Defence Force could spend $600m on two new planes
The Defence Force may buy two new aircraft at a minimum cost of $600 million - but NZ First defence spokesman Ron Mark says viable alternatives are being ignored.
However Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee denied he favoured one company over any of the others in procuring replacements for the current Air Force fleet of Hercules C-130s, some of which are nearly 50 years old.
The Government was looking at options to replace the Hercules and two Boeing 757s.
Members of Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence committee said in a report released last week that the cost of two Boeing C-17 Globemasters would be at least $600m, with an operating cost of $20,000 per hour.
The C-17s were described as a "desirable acquisition," and members had questioned whether replacing five Hercules C-130 aircraft with the two Boeing C-17s would work in a practical sense.
Only eight to 10 of the C-17s were left for sale, and MPs questioned how money could be found to purchase the Globemasters.
Secretary of Defence Helene Quilter advised the purchase of any C-17 would not necessarily provide a complete replacement for the Hercules aircraft, and suggested they could operate side by side.
NZ First defence spokesman Ron Mark has opposed the purchase of C-17s because he said most of the NZDF's work involved short-distance missions.
Mark submitted written questions to Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee over what contact the Ministry of Defence had had with Boeing and the United States government regarding the purchase of C-17s.
Brownlee responded that the Ministry had sought information on both the price and availability of C-17 from the United States government, and further information was being sought.
Asked if similar queries had been made with aircraft manufacturing companies Airbus, Embraer and Lockheed Martin for alternative replacements, Mark said he received a "ministerial brush off" from Brownlee.
His answer stated that representatives of those companies "frequently update Ministry of Defence officials on the range of products and services that their companies offer."
The minister was "favouring Boeing" in looking to replace the NZDF's aging aircraft, and a proper review of the replacements was needed, Mark said.
Brownlee rejected Mark's claim that he had been brushed off, and said all options were under consideration.
"It would be absurd to say you have to consider all these aircraft and then get upset about us considering one of the aircraft that's in the mix," Brownlee said.
"The price availability that we've sought from Boeing around the C-17 reflects the fact that Australians fly them, the US flies them, Great Britain flies them, Singapore flies them… It's all of our defence partners."
Brownlee was looking at a set of criteria he had to be satisfied of, while considering what the NZDF's transport needs were.
"Bearing in mind that one of our major areas of operation is the Antarctic and we had a near-miss with a plane in the Antarctic in 2013 and haven't been able to fly there since."
The 2015 Defence White Paper promised a review of air transport options, but Mark said Brownlee was "playing fast and loose with procurement due diligence."
"It seems for the cost of two C17s, for example, we could acquire up to six Lockheed Martin C130Js [the newest version of the Hercules aircraft].
"I understand Airbus' A400M would be about two-thirds the cost of a C17 but like the C130J, is cheaper to fly on a per hour basis than a C17," Mark said.
Brownlee said Mark's response was "a bit knee jerk, and not really all that informed, with all due respect."
It was a matter of determining what configuration of aircraft was best for the NZDF, and that work was being done at the moment.
"And it will be part of the White Paper - it's absurd to suggest it wouldn't be."
The terms of reference for the White Paper would go to Cabinet shortly, but the internal process was "well underway" because Cabinet had previously agreed to it.
Brownlee expected the whole exercise to be completed in late November.