NZDF OPV in Southern Ocean - Credit NZDF

S.O.P.V. G.E.T.S. Sunk

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

  1. 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.

  1. 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:

NZDF OPV in Southern Ocean - Credit NZDF
NZDF OPV in Southern Ocean – Credit NZDF

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Opposition parties – publicly state that you will reinvigorate the defence capability plan once you are government next year.
  4. 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 who alerted me to the change on G.E.T.S. Keep up the fight, brother!

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