any practical difference. I am stating categorically, they are not the same thing and it is very important not to conflate the two. That being the case, if the military function is separated out from policing functions, then after doing a careful study of roles and missions of NZ maritime and aviation capabilities and objectives, what role exists for a Navy or an Airforce. Actually, effectively… nothing. It simply isn’t worth the time, effort and money to maintain them either as a military force, or let alone as separate military arms. Upshot? Fold all of those institutions into a unified military structure and command. Split off those assets that properly have a policing or civil defense function into a separate organisation and stop confusing roles and missions.
Militaries are for killing people and fighting foreign militaries. Police forces are for patrolling and turning up where people are in trouble or are causing trouble. If there might turn out to be a need to shoot some-one at some time, that is the exception to the norm, not the object of the exercise. In a maritime or aviation context, what is needed is surveillance and patrolling capabilities. And a minimal armed capability as well, that is true, but side arms should suffice 90% of the time. Anything from a .5″ machine gun or a 25mm cannon would cover any other realistic scenario. All of those could be incorporated into a maritime patrol vessel and done in a the context of a policing role with no issue. Low tech, low cost and properly structured and tasked. In other words, a civil coast guard/national guard organisation. Yes it could be considered paramilitary if you want to be picky, and it would be an organisation that could and would work in conjunction with the military, but in essence it is a civil and policing institution, not a military one.
Under this scenario, in the NZ context, what it would mean in practice is that the Navy would in the first instance shrink to the two NZAC frigates(Te Mana & Te Kaha), the Canterbury and the Endeavour. And over time it can be debated as to what extent those capabilities are desirably, affordable and useful – I don’t pretend to know what the answer to those questions are. But I will state my belief that the new “Project Defender” in-shore and off-shore patrol vessels should be transferred to a new National guard/coast guard institution. There is a clear need for this sort of capability and from what I can see the efforts in this direction with these vessels has provided NZ with some excellent assets. Any change to structural organisations would not change the requirement or costs of having to maintain this capability.
Likewise in the Airforce, the current roles and equipment would get transferred to the Guard institution, but that would not necessarily change much in many respects. Albeit, the Orion patrol planes might well be profitably replaced with another airframe, maybe even a UAV like Global Hawk. It would all depend on costs of course whether it would merit replacing the existing aircraft any time soon, but in any event the Orions will need to be replaced eventually and then due consideration can be given to what would be the best solution of the requirements, given that antisubmarine warfare is not really one of them. Patrol, surveillance, and transport is a National requirement, but as stated those are Guard and Policing functions. Air combat, close air support, deep penetration/interdiction and anti shipping functions just aren’t required. Much as I might love all that gee-whizz aviation stuff, I have to admit there isn’t any need for it. It is the prosaic things that need to get done, either by a National Guard, or even often times – just as easily by civilian contractors.
…and there is altogether another bun fight.