With budgets ever tightening and governments seeking new ways to make their money stretch further, Rob Neil hypothesises about how the New Zealand government might potentially decrease its defence spending while simultaneously increasing the RNZAF’s air transport capabilities.
Publication Type: Magazine Article
Authors: Rob Neil
Source: Pacific Wings Magazine, Volume 79, Issue 8 (2011)
Abstract: <p>With budgets ever tightening and governments seeking new ways to make their money stretch further, Rob Neil hypothesises about how the New Zealand government might potentially decrease its defence spending while simultaneously increasing the RNZAF’s air transport capabilities.</p>
Parent Issue: 323 Not only is the cost of maintaining national air defence forces increasing all the time but also the pace at which technology
advances is increasing at an almost exponential rate. This combination
makes it almost impossible for even large and well-funded air arms to
remain completely self-sufficient in terms of providing the expertise
necessary to maintain modern equipment.
As a result, “outsourcing” has become more than just a buzzword
around the world and is assuming increasing importance for
air forces everywhere; even the US and the UK are delegating more
and more of their previously “sacrosanct” military functions to
For some time, New Zealand has been moving further down the
outsourcing path for its Air Force; indeed, in its Strategic Plan, the
RNZAF says, “…we will look to new and non-traditional methods to
move forward.” Already, the RNZAF’s basic training fleet of Pacific
Aerospace CT-4E Airtrainers is leased, with Pacific Aerospace
As air defence budgets in Western countries continue to shrink, it becomes ever more important to maximise
the value of every defence dollar. Nowhere is this more important than in a small country like New Zealand.
for the RNZAF?
A “Grizzly” Future
maintaining the aircraft. Likewise, No. 42 Squadron’s Beechcraft B200
King Airs are also leased and are maintained externally by civilian
contractors. The RNZAF has discovered that it is operationally as well
as commercially practical to outsource the work of maintaining its
essential equipment. Just recently, the RNZAF announced plans to
“civilianise” more of its non-core functions. In times as tough as they
are at present, I suggest this need not be such a bad thing.
The modern RNZAF is a very different entity than it was a few years
ago and it is probably fair to say it will never again field a frontline
strike force. As sad as this might be for aviators to accept, today’s
RNZAF is a pragmatic reflection of New Zealand’s economy as well
as the country’s status as a peaceful nation in the South Pacific. It
makes sense for New Zealand’s Air Force to focus on looking after
the country’s economic interests (maritime patrol), provide reliable
and capable air transport for New Zealand military personnel and
provide vital humanitarian assistance throughout the region rather
than spend money on advanced combat aircraft that might seldom—if
ever—be called upon to fight.
It is not an ideal situation—it is historically proven folly to abrogate
national defence—but the reality is that New Zealand is just too small
to be able to afford to do everything itself. It makes more sense for
New Zealand to be a partner within a strong alliance than it does for
the country to try and do everything alone.
With that in mind, if New Zealand is to be valued as a partner in its
alliances, then it needs to have adequate resources at its disposal to
contribute meaningfully. I suggest the time has come—or is rapidly
approaching—when this means that the RNZAF’s existing transport
fleet will need to be replaced.
The RNZAF has been extremely sensible about how it has spent its
money and, as its strategic plan states, “We will continually ensure that
our people, finances, infrastructure and equipment are all employed
to optimum efficiency. Concurrently, we will continue to explore
new avenues, such as private/public partnerships, to develop our
organisation in order to continue delivering military air operations for
our country; after all, this is our sole purpose and reason for being.”
This writer suggests that the most effective contribution the RNZAF
could make to an ongoing future with its historical allies (the USA,
UK and Australia) would be with a modern and capable air transport
fleet of both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. With a modern and highly
capable helicopter fleet already established and about to enter service,
perhaps it is time for the RNZAF to re-assess its fixed-wing assets
with a view to the long-term future.
In addition to its basic trainers (CT-4E Airtrainers) and advanced
navigational trainers (Beechcraft B200 King Airs), the RNZAF
currently operates the following fixed-wing aircraft: two Boeing 757-
200s, five Lockheed C-130H Hercules and six Lockheed P-3K Orions.
The two 757s are both 18 years old and first flew in 1993, while the
C-130s and Orions are all nearly half a century old and were all built
in the 1960s. Indeed, New Zealand’s first three C-130s were the first
C-130H models ever built by Lockheed.
