Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel Sunk by Labour
The Ides of March is best known in history for the assassination of Julius Caesar (in 44 BC). In 2022, 15 March marked a turning point in defence force acquisition for New Zealand. There was no media stand-up and smiling announcement from PM Ardern or Defence Minister Henare. Just an entry on the NZ Government Electronic Tender Service stating the project was canned:
“The Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel project was initiated to examine and assess the value of an ice-capable vessel that would provide dedicated patrol and support capabilities in Aotearoa New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the Southern Ocean, and the Ross Sea.
In 2021, the Ministry of Defence undertook a formal Request for Information (RFI) with industry to support the development of a business case for a new Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel. In light of the ongoing impact resulting from COVID 19 further work is not being undertaken at this stage as Defence seeks to confirm investment priorities and to reprioritise resources (author’s highlighting).
Date RFx was completed/updated: Tuesday, 15 March 2022 11:29 AM (Pacific/Auckland UTC+13:00)”
Why is this significant? Because, without saying a word to the public, the Labour government has cancelled one of the most important acquisition projects in the 2019 Defence Capability Plan. Here’s how it is described:
Investment decisions planned for 2023
Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel
- The Navy’s existing patrol capabilities are not able to meet
the changing requirements of New Zealand’s maritime
domain. The inshore and offshore patrol vessel have
provided significant value during their service lives, but
are increasingly operationally limited as the ships age
and regulations evolve. With expectations to operate
with increasing frequency in the South Pacific and the
Southern Ocean, the existing vessels do not provide the
optimal fleet for our maritime domain.
- Acquisition of a Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel will occur
in the mid-2020s. The new vessel will provide dedicated
patrol capabilities to other Government agencies within
New Zealand’s sovereign waters and the Southern
Ocean. Built to commercial standards, the vessel will
significantly increase the level of capability and safety for
operations in the Southern Ocean, allowing for a broader
patrol area and the ability to stay within fishing grounds for
greater durations. This will allow the remaining offshore
patrol vessels greater capacity to respond in the Pacific.
If you need a visual example of why an SOPV is needed, check out this pic from 2015 of HMNZS Otago in the Southern Ocean on fisheries patrol in winds over 148kph and 15 metre swells:
If the government’s loose budgetary management of covid is to be applied to all current defence acquisition programmes, then we are entering a grim era in NZ Defence Force acquisition. Is this what Henare meant when he said he was ‘going to put a very Labour stamp on the defence portfolio?’
Cutting back on defence acquisitions is completely contrary to the government’s recent positions on China becoming an increasing threat in the Indo-Pacific, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine as well as illegal fishing, smuggling and people trafficking.
It also ignores the fact that major acquisitions like the SOPV take years to become operational. By this action, is the government saying that it doesn’t believe its own rhetoric regarding the country’s economy being back in balance in a matter of a couple of years?
So, my closing messages are these:
- Defence Chiefs – speak up publicly, for God’s sake, for once! You can only lose your retirement Queen’s honours once but you will at least have your integrity.
- Minister – hand your Matua’s medals back to the whanau, give up the pretence that you are even vaguely competent in the defence portfolio and focus on your passion which is clearly Māori housing and health.
- Opposition parties – publicly state that you will reinvigorate the defence capability plan once you are government next year.
- Service personnel and veterans – write to your MPs, local media and online channels. Tell them your story. Tell them how your two votes in 2023 are connected to their choices about defence capability and veteran support. If you don’t wish to be identified personally, send your message to me and I will aggregate the response without naming you. We need a Defence Force Association to lobby our corner on behalf of all Kiwis!
Finally – hat tip to @ngatimozart at defencetalk.com who alerted me to the change on G.E.T.S. Keep up the fight, brother!
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