Byline: Gordon Arthur / Auckland

Because of New Zealand’s geographic isolation and friendly neighbours, successive governments have maintained the nation’s armed forces at “minimum credible” levels of manpower and equipment. The 2010-11 Defence budget saw spending rise modestly to NZ$2.85 billion, a figure representing approximately 1.2% of GDP. NZ is heavily dependent on international trade, with 24% of its national output exported, mostly by sea. The Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) thus plays a crucial role in defending the realm, which, thanks to far-flung islands and dependencies such as the Cook Islands, possesses the world’s sixth-largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The EEZ encompasses an area of 6.68 million km².

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has three objectives: to defend the nation against threats; to contribute to regional security; and to participate in global security efforts. The importance of the RNZN’s role has been reflected in recent defence budgets. This year the navy’s share expanded to NZ$673 million, although it is being forced, along with each service of the NZDF, to find areas of savings within its overall budget.

The NZDF Statement of Intent (SOI) tabled in May declares the goal of achieving a strengthened military by 2035, with 2011-15 representing a period of restructuring. This reorganisation is certainly true of the RNZN, which, in additional to its normal operational role, is assimilating tasks that require much greater versatility. For instance, the navy must be capable of assisting a cyclone-hit Pacific island, conducting a rescue mission in icy subantarctic waters of the Southern Ocean, apprehending a boat fishing unlawfully, or intercepting illegal immigrants. This article provides an update on the RNZN’s capabilities as it seeks to fulfil its vision of “being the best small-nation navy in the world.”

Structurally, the navy has been reorganised to perform a broader scope of tasks. It possesses the following components:
1. The Naval Combat Force consists of two Anzac-class frigates.
2. The Naval Patrol Force polices the EEZ and supports other government agencies with two offshore patrol vessels (OPV) and four inshore patrol vessels (IPV).
3. The Logistics Support Force comprises a fleet replenishment ship and a multi-role sealift vessel.
4. The Littoral Warfare Support Group comprises the Mine Countermeasures Team, Maritime Survey Team and Operational Diving Team (ODT). They are aided by a hydrographic survey ship and a dive support vessel.

On a recent visit to Devonport Naval Base in Auckland, Commander David Toms, Captain Fleet Operational Support (CFOS), spoke to Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter. He described one vital role of the RNZN as being a “service delivery manager” for other government agencies. The 2002 Maritime Forces Review mandates that the navy spend up to 1,400 days at sea annually to fulfil obligations to agencies such as the Ministry of Fisheries, Customs Service, Police, Department of Conservation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Maritime Safety Authority. In addition, the navy has a commercial contract with Land Information New Zealand to provide hydrographic data for national marine charts.

Project Protector – solution and resolution
Project Protector was proffered as the solution to the navy’s multifarious responsibilities. Under the NZ$500 million seven-vessel programme, core capabilities including sealift, coastal and offshore patrol, disaster relief and at-sea training were to be enhanced. An agreement was signed with Tenix Defence in July 2004, with NZ$135.4 million of the contract value eventually being allocated to 85 major and 400 smaller companies within the NZ shipbuilding industry.

In June 2007, the first of seven new vessels to be commissioned was HMNZS Canterbury (L421). This NZ$177 million multi-role vessel gave the navy its first real amphibious and strategic sealift capability, despite the fact it is based on a roll-on roll-off, passenger-carrying ferry design intended for coastal use. It has a Class 1C ice-strengthened hull to enable operations in and around new ice in subantarctic waters. Nominally the vessel can embark 40+ vehicles, 30+ 20-foot containers and 240 passengers in addition to the ship’s company. It also carries two 23m Landing Craft, Medium (LCM) that are invaluable for disaster relief situations or on Pacific islands where port facilities are nonexistent. Incidentally, Canterbury is too large for any dry dock in NZ so it must travel overseas for major maintenance.

HMNZS Canterbury has drawn severe criticism for its level of seaworthiness in higher sea states, including excessive pitching that has caused the propellers to exit the water. Furthermore, a defective trigger release shackle contributed to a fatality on 5 October 2007 when a sailor was trapped under an overturned rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) during an at-sea launch. While many elements on HMNZS Canterbury individually met safety standards, there were cases where they did not do so as part of an integrated system, despite Lloyds Register signing off on the vessel.