All of the RNZAF’s large fixed-wing aircraft have undergone
significant modernisation and improvement programmes throughout
their lives, which—combined with a high degree of professionalism
and competence from the RNZAF’s engineering staff—has allowed
them to remain operationally effective. However, even the best
attention from the most competent staff cannot negate the effects of
time; these aircraft are old! To put their age in perspective, think of
the young pilots who flew them when they first entered service; most
for the RNZAF?
Left: The A400M “Grizzly” as it might conceivably look in
RNZAF service (Pacific Wings’ artistic licence applied to an
original image supplied by Airbus Military).
Above: Just these four RNZAF aircraft represent a combined
service of something like 150 years. The combined service of
all the RNZAF’s C-130s, P-3s and B757s is somewhere around
530 years! (Rob Neil)
Article by Rob Neil. Images courtesy of Airbus Military
of the young pilots who first flew New Zealand’s first C-130s would
now be over 70 years old.
With no way to escape the inevitability of time, in 2003, the New
Zealand government committed to upgrading its C-130s in order to
keep them serviceable until at least 2017. The C-130s’ Life Extension
Programme (LEP) involves significant refurbishment and structural
modification, installing modern glass cockpits, and extensive
replacement of communications and navigation equipment. The
(nominal) cost of this LEP was set at NZ$234 million. Like so many
major upgrade/overhaul/modification programmes, the LEP ran
into difficulties, which delayed the programme by more than two
years. It is important to note that these delays were nothing to do
with the RNZAF, but nevertheless, they typified the difficulties of
incorporating modern technology and systems in outdated platforms.
The RNZAF’s near-half-century-old Orions have already had their
avionics and radio systems upgraded (under project RIGEL in the
1980s) but they now require a further upgrade to their mission,
communication and navigation systems. The cost of this lengthy
programme is NZ$352 million.
When their respective upgrades are eventually complete, there is
no doubt that RNZAF’s C-130s and P-3s will be amongst the best
of their types in the world—and dedicated RNZAF personnel will
undoubtedly take pride in keeping them in prime condition. However,
they will still be old aircraft.
New Zealand’s politicians didn’t hesitate to accept the “necessity” of
acquiring the latest technology in their 7-series BMW parliamentary
limousines when it would have been far cheaper to refurbish a fleet
of 1965 Holden Premiers. That being so, how can it be acceptable for
the country’s defence personnel—men and women who put their
lives on the line for the New Zealand public—to continue to operate
vintage aircraft amidst the threats of a 21st century world?
I believe the country’s politicians need to re-think their long-term
strategy for the future RNZAF but I suggest there might just be a better
way of doing things than has been done historically.
Above: One of two RNZAF Boeing 757s, which require lengthy, sealed
runways that limit their military (and disaster response) usefulness. (Rob Neil)
Left: 1: Even with its LEP, the venerable and much-loved C-130H Hercules
cannot endure indefinitely. (Rob Neil) 2: A Kiwi P-3K Orion. Chile is replacing its
Orions with Airbus Military C295s. (Rob Neil) 3: The RNZAF’s Beechcraft King
Airs and Pacific Aerospace Airtrainers are all leased and their maintenance
outsourced—a foretaste of the future RNZAF fleet, perhaps? (Rob Neil)
4: If New Zealand’s politicians did what they force their Air Force to do
to, they would refurbish 1965-era cars (like this Holden Premier) for their
HYPOTHETICAL ANSWERSHypothetical Answers
If New Zealand were to enter into a contract for Full In-Service
Support (FISS) or Integrated Mission Support Services (IMSS) with
Airbus Military for an appropriate fleet of new aircraft, the RNZAF
would be able to get rid of all if its existing fixed-wing aircraft—
without having to buy any new ones outright. Under an FISS model,
dedicated new aircraft could be supplied with guarantees of fixed
budget and spares availability. Extending the “outsourcing” further,
under the IMSS model, Airbus Military could provide virtually
everything from supply chain management, depth and forward
maintenance, fleet management, mission training, aircrew and
resource management, mission planning and operations and even—
in the case of non-combat roles like oceanic surveillance—operate
With no maintenance, engineering, logistical or availability
headaches to worry about, the RNZAF would be free to focus entirely
on its core operational functions. For example, at a time when the
world’s ocean resources—New Zealand’s being prime targets—are
being raped and plundered with reckless disregard by visiting foreign
pillagers, the large amount of money saved on maintaining ancient
aircraft fleets could be better spent on increasing surveillance of
New Zealand’s economic exclusion zone using smaller, lighter, more
economical aircraft than the current P-3K Orion.
I can already hear screams of outrage from readers thinking I am
denigrating the venerable P-3 and the good work it has done—and
continues to do—around the world. Rest assured, nothing could
be further from my mind; I love the Orion and have tremendous
admiration for the thousands of Orion crews around the world who
have saved lives, prevented disasters and protected national interests.
