Category : Defence
Author: Thomas Manch

The Defence Force says it wants to move away from “big bang” improvements of its aircraft, and instead join the United States Navy in two-yearly upgrades.

High-ranking defence officials fronted the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee on Thursday to answers MPs questions on billion-dollar acquisitions of aircraft and other defence assets.

The Defence Force also provided reassurances its Boeing 757 were operating safely, reassurances echoed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, after it was reported the planes recorded thousands of faults and six safety incidents since late-2017.

The Defence Force has in the past year faced an “insidious” loss of capability, with aircraft grounded and ships mothballed due to maintenance requirements and insufficient staff.

One of the Defence Force’s 50-year-old C130 Hercules aircraft, in Europe to assist with the movement of military aid to Ukraine.

The acquisition of a Southern Ocean Patrol vessel was deferred earlier this year, to concentrate resources on the arrival of new P8 Poseidon and C130J Hercules aircraft.

Ministry of Defence deputy secretary Mike Yardley​ said the defence agencies wanted to move away from “big leaps” in the capabilities of its major defence assets, and instead continually upgrade its incoming aircraft.

"The way we did defence capability in the past was we will buy something, we wait for it to deteriorate to a sad state ... and then we'll have this big leap. We'll spend a lot of money, big leap and try and get up again, and then it wastes away.”

A Navy offshore patrol vessel in the Southern Ocean.

To maintain the capability of the Poseidon aircraft, the Ministry of Defence wanted to “be part of the United States Navy system of their continual upgrades”.

"They have a path of every two years they are looking to do a hardware upgrade of that aircraft. A portion, a one component part, but every two years they're doing it. Every second year as well, in the interim, they're doing a software upgrade to the system.

“We are wanting to go away from the big-bang side of upgrading our capabilities and look to have a continuous path going into the future to maintain that capability.”


Yardley said the Ministry of Defence sought to defer the acquisition of a Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel, agreed to by Defence Minister Peeni Henare, because more people were needed to work on existing acquisition projects.

Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies, the vice chief of defence, said the Defence Force was “very stretched” to deliver the incoming projects.

He said there was a “very, very high safety bar” when it came to flying the Boeing 757 aircraft, which transport the prime minister on overseas trips.

“If ever we're in doubt, we don't take any shortcuts and fly in a compromised safety position.”

Details of the 757s mechanical faults and maintenance costs, obtained by ACT Party defence spokesperson Dr James McDowall​, show the two aircraft have since October 2017 had a combined total of 1561 mechanical faults occur when the planes were not in planned maintenance.

During maintenance, a total 2733 faults were recorded as occurring.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757.

There had also been six safety incidents requiring the aircraft to divert or abort their task.

“I did fly those aircraft for four years when we first got them, and we were having faults then. It's just common for any aircraft of that size and complexity," Davies said.

He said when Ardern flew in a 757 to Singapore and Japan earlier this year, there were no faults recorded.

Davies said a prior Defence Force study of how long the 757s could stay in operation estimated they would need to be replaced in 2028. However, the Covid-19 pandemic and grounding of aircraft across the world had exacerbated the difficulty in obtaining parts of the 757s, as freight companies stopped using the planes.

“We'll try and get these things out to the promised 2028, but we're going to stay start to see more pressures on that as we get closer to that.”

Ardern, asked about the 757s while travelling in Madrid, Spain, said she had “absolute confidence” in the Defence Force.

"Keep in mind that of course the most critical role that that part of our fleet plays is servicing the needs, often, of the region. Being part of our fleet that's able to deliver aid into the region.

“And we continue to be able to do that regardless of maintenance issues.”

Ardern travelled to Europe on a commercial flight.


Note from Nighthawk.NZ:

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
Powered by OrdaSoft!