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C-17s. He has not changed his mind and he believes
Boeing’s offer to supply the aircraft at between
$US180-250 million each makes them even more
New C-17s will substantially boost emergency
aid capabilities and enable the RNZAF to provide
a much better service to the Antarctic where New
Zealand’s operations at Scott Base and the nearby
US McMurdo Station are supported by US C-17 and
RNZAF Hercules flights out of Christchurch.
The RNZAF has also flown its 757 to the Antarctic
but one flight two years ago demonstrated how
perilous that environment can be. Thick fog rolled in
shortly before it was due to land and after circling
for two hours it ran low on fuel and finally touched
down in white out conditions on its third attempt. The
aircraft had insufficient fuel to return to New Zealand
or find an alternate runway.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully, who was one
of the 130 New Zealand and US personnel on that
flight, described the situation as very dangerous. That
experience caused a lot of discomfit and will have
swayed many that a more capable aircraft is essential
if New Zealand is to maintain its long-term interest in
Antartica’s Ross Sea Dependency.
New Zealand First Party defence spokesman Ron
Mark has been the strongest critic of the Boeing
proposal saying the C-17s are too pricey and their
purchase will rule out other options.
‘There is no question the C-17 is a magnificent
strategic airlift aircraft but our needs are tactical not
He suggests that six Lockheed Martin C-130Js
could be bought for the cost of two C17s and the
Airbus A400s would also be cheaper to purchase
Defence academic Jim Rolfe backs Mark’s
argument that New Zealand needs tactical rather
than strategic transport because of the requirement
to fly into short and rough runways so common in this
part of the Pacific.
So even if New Zealand gets C-17s it still needs
tactical airlift capability.
He characterises Brownlee’s sudden interest in the
C-17s, on the basis that this is a last chance to buy
the aircraft before the production line closes down,
as a “rush of blood”. His guess is that his Cabinet
colleagues wouldn’t let him proceed.
As recently as last year - when the Government
did its Defence Mid-Point Rebalancing Review (to
balance defence funding, capability and policy) -
officials were asked to look at two future funding
streams, one of which was to look at doing away with
strategic airlift capability.
Rolfe says there is an argument that it would be
much cheaper for New Zealand to hire large transport
aircraft for occasional strategic deployments of troops
The purchase of replacements for the C-130Hs,
which have been in service since the 1960s, has
been considered by successive governments for
In the late 1990s New Zealand had an option
to replace them with new C-130Js as a part of an
Australian purchase. But this was rejected and in
2004 the Government opted for a major service life
extension programme of its old C-130s.
This included refurbishment of the centre wings
and other structural components, a rewiring and
replacement of avionic systems, flight management,
autopilot and navigation and communication suites.
The project, designed to allow the aircraft to remain
in service for another decade, was beset with delays
and work on the fifth C-130 is only now nearing
Back in 2004 a major justification for the life
extension programme was that it would enable
deferral of the C-130 replacements till a new
generation of aircraft became available. Officials
clearly had an eye on the Airbus A400m, which was
then in development and that aircraft has remained
a favoured option for years because it was seen as
one platform that could fill the strategic and tactical
But acquisition of C-17s will change the picture
Airbus is obviously still keen for the A400m to be in
consideration and talk of the possible C-17 purchase
prompted the company to advance its case by taking
advertisements in major New Zealand newspapers.
Head of Airbus Defence & Space Australasia
Valentin Merino explained “we need to speak up and
explain there is an alternative to the C-17 to comply
with what New Zealand wants to do.”
Major selling points for the A400m are its greater
capacity and range than the C-130J and greater
flexibility than the C-17. The A400M offers nearly
twice the payload over the same range as the
stretched C-130J-30, or the same payload over twice
The C-17 option has also prompted officials to take
another look at the range of options for providing
tactical airlift capability when the old C-130s are
Secretary of Defence Helene Quilter has told
parliamentarians that any purchase of the C-17s
might not be the complete replacement and that two
types of aircraft could possibly operate side by side.
An obvious contender is the Alenia C-27J aircraft
now going into service with the RAAF. Matching trans-
Tasman capabilities would enhance interoperability
between the RNZAF and RAAF.
But other aircraft likely to be considered include
the Brazilian-made Embraer KC-390, the EADS Casa
C-295 as well as the C-130J.
The offer came as officials were part way through preparation of this
year’s Defence White Paper, setting out a long-term blueprint for the
Defence Force, its capabilities, acquisition programme and all-important
A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) C-17 Globemaster
lands during a mild dust storm at Tarin Kot airfield in
Southern Afghanistan. Credit: CoA
28/05/2015 3:42 pm
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