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F16s, frigates and other follies

Peace Movement Aotearoa

PO Box 9314, Wellington. Tel (04) 382 8129, fax (04) 382 8173,

Issued 2 August 1999

Kia ora,

Apologies for the delay in sending out this update re the government’s decision last week to go ahead with their lease-to-buy agreement for 28 US F16 warplanes. As well, there are other military purchases in the offing ... a brief mention is made of some of these at the end of this update, there will be more information on others in the next PMA Newsletter due out in the next few weeks.


At the time this lease-to-buy proposal was first disclosed, we sent out several Alerts, as well as commenting on it in our September-October 1998 and December 98-January 99 Newsletters. Our criticisms of the deal covered three main areas, and as none of these has been satisfactorily resolved by government statements on the agreement, we repeat them in updated form below :


At the time the deal was first agreed to, we predicted that the true cost would be higher than had been announced because the costs of retooling, pilot retraining and the comparative running costs were not included in the figures. This view was strengthened by Max Bradford’s appearance on the Holmes show when in response to a question about the comparative running costs of the F16s as opposed to the Skyhawks, he replied -I don’t know. At the same time he continued to insist that the F16s are a bargain price - ‘the deal of the century’.

The first set of figures put the deal at $120 million for the ten year lease and $200 million for spares and reactivation - the figures now being put forward are ‘an average $12.5 million per year’ for the lease, and $238 million (+ GST) for the spares / reactivation package, sub-total $363 million (+ GST). The full cost of retooling etc has still not been made public; and there are still no figures available on running costs - although based on overseas figures it is likely it will cost more than $2000 per hour just for fuel for each warplane. None of the costs of the F16s are included in this year’s armed forces budget of $1.6 billion. At the end of the ten year lease period, if the government wishes to purchase the F16s, that will cost ‘around an additional $287 million’.

In a press release (26 July 99) Max Bradford said ... "the deal is a particularly good one for New Zealand. It gives us near-new aircraft in 2001 at a price we simply couldn’t afford to pass up ... The lease is seen by Treasury as being the "least cost option" to acquire this increase in air combat capability.

Goodness ! surely the ‘least cost option’ is not to lease them in the first place. This idea which Bradford keeps pushing that the F16s are a bargain seems to fall down on two counts : a) we don’t know what the final costs will be; and b) they aren’t a bargain if we don’t need them.


One of the more bizarre things about this agreement is the fact that the decision was made last year just after the release of ‘Inquiry into defence beyond 2000’, the Interim Report of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee. Following an examination of defence ‘needs’, the Committee ranked combat aircraft as the last priority in terms of purchases for the armed forces.

This was emphasised by Derek Quigley (chair of the Committee) in the urgent debate in parliament on 1 December 1998 - "I again have to make the point that the select committee had strike capacity right down at the bottom of the list."

In their more detailed examination of the role of an air combat force, the Committee pointed out that the Skyhawks have never been used in combat, that warplanes are not needed for the defence of New Zealand nor for the protection of our economic exclusion zone. They dismissed the Ministry of Defence’s argument that a justification for retaining an air combat force is to keep fighter pilot skills alive in the RNZAF. They further point out that ... "Air combat forces are expensive to retain and operate (14 per cent of the NZDF budget), and possibly beyond NZ’s economic capacity to keep up to date without detracting from other more necessary military capabilities." Never mind that they detract from other more necessary SOCIAL expenditures !

In terms of the $444,578,000 (+ GST) airforce budget in 1998/99, the air combat force takes up 39.5%, the maritime patrol force 19.38%, fixed wing transport force 26% and rotary wing transport force 15.12% of the total.

The Committee did say, however, that they thought there was some value in having warplanes because their exercises in Australia and as part of the Five Power Defence Arrangement contribute to the maintenance of NZ’s defence relationships. If NZ were ever to be equipped with F16s they added, some Asian defence attaches had suggested ... "their countries air forces would be interested in visiting NZ to exercise with the RNZAF".

Well, there you go - we don’t need them, but we’ll have them anyway whether we like it or not, and maybe then some other air forces will come and play here too.