Other serious problems are the position of the RHIBs in open alcoves a mere 3.3m above the waterline, and inadequate LCMs suffering from poor design that led to fatigue in the bow ramps. Mediation with BAE Systems over warranty issues for the Canterbury and other Project Protector ships resulted in a January 2010 agreement that cost the shipbuilder NZD$84.6 million. Rectification will see more ballast being added to HMNZS Canterbury, repositioning of the two RHIB alcoves, and a redesign and replacement of the LCM bow ramps to meet required specifications. This remediation work is being done in phases to accommodate operational requirements, and CDR Toms reported it is approximately 20-25% complete to date. Capability will be progressively released with the majority of the work to be completed by 2013. However, work will not be finished until 2015 because of ship availability issues. Although Canterbury’s performance will improve, not every requirement will be met, including sea-keeping in extremely heavy seas. However, the navy insists such conditions are unlikely to be encountered in its planned operational area. The ship will also be ready to undertake first-of-class flying trials (FOCFT) as the Royal NZ Air Force’s (RNZAF) new NH90 and A109 LUH helicopters are accepted into service.

When APDR asked CDR Toms about the operational status of HMNZS Canterbury, he stated: “The navy is happy with what it can do. It’s been out and about conducting missions for the past two years.” He also pointed out it has been acting as a regional asset since the beginning of the year due to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) temporarily losing its amphibious capability. It serves as the core asset for the Pacific-focused ANZAC Ready Response Force. HMNZS Canterbury has already supported operations in East Timor and conducted relief efforts after the Samoan tsunami in December 2009. In addition, the multi-role ship was fortuitously docked at Lyttelton embarking soldiers when a large earthquake struck Christchurch on 22 February. Canterbury was utilised as a command post in the immediate aftermath of the quake. “It’s the right ship for the job it’s performing in the Pacific region,” concluded CDR Toms.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) copped much blame for its lack of oversight and haste in the Canterbury procurement, with a retroactive design review finding 24 faults that should have been identified before acceptance. Defence Minister Wayne Mapp declared, “The Defence Force has understood the lessons from the introduction into service of the Canterbury.” He asserts there are now better procedures in place when introducing new equipment.

Project Protector on patrol
All the navy’s ships, except for its two frigates, are based on commercial rather than naval standards on cost grounds. This includes the two Protector-class offshore patrol vessels (OPV) built in Australia by Tenix Defence. They completed their operational and system qualification testing in September 2010, and initial operational release is under way. The two 1,900-tonne OPVs have a long endurance to enable patrolling of the full EEZ. The core crew consists of 37 crewmen, but they can accommodate an additional 33 personnel. HMNZS Wellington (P55) sailed to the Ross Sea in Antarctica in February-March this year, with the captain reporting the seas below 65° latitude were among the worst he had ever encountered. Incidentally, the OPV hulls are ice-strengthened to Class 1 standard to permit sailing in new-ice waters. Meanwhile, HMNZS Otago (P148) successfully patrolled in warmer South Pacific climes in May-June. As planned, the induction of these capable OPVs has freed up the frigates for tasks further afield.

Four 340-tonne inshore patrol vessels (IPV) are key platforms for the navy to fulfil multi-agency operations and tasks (MAO&T), for which operational release is pending. HMNZS Hawea (P3567), Pukaki (P3568), Rotoiti (P3569) and Taupo (P3570) were built in Whangarei by BAE Systems Australia. The 55m-long IPVs are designed to patrol the country’s 12-nautical-mile exclusion limit. Their multiple tasks may include the interception and boarding of yachts for Customs, or local and foreign fishing vessels for the Ministry of Fisheries. In essence, the navy is providing platforms from which other government departments with responsibilities in the maritime domain can manage their jurisdictions. The IPVs perform coastal patrols with various government agency personnel onboard, the advantage being that these agencies rather than the RNZN are responsible for any prosecutions. Therefore, navy captains and ships are not tied up in lengthy court proceedings. An IPV will typically deploy on a five-day patrol and then spend a three-day weekend in the nearest harbour. Each IPV is supposed to achieve a 290-day availability level for sea patrols. The Ministry of Fisheries has already reported changes in fishing-fleet operations because of the navy’s increased patrolling capacity. The law enforcement role of the IPVs is confirmed by their scant armament – a single .50-cal machine gun.

Like the Canterbury, the OPVs and IPVs have not been immune to defects. For example, the OPVs have had issues with main engine coolant sealing components, cranes, and high noise levels in some compartments. Furthermore, the OPVs were delivered 300 tonnes overweight with a service life margin below that of contractual obligations. This means future upgrades to the hull, armaments or sensors that add more weight to the vessels could negate the vessels’ ice belt. Operational release for flight operations and Special Forces boat usage remain outstanding. Under the remediation agreement, BAE Systems is replacing all 14 RHIBs on Project Protector vessels.