New Zealand’s Orion crews, in particular, have located countless lost
sailors and saved many lives during thousands of long over-water
patrols and searches However, I suggest that—for New Zealand, at
least—with the advent of more economical, more cost-efficient and
equally capable smaller modern aircraft, the P-3 is “overkill” in terms
of both capability and economic practicality.
New Zealand doesn’t hunt or destroy too many submarines these
days and, while the P-3’s extremely useful range of around 3,850 nm
and endurance of up to 15 hours provide it with the means to patrol
the furthest reaches of the country’s sphere of influence—including
as far afield as Antarctica—the Orion is an expensive beast to operate.
In an era when fuel prices are even affecting the way the US military
conducts its operations, the Orion’s four ancient 4,600 shp Allison T-56
engines are expensive to feed and maintain, and its elderly systems and
worn components require constant attention and lots of maintenance
to keep the aircraft fully operational.
While America’s Navy might be able to afford to replace its P-3s
with P-8 Poseidon aircraft, New Zealand does not need and cannot
afford the increased capability and cost of new P-8s. I suggest an
eminently suitable alternative to the Orion for New Zealand would
be the Airbus Military C295.
The Airbus Military C295 first flew in 1997; it is an enlarged version
of the CASA/IPTN CN235, which was originally designed and built
by Spain’s CASA and Indonesia’s IPTN, and first flew in 1983. Both
aircraft are now built by Airbus Military in Spain.
Top: The Airbus Military CN235 MPA in US Coast Guard service.
Above: A CN235 of the Spanish Air Force.
Below: The C295 is capable of every task currently undertaken by the
P-3 Orion; here, a C295 MPA ASW drops a torpedo.
With 78 C295s already in service of more than 80 ordered by
military customers around the world (more than 270 CN235s have
also been ordered by military, paramilitary and civil customers
globally), the type is proving itself to be both operationally efficient
and cost-effective for nations with limited defence budgets. The
C295’s current customers include: Algeria (six aircraft), Brazil
(12 aircraft), Chile (three aircraft—notably, to replace Chile’s P-3
Orions—and five options), Colombia (four aircraft), Czech Republic
(four aircraft), Egypt (three aircraft), Finland (three aircraft and four
options), Jordan (two aircraft), Mexico (nine aircraft), Poland (12
aircraft), Portugal (12 aircraft) and Spain (13 aircraft).
Unlike the largely single-purpose, runway-dependent P-3 Orion,
the C295 is a multi-role aircraft that is capable of operating from
unprepared strips in austere environments and without extensive
support (as is the CN235). Designed to accommodate various
palletised mission modules, both the C295 and CN235 can operate
as long-range maritime patrol aircraft like the Orion—with all the
Orion’s sophisticated capabilities. Thus the C295 (or the even more
economical CN235) could either replace the Orion (as has happened
in Chile), or alternatively, be introduced as a support aircraft to the
Orion. In either case, by removing the modular mission equipment
via the useful rear-loading ramps fitted to both the CN235 and C295,
they could still be converted rapidly for use in such roles as tactical
airlift, paratroop deployment, medevac or VIP transport.
The C295 is an extremely modern aircraft compared to the Orion.
Importantly, it is fully certified under both military and civil
certification requirements, meaning there are no restrictions as to
where it can operate throughout the world. As expected, the C295
has a modern glass cockpit with advanced integrated avionics and is
fully compatible with night vision goggles.
With two modern Pratt and Whitney PW127G engines of 2,920
shp each, the C295 burns far less fuel than an Orion and, compared
Above, from left: A Brazilian Air Force C295; The C295 is
capable of operating from unprepared airfields; A rear
loading ramp (fitted to both the C295 and the CN235) is an
invaluable feature for military transports; The modern glass
cockpit of the C295.
Right: A Portuguese C295 in flight.
Right middle: A C295 conducting parachute operations.
Far right: A C295 of the Mexican Navy on humanitarian
relief work in Haiti.
to an Orion, would save a significant amount on fuel within a very
short space of time. Furthermore, the C295 is also capable of in-
flight refuelling, making its already considerable ferry range of 2,850
nm purely academic. Even with its standard fuel, the C295 has an
endurance of around 10 hours. However, if necessary, with aerial
refuelling, a C295 could remain on station for as long as its human
occupants could bear—something the RNZAF’s Orions cannot do.
