THE NZ CHAPTER OF THE AUSTRALIAN NAUTICAL INSTITUTE

  • Paul East
Defence

DEVONPORT NAVAL BASE, AUCKLAND

Mr President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to address you this evening.

New Zealand's place in the world is defined by a surprisingly small number of geographic constants; three by my count. First, we are an island - the great sweeps of empty ocean which roll in on our southern shores both protect and separate us from our markets. Second, we are an isolated country, perhaps the most isolated of any developed society. The small island nations of the South Pacific, some of which we have a constitutional duty to defend, are all as distant from us as London is from Cairo. Third, Australia, our nearest continental land mass, our closest and most important security partner, our friend and our ally, can only reinforce us in any major conflict of the future, and we them, by sea.

These are important facts, yet they are often overlooked. The sea separates us from the Asia- Pacific, American and European communities into which our commercial, manufacturing and other enterprises are increasingly integrated, and to which, therefore, our fortunes, our nationhood, and our honour are intimately tied. He who would conquer Australia, or New Zealand, must first master the sea. And he who would contribute to our defence must also control the seas.

New Zealand is isolated by sea from both its markets and its sources of foreign investment, immigrant skills and all the other requirements of a modern economy. It must maintain, promote and defend its interests over uniquely large expanses of distance and water.

The 1991 White Paper, The Defence of New Zealand, reinforced the point. It spoke of the huge distances and empty tracts of ocean over which our goods must travel and over which any future threat to our community would materialise. Accordingly, it said, New Zealand needed maritime forces with substantial reach and endurance, and sufficient combat power to deter and, if necessary, control our approaches.

The size of our Exclusive Economic Zone, our interests in the ocean fisheries and sea beds which surround us, and the importance of our Antarctic interests, said the White Paper, made well-equipped maritime forces a must for New Zealand. A modern "blue-water" Navy, it said, had to be able to operate, fight and endure in the extremes of weather and in the severe sea states which characterise the Southern Oceans.

Deploying our land forces through and across these oceans requires a number of what the White Paper called "strategic deployment assets." They include strategic air transport for speed of response, and a military sealift ship to carry the stores and heavy equipment needed to sustain any force we deploy. They include long range maritime patrol for surveillance and fighter aircraft for maritime strike operations.

They include effective communications and intelligence networks that can plug into allied systems and share in and contribute to the common picture. They include shared doctrines for joint and combined operations. They include the ability to organise and keep open the supply lines on which these forces depend. In simple terms, this means well-equipped mine-hunting vessels, ocean-going replenishment ships, diving and underwater explosives experts - to name but a few. Again, all of these things are dictated by the maritime facts that are part and parcel of our geography.

But the argument for effective defence forces goes wider than training and equipment. If we as New Zealanders have any ambition at all to shape our future, and that of the region in which we live, an effective defence force - with a strong naval component - is not a luxury but an absolute requirement. We can let others decide what the future may hold, whether it be future governments in Canberra, Tokyo or Beijing, or we can have a hand on the steering wheel. The choice is ours.

The strategy we have chosen to give effect to all of this is outlined in the 1991 White Paper. It's called Self Reliance in Partnership and it remains as relevant now as it was in 1991. Self-Reliance in Partnership is not, as some academic commentators have claimed, an irreconcilable set of ideas. We need to be as self-reliant as we can in meeting those tasks for which no one else can be expected to take a large interest - for example, policing the assets of our EEZ and our other offshore resources.

But for the more serious threats to our security which could emerge, we will continue to need to rely on a collective response. The ability to meet higher level threats, or to respond to regional and global demands, requires us to maintain effective defence and security partnerships.

History, geography, and close ties of family and culture point first to our friends and partners across the Tasman. Australia and New Zealand form a single strategic entity. A threat to one would be a threat to the other requiring, inevitably, a combined, effective and timely response.

The key requirement remains the same as in 1991: balanced and flexible forces, capable of operating independently in and around New Zealand for those tasks on which our sovereignty but no one else's depends. Forces capable of working with the forces of friends and partners in the region and further afield to support regional and global security.

Here, interoperability - working effectively with our mates-in-arms - is the key. And nowhere is it more important than when our forces work with the Australians, on operations in defence of Australia and New Zealand, and with the United States in a wider regional and global context.

As we saw in the Gulf War, interoperability is now the decisive factor in combat. Success or failure on the modern battlefield is dependent on the ability of the forces contributing to a coalition operation to work together safely, effectively and to a common purpose. Coalitions of the willing, and the able, and the well informed.

Interoperability on the battlefield of the 21st Century is not as simple as it sounds. It requires a shared understanding of the commander's tactical thinking, and how he (or she) intends to go about the task at hand. It requires communications and sensor systems which can talk to each other and contribute to a common intelligence and tactical picture. It requires an understanding of doctrine, the how and why an operation is to be carried out in a particular way. It requires compatible " Friend or Foe" identification procedures and systems and logistic arrangements that are mutually supporting.

At a frontline level, interoperability requires maritime helicopters which can land safely on the ships of coalition partners; maritime patrol aircraft which can talk to the surface ships of allied nations and share in combined tasking; strike aircraft which can be directed by allied ground or naval forces.

But interoperability is not just a matter of compatible equipment and shared doctrine. It requires the maintenance of skills which can only be gained from constant practice and involvement with the forces of likely coalition partners. This is why we place such a high premium on joint exercising with Australian forces and with our partners in the Five Power Defence Arrangements.

Which brings the United States directly into the picture. The reality is that the United States is not only the most likely coalition leader, it is in fact the only possible coalition leader in any substantial contingency affecting the security of the region. This is why we would value the opportunity, when the time is once again judged to be right, to exercise with United States forces.

