22 Agustus 2010

Leaked Doc Hints NZ May Get New SAR Aircraft

22 Agustus 2010

Dash 8 of the Australian Customs Service (photo : jetphotos)

WELLINGTON - New Zealand's Defence Review 09, to be released next month, may call for acquisition of less sophisticated new aircraft for a search-and-rescue (SAR) and surveillance role, according to a document leaked to the media following the Aug. 17 resignation of Associate Defence Minister Heather Roy.

Asked about the potential acquisition plan, a spokesman for Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said only that the minister has "on a number of occasions talked about the need for capability around short-range maritime patrol.

'There are potentially a number of capability solutions to this, some of which could use essentially civilian aircraft with specific role equipment," the spokesman said Aug. 20. "However, the white paper is not yet completed, and the extent to which it prioritizes short-range maritime patrol and proposes capability directions is not yet known."

Roy was forced to resign her post - which was created for her and now no longer exists - because she was replaced as deputy leader of the ACT party, part of New Zealand's coalition government, by the party's caucus.

The 82-page leaked document focuses on her disputes with ACT leader Rodney Hyde, and offers no other details of the draft review, which was circulated among government officials in June. The public version of the review, the defense white paper, was originally scheduled for release in March but postponed until September.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force's current SAR fleet - six Lockheed P-3K Orions - is being upgraded, although the work is several years behind schedule due, in part, to software integration problems.

Just days ago, an Orion was used to search for survivors of a sunken fishing vessel. The aircraft regularly flies SAR missions deep into the South Pacific and the Southern Ocean.

From time to time, suggestions are made to replace the Orions with a commercial airframe that would undertake such tasks more cost-effectively. The DHC-8 Dash 8 used by Australia's customs service is considered a candidate.

Australia's fleet of 10 was recently modified for a civil maritime surveillance role.
On March 7, Mapp said he was delaying the review's release to find savings of 50 million New Zealand dollars ($35.75 million).

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