A valuable additional feature of the C295 is the propeller brake fitted
to its left engine, which allows the engine’s gas generator to function
as an APU on the ground. This is cheaper, lighter and simpler than
having a separate APU fitted and it eliminates the requirement for a
ground power unit or external power supply.
The C295 is very similar in size to the Hawker Siddeley Andovers
that the RNZAF operated between 1976 and 1998. The Andover was a
useful type for the RNZAF within New Zealand but although it could
carry a useful payload of around 6.9 tonnes, with this maximum
payload aboard, it had an almost laughable range of only just over
300 nautical miles. Even empty, it only had a ferry range of around
1,100 nm, which was nowhere near adequate in view of New Zealand’s
rather isolated geographical location. By comparison, in addition to its
2,850 nm ferry range, the C295 can carry its much greater maximum
payload of 9.25 tonnes for 720 nm. (The smaller CN235 carries almost
as much as the Andover did (5,950 kg) but can carry it for 970 nm and
has an empty ferry range of 2,730 nm.)
Since 1998, the RNZAF has had to use its C-130s for loads that
might previously have been carried more economically aboard the
smaller Andover. I suggest that C295s—or perhaps a mix of C295s
and CN235s—would provide an ideal medium airlift solution to
plug the gap that has been left unfilled since the withdrawal of the
Andovers. With the (currently leased) Beechcraft King Air B200s
due for replacement in the near future, there might also be a case for
considering the C212 as their replacement. Not only would the C212
Far left: Royal Korean Air Force CN235 unloading
supplies via its rear cargo ramp.
Left: A French CN235 at an RNZAF Open Day at
Whenuapai in 2009. (Rob Neil)
Right: One of the Andovers operated by the RNZAF
until 1998. (Rob Neil)
make an appropriate advanced pilot trainer instead of the King Air,
but also, as it is equipped with a rear loading door, the C212 would
be a truly useful light tactical transporter and parachute trainer for
the New Zealand Defence Force.
As for New Zealand’s trustworthy stalwart C-130s, I suggest that
by the time they have served out the extended lives offered by the
LEP, they will be well and truly past their “use-by” date. I suggest
the best replacement for the C-130 would be another Airbus Military
aircraft—the A400M “Grizzly”.
Before readers (and politicians and their accountants) throw up their
hands in horror at the cost of new A400Ms, or suggest that these highly
capable aircraft might be “overkill” for New Zealand, I suggest they
think of the bigger picture. One needs only consider recent events in
the South Pacific, such as tsunamis and floods—and New Zealand’s
own disaster with Christchurch’s earthquake—to appreciate the value
of an aircraft capable of carrying 37 tonnes over long distances at
high speed and able to operate from unprepared airfields. Not only is
the RNZAF’s Boeing 757’s payload almost 15 tonnes less than that of
the A400M but also the Boeing 757 requires lengthy sealed runways.
In view of New Zealand’s increasingly frequent responses to
humanitarian disasters around the South Pacific and its contributions
to peacekeeping efforts around the world—as well as its efforts as a
military ally in conflicts like Afghanistan—I suggest that the heavy
airlift capability of an aircraft like the A400M is not a luxury but is
becoming ever more essential. With a laudable “can-do” attitude,
the RNZAF has always made do with the resources at its disposal.
However, its two ageing 757s are expensive to maintain and operate—
they were never designed as military aircraft—and the fleet of elderly
C-130s is, and will inevitably continue to be, increasingly unreliable.
Once again, this is no criticism of the RNZAF, which has achieved
things many other air arms would probably not have attempted.
However, one cannot help wondering how much easier things would
have been in the wake of Christchurch’s recent earthquakes, for
example, if the RNZAF had the airlift capability a couple of A400Ms
would have provided.
It is not just the A400M’s payload that is superior to both the C-130
and the Boeing 757 (37 tonnes, compared to 20 and 22.4 tonnes
respectively), but also its cargo volume; at 340 m3, the A400M has more
than 60% more space than the C-130 (127 m3) and more than 30%
more than the 757 (230 m3). It is possible to fit very big things—like
trucks and cranes—into an A400M.
Another advantage of the A400M for New Zealand would be its
capability to be configured (within two hours) as a refuelling tanker
(all A400Ms are built with this capability). Thus, I suggest a pair of
A400Ms would not only provide New Zealand with essential heavy
airlift capability, but they would also provide the ability for an RNZAF
fleet of CN235s/C295s to travel anywhere in the world with relative ease.