Coalitions of the willing and the able - in particular, winning coalitions - cannot be created from thin air or conjured from the depths of the oceans. Successful coalitions in war need the solid ground of prior preparation, exercise and understanding that can only flow from constant practise in peace.

These realities have long since doomed the citizen armies, the non-professional fighting forces, that New Zealand once sent away to war, and with such fearful casualties. The impact of technology on the modern battlefield is such that it is no longer possible - indeed it is entirely out of the question - to raise a citizens' army to meet threats as and when they emerge.

Think for a moment of the fighter pilots who must lead tactical formations, carry out their assigned tasks and come home with their boots on. Think of the weapons officers in a ship's combat operations centre; the soldiers in charge of modern battlefield weapons. All these need substantial periods of training - in many cases 15 years or more - if they are to become proficient to the point where they are more of a threat to the enemy than they are to themselves.

Waiting for a future threat to emerge before we do anything about it - which is what a citizen army is all about - effectively means doing nothing. More accurately, it's a policy of having no policy. It means leaving ourselves open to the charge of contributing nothing to the collective security on which regional peace, security and stability ultimately rests. It means giving up the capacity to influence in any way the shape of the region in which we live.

Which brings me to the Defence Assessment, a document most of you will have read a bit about by now. I am talking about the media speculation as to what it will recommend to the Government, and the opinions of various retired Service Chiefs as to what equipment should be preferred.

First, let me say that I have very little time for the views of those who argue the merits of one broad capability - frigates, for example - to the exclusion of another, strike aircraft, for example. While the individual enthusiasms from which these spring are understandable, the plain facts of our geography point to a need for both capabilities - not one or the other.

Nor do I have much sympathy with those who would have us place all our weight on maritime forces at the expense of ground forces, or vice versa. Again, the plain facts of our geography and our history, and the most meagre understanding of our interests, tell us that we need effective forces capable of meeting New Zealand's security needs in all three operating environments - air, and sea, and land.

In short, I am working for a balanced outcome from the Defence Assessment, one in which we are able to do something effective and worthwhile to meet both our present operational needs and our future requirements across all three services. This will continue to require, as it does now, balanced, flexible, well-trained forces capable of performing a wide variety of peacekeeping or combat tasks, and getting home safely after them.

Will the structure of our forces be very different from what we have now? Until the Government has made its decisions on the Defence Assessment, I cannot give you that answer. But I can say that in Defence, as elsewhere, we are likely to be most effective and efficient when form follows function. Technology and force modernisation within the region are having powerful consequences, not least in the increasing need for forces to be able to work jointly with each other as coalition partners.

At the end of the day, however much has changed, and no matter how we seek to achieve it, success on the battlefield requires naval, air and ground superiority. In our business, there are no prizes for coming second, or being the most valued player on the losing team.

I want to emphasise that the Government is committed to maintaining a skilled, professional and well-equipped Defence Force. We recognise that defence funding has reached a cross roads and the need for further funding has been flagged in the Coalition Agreement.

However despite the pressures, the business of defence has not come to a grinding halt. New equipment is being bought; we continue to send forces on United Nations operations worldwide; and we exercise regularly with our friends and allies in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere.

A number of major capital equipment purchases have been made in the last year or so. These include new self protection equipment for the Hercules transport aeroplanes ($18.5 million), new anti aircraft missiles for the Army ($22.5 million), new night observation and remote sensing devices for the Army ($18.5 million), new helicopters for the Navy ($274 million), a replacement survey ship for the Navy ($32 million), new medium recovery vehicles for the Army ($3.3 million), new cranes for the navy dockyard ($5.5 million). The Anzac frigate budget for this financial year is $177 million - adding all those up we reach a reasonably substantial figure of approximately 550 million dollars.

Moreover, the frigate project will bring at least 800 million dollars worth of work to our industry, of which about 490 million dollars has been contracted so far to more than 400 companies spread throughout New Zealand.

You will no doubt be aware from recent news reports that Defence officials are travelling to the United States to look at second-hand American frigates as a possible alternative to purchasing more ANZAC frigates. I want to make it clear to you that the Government is simply exploring other options so that we are as well informed as possible when the time comes to decide whether or not we buy more frigates.

It is my view that there is now more support in Parliament for strengthening our Defence Forces than there has been in earlier times. The National Party and the New Zealand First Party in the Coalition Agreement have clearly stated a commitment to a well-trained modern professional Defence Force. ACT has made a number of statements since the election that demonstrated that it is prepared to give a higher priority to Defence. I am also heartened by the attitudes of a number of members of the Labour Party who I am sure will be prepared to resist any isolationist policies that may be promoted in that quarter.

While it is fair to say that in Defence, there is more that we can do, it should be remembered that there is much that is being achieved. At any one time for example you may hear of a frigate patrolling the North Arabian Gulf, you may hear of the seven officers still working in Bosnia, one of whom is commanding one of the UN missions there - you may hear of the team directly supporting the UN special commission on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, - or of the 15 others who are in Angola - others in Cambodia - another 25 still in the Sinai - or the others scattered through Israel, Lebanon and Syria helping to keep the peace (no easy task in that part of the world). At the same time there will be a frigate and tanker, together with 8 Skyhawks and an Orion exercising in the South China sea; three ships surveying the coast; a Hercules exercising in Canada with other Commonwealth countries, land exercises continuing in New Zealand and in the Pacific. We must not lose sight of the tremendous effort that is continuously being expended.

The Government knows that the Defence decisions it makes over the coming months are crucial to the continued sustainability and high performance of our Defence effort as we head into the next century. We intend to take our time over those decisions and make sure we make the right ones so that future generations of New Zealanders can continue to reap the benefits of a secure and stable country and region.

On that note, I would like to end, and thank you once again for the opportunity to speak to the New Zealand Chapter of the Australian Nautical Institute today.