Frigate backbone
The two Anzac-class frigates – HMNZS Te Mana (F111) and Te Kaha (F77) – form the backbone of the navy’s combat fleet. Introduced in the late 1990s, these ships have a projected lifespan of 30 years. In fact they are the NZDF’s most expensive assets, accounting for more than half the navy’s budget at NZD408 million. Phase I of the Frigate Platform Systems Upgrade (PSU) provided two new MTU 12V1163 TB93 diesel engines (with a combined output of 8,800kW) and uprated gearbox, stability management enhancement (using injected slurry as ballast) and compartment changes (partially enclosing the quarterdeck) with ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems Australia serving as design authority. Greater speed from the new diesels means the gas turbines are used less, with a corresponding increase in range and improved economy rate. Phase I has been completed on both ships.

Phase II of the PSU covers the frigates’ Integrated Platform Management System (IPMS). Siemens (NZ) Ltd will improve engine monitoring and automation, while Noske-Kaesar NZ Ltd will enhance the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system. Work is being carried out in NZ, Australia, Canada and Germany, with this phase commencing on Te Mana in early 2012. The total PSU programme will eventually amount to some 115,000 man-hours. A dry dock managed on behalf of the RNZN by Babcock New Zealand Ltd, and situated within the Devonport Naval Base, is used for maintenance work on RNZN ships via a strategic partnering relationship.

A Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) is the frigates’ last line of self-defence against anti-ship missiles, fast inshore attack craft and strike aircraft. In November 2007, a NZ$25 million contract was signed with Raytheon to upgrade the Phalanx CIWS to Block 1B configuration. The CIWS on Te Mana has been upgraded and accepted, while Te Kaha will undergo acceptance testing in the latter part of 2011. A combat systems upgrade is also imminent under the Frigate Systems Upgrade project. Thales New Zealand is lead contractor for the programme expected to be approved in early 2012, and it will include improvements to the combat management system, and new electro-optic sensor and radar capabilities. Another important future project is a torpedo replacement for use on the frigates, P-3K Orion aircraft and Kaman SH-2G Seasprite helicopters.

The navy operates Seasprite helicopters from the two frigates, and these are due for either midlife upgrades or replacement. The first helicopter was delivered in 2001 with an expected 25-year lifespan. The five helicopters belong to No.6 Squadron based at Whenuapai near Auckland, this RNZAF formation being responsible for the maintenance of naval aviation. Seasprites can also operate from the two OPVs and the Canterbury.

A supporting role
The navy’s only tanker, HMNZS Endeavour (A11), is now 23 years old. In 2008, work was done to double-side the ship, but it is still not double-hulled completely. If the navy is to operate far from home, it needs to be self-sustainable. As spelled out in the Defence White Paper released in November 2010, the navy is in urgent need of a suitable tanker having an offshore reach plus a double-hull to meet the latest maritime regulations. At this stage it is unclear what form the replacement vessel will take – one solution is a dedicated oiler, while the other is a hybrid vessel that combines logistics and multi-role capabilities. Quite likely the navy will opt for the latter type. Whatever the final decision, it will probably be a merchantman by design and is expected to enter service around 2017/18.

The diving tender HMNZS Manawanui (A09) and hydrographic vessel HMNZS Resolution (A14) are to be replaced by a single “littoral warfare support ship” within the next five years. Manawanui carries a decompression chamber, and can operate Sea Eye Falcon remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and REMUS 100 submersibles. It was dispatched to Tonga after the ferry MV Princess Ashika sank in August 2009. A remote mine detection and disposal capability to protect NZ ports is also desirable.

Regional reach
As well as Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) commitments in Southeast Asia, the South Pacific is a key sphere of influence for NZ. The NZDF has deployed operationally to East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands, plus it regularly conducts naval diplomacy in Pacific nations with which it has a unique affinity. While NZ’s territorial defence commitments should remain static for the next 25 years, indications are that global and regional insecurity is likely to grow. This calls for a navy able to deploy quickly and interoperate closely with allies.