The A400M’s impressive high-speed capability (M0.72) and its speed
range confers it with exceptional flexibility. For example, in refuelling
configuration, it is equally at home refuelling fast jets (or aircraft
like the CN235/C295) or dawdling along refuelling helicopters—not
forgetting that the RNZAF’s new NH90 helicopters are capable of air–
air refuelling. Furthermore, the A400M’s refuelling capability would
provide additional value to New Zealand’s allies in the event their
aircraft needed refuelling capability in our part of the world. At present,
any visiting US aircraft that require aerial refuelling necessitate the US
sending tanker aircraft halfway around the world to accompany them.
Right about now, I imagine politicians and their bean counters having
apoplectic fits at the thought of funding such seemingly “preposterous”
notions. However, they need not do so. Firstly, they need to bear in
mind how much money is required to upgrade existing fleets. In
reality, this will only ever provide stopgap “band-aid” measures, as
even the best efforts of the most dedicated RNZAF personnel will not
keep vintage aeroplanes operational indefinitely.
A recent visit to Airbus Military’s facilities in Spain has led this
writer to believe that a viable alternative to “conventional” methods
of funding and supporting air forces lies in Airbus Military’s FISS and
IMSS models. Airbus Military has developed these models in line with
its stated vision to be “the premier European provider of global support
and related services for military transport and mission aircraft.”
Above: Its ability to refuel in flight gives the C295 a global reach.
Above, centre and right: Airbus Military (previously CASA) C212s of the Chilean Air Force (centre image) and the
Mexican Navy. Might the C212 be a suitable replacement for the King Air in RNZAF service?
Right: An A400M above a landscape devastated by natural disaster—this photomontage highlights the growing global
need for heavy airlift capability in humanitarian relief operations.
Far right: The cockpit of the A400M.
I suggest that not only might the RNZAF’s future air transport
requirements be met by a combination of Airbus Military aircraft,
but also that Airbus Military’s FISS and IMSS models are consistent
with the “we will look to new and non-traditional methods to move
forward” aspect of the RNZAF’s Strategic Plan. I suggest that the
RNZAF might obtain more modern and more transport aircraft than
it ever has before and that it might be able to do cost-effectively—even
in such tight economic times.
Airbus Military’s FISS and IMSS provide the company’s customers
with a comprehensive range of options ranging from “traditional”
product support, all the way through to contracting for availability
and mission success. Airbus Military’s services are fully customisable;
depending on a customer’s requirements, it can supply anything from a
green aircraft, technical documentation and spares all the way through
to a “turnkey” model of supplying, operating and crewing an aircraft
or fleet of aircraft, complete with guarantees of service and availability.
With guarantees in place for things like specified numbers of hours
or mission readiness, the RNZAF would immediately dispense with
all the headaches of maintaining aircraft, engineering facilities and
stocks of spares, and providing and training support staff—all of which
are heavily resource dependent and expensive.
The FISS and now the IMSS models of operation are increasing
around the world. Perhaps the most notable example to date is the
RAF’s new multi-role tankers, which the RAF will not own but will
contract under a “Private Finance Initiative”. This will involve a private
consortium (headed by Airbus Military’s parent company EADS)
supplying the aircraft, providing all the necessary infrastructure and
ground services to support them, maintaining the aircraft and even
arranging to charter the aircraft out when they are not required by
the RAF! In this instance, Airbus Military is the lead shareholder with
EADS (28%) in the in-service support contract, along with Rolls-Royce
(22.33%), Thales (22.33%), VT Group (22.33%) and Cobham (5%). In
other instances, Airbus Military can offer this service directly—or can
provide it in conjunction with a local partner or partners.
If this all sounds like a sales pitch for Airbus Military, it is not.
Quite simply, some very clever people in Airbus Military are going
all out to provide unbeatable “one-stop-shop” services that balance
the global realities of financial restrictions with operational defence
requirements. Today, the lines between strictly “military” and “civil”
operations frequently overlap with the ever increasing need for nations
to respond to humanitarian crises—whether man-made or natural
disasters—around the world. Increasingly, governments’ various
military assets are becoming vital tools in civil aid response measures
and, as the world’s population grows, the need for “military-civil” air
transport will continue to increase accordingly.
Despite New Zealand’s small size and population, it is unquestionably
a leading nation in the South Pacific. Both as a military ally
(of Australia, the US and the UK) and in its position as a leading
South Pacific nation, there is no escaping the fact that, sooner or
later, New Zealand is going to have to go shopping for replacements
for the RNZAF’s transport fleet. I suggest that when it does so,
the shopping trip should definitely include a lengthy “browse” in
the Airbus Military store, and should include serious discussions
about FISS and IMSS solutions to New Zealand’s budgetary and
Above: Two A400Ms in formation in Spanish sky—or was that “over Whenuapai”?