The real reasons for the agreement seem to hinge around the current NZ government’s sycophantic approach to the US government. If they sign this agreement, then Clinton might come to the Auckland APEC meeting; the US government might be nice to us - this latter being most obvious in Max Bradford’s press statements last week when he said that if this agreement hadn’t been signed, the US tariffs on NZ lamb imports might have been higher ! Spare us - might as well have just given the $400 million direct to the farmers and saved on the long-term running costs of the F16s.

As well, the recent mutterings of ‘closer defence ties’ between the US and NZ lead one to wonder yet again about the reviving of ANZUS and how this lease agreement ties into that.

There is also the worrying possibility that these warplanes will enable the NZ airforce in the future to go off and join the US airforce in attacking whoever their enemies of the day are. In the government press release backgrounder (26 July 99) enthusing about the wonders of the F16s, there is the following sickening statement : "In the Gulf war US Air Force F16s flew more sorties than any other aircraft, successfully attacking Iraqi airfields, military production facilities, Scud missile sites and a variety of other targets. It performed with equal distinction in the Kosovo campaign against the Serbs."

That release goes on to say : ' The F-16s that will fly for the RNZAF will have three combat roles - close air support, air interdiction and maritime strike. The aircraft will be able to support our troops on the ground, or those of our allies, by destroying tanks and other armoured vehicles, attack bridges and supply dumps, and disable enemy warships in defence of our or our allies' naval forces.

The F-16s have the power and range to enforce UN sanctions and 'no-fly' zones, should New Zealand again commit forces to international peacekeeping operations. They would be vital to the defence of our coastline and sea-lanes in the unlikely event that our territory was ever threatened. They might also be used to intercept potential poachers of the fish and mineral resources of our EEZ, the fourth largest in the world.”

There are suspicions that the F16 deal is also designed to appease the Australian government following the decision not to purchase a third ANZAC class frigate from them - given that at least half of the F16s will be based in Australia, that makes a certain sense.

Indeed, the airforce backgrounder entitled ‘Why do we need an air combat force’ has as its number 1 justification ... "New Zealand is committed to helping Australia. The NZ strike air force is a very significant factor in helping Australia protect its navy as well as our own. Under the Nowra Agreement NZ has a long-standing duty to provide vital training to the Royal Australian Navy. Our air combat resources would be provided to assist Australia in time of need; air combat aircraft are usually the first assets deployed during conflict are always short in supply [sic]."

What the other half are going to be used for ... well, who knows ? Given that their range (without air refuelling) is only 926 kilometres, perhaps they will fly up and down the length of the country looking for tanks to destroy and enemy warships to disable ? Finally on the F16s, some of the public criticism of the agreement is focussed around such a major expenditure being agreed to only months before a general election - particularly as Labour, the Alliance and the Green Party are opposed to the deal. Furthermore, once the Letter of Offer and Acceptance is signed (later this month, probably by Doug Graham on a visit to Washington) it will be quite difficult to get out of as there are clauses requiring 180 days notice of intention to terminate and the planes to be returned to the state they were in when the lease was signed. That work would be done at NZ’s expense.


Max Bradford’s announcement of the purchase of a fifth Seasprite helicopter (see 3 below) has revived concerns that this may be in preparation for a decision to go ahead with purchasing a third ANZAC frigate. As Keith Locke (Green Party) has pointed out, Bradford has stated a fifth Seasprite is needed for a three frigate navy ...

We understand that the navy is still looking at various options for frigates to replace Wellington and Canterbury when they are phased out of service, including second hand US frigates. At this point in time there is no confirmation that the government is again considering another ANZAC class frigate.


Helicopters - for reasons which are not entirely clear, Bradford has announced that a fifth Seasprite helicopter will be purchased from Kaman Aerospace at a cost of $43 million (+ GST); a further $20 million (+ GST) will be paid for spares, support equipment and air-to-surface missiles.

The announcement said the purchase was to ... 'avoid a penalty of between $14 and $32 million should the purchase be deferred'. Implying that this helicopter is the ‘second best deal of the century’ perchance ? Apparently we have to have five, not four (as originally planned and budgeted for) helicopters because of "maintenance, training, or losses from accidents and hostile action".

Is it just us or have you all noticed an obsession with the idea of actually using warplanes and helicopters in combat in these recent Bradford releases ?

Military alliances and spending (Aotearoa/NZ)
F16s, frigates and other follies
Stop killing the people of Iraq
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