The navy’s closest partner is the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), which comes as no surprise. CDR Toms said, “One of the strengths of the RNZN is its ability to work with international navies.” Interestingly, the RNZN has been engaging more with the US Navy (USN) too. In the Pacific Partnership exercise, for example, an American commodore was located aboard HMNZS Canterbury for the Pacific humanitarian mission. It is likely more training will be done with the USN as relations warm at the diplomatic level. “It is easy for the navy to slip into NATO- or US-led naval missions,” explained CDR Toms. To reinforce this assertion, a NZ naval officer has commanded the coalition-led counter-piracy task force known as CTF-151 in the Gulf of Aden for the first time. Captain Jim Gilmour took up the post on 30 June for a three-month period. “New Zealand relies on its sea lanes for nearly all of its trade. Our economy is impacted by piracy, even far from our shores,” Dr. Mapp said, whilst addressing the issue of multilateral counter-piracy efforts. One naval officer revealed that the number of associations with the USN has already “grown significantly” in the past year or two.

Personnel issues
On 1 April this year, the RNZN had 2,116 regular and 333 reserve personnel, assisted by 188 civilians. Last year’s Defence White Paper enjoined spending “reprioritisation” in times of financial austerity, and so the NZDF is cutting approximately 500 seasoned personnel by the end of 2011. At the same time, 280 positions are to be re-designated as civilian in an effort to cut costs . Such a radical cut to a defence force comprising 14,477 active-duty, reserve and civilian personnel is obviously having a hugely detrimental impact on morale.

The first round of redundancies in June this year affected 308 service personnel, although many were invited to reapply for non-uniformed jobs. The navy lost a total of 71 personnel in this first cull. Across the NZDF, long-serving personnel in particular are affected, including 81 officers (14 are lieutenant colonels and 61 are majors). The government wants to save NZD40 million annually through these cuts. With a median length of service being 5.56 years, the RNZN continues to recruit to cover natural attrition rates. “People are very concerned and that is understandable…uncertainty does concern people,” commented Dr. Mapp. A second tranche of jobs will be axed in mid-2012.

However, the navy has not made things any easier for itself following several high-profile embarrassments. Late last year, two drunken crewmen from HMNZS Taupo attacked a home in Nelson during a port call. Further alcohol-fuelled problems were revealed when CDR John Butcher, captain of HMNZS Te Mana, was prosecuted after a drunken escapade whilst on port call in Vanuatu. CDR Butcher was relieved of his command, and ironically, CDR Toms was immediately appointed as captain of the frigate soon after our interview with him.

In another incident, munitions were stolen by a 25-year-old from Kauri Point, the Armament Supply Depot situated in Birkdale. This facility owned by the NZDF was created in 1936, and a 2008 MoD report criticised the state of the depot, saying only two of 41 explosive stores were in good condition. This evaluation followed the writing off of naval gunnery shells worth NZ$12,000 because of leaky roofs. Neither a CCTV system nor more substantial perimeter fences were installed due to a lack of funding.

Obviously embarrassed by this theft, the MoD quickly announced a NZ$7 million upgrade for Kauri Point with new igloo-type ammunition bunkers, upgraded security systems (e.g. fencing, electronic systems and stepped-up patrol regimes) and a modern explosive processing facility. “Kauri Point will get the overhaul it needs to make it a modern facility that best meets the expectations of the community and the requirements of the contemporary defence force,” said the defence minister. This plan will be implemented over the next two years.

As can be seen, Project Protector has seen the navy’s versatility and capability enhanced, yet this has come at a cost. The navy is being expected to perform its duties with vessels that are not always ideal for their allotted tasks, plus it will have to make do with fewer personnel. The MoD states that by 2035 the NZDF will be able to independently deploy amphibious forces in the Pacific, project and sustain a sizeable combat force offshore, and achieve dominance of the country’s maritime domain and South Pacific region. If the RNZN can indeed achieve such a lofty ambition, it can rightly claim “to be the best small-nation navy in the world”!

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The Anzac-class HMNZS Te Kaha, seen here in dry dock in Devonport, is one of only two frigates in the navy. (Gordon Arthur)

Seen at a berth in Devonport on Auckland’s North Shore in July 2011 is one of the two 85m-long OPVs. (Gordon Arthur)

There are four inshore patrol vessels used for coastal patrol and law enforcement. This is the newest one, HMNZS Taupo. (Gordon Arthur)

The hydrographic survey ship HMNZS Resolution is due for replacement well before the end of this decade. (Gordon Arthur)

No.6 Squadron operates five SH-2G Seasprite helicopters. This example was seen aboard a frigate in Lyttelton. (Gordon Arthur)


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