The New Royal New Zealand Navy

At the beginning of the Twenty First century the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) faced an uncertain future.

1st Aug 2010

At the beginning of the Twenty First century the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) faced an uncertain future. A recommendation had been made in December 2000 to the new Labour Government to sell the military sealift ship HMNZS Charles Upham, a recommendation which was endorsed by Cabinet in April 2001.

Opposition to the purchase of any further ANZAC frigates had already seen the previous National-led Government reject the deal for a third ANZAC, and the Leander class frigate HMNZS Canterbury had limited life left. Today the RNZN has a fleet of twelve modern ocean capable ships that are able to deliver maritime military capability across a full range of operations from inshore patrol to participation in coalition operations across the world. What led to this transition, and what now characterizes the RNZN a decade on?

The Maritime Patrol Review completed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in February 2001 highlighted the need for significantly increased coastal and medium range offshore patrol to protect New Zealand’s extensive Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ). With a population of 4.37 million, and a land area just a little more than that of the United Kingdom, New Zealand is often considered as one of the smaller nations on the planet. Many are surprised to learn that New Zealand’s EEZ is the fifth largest in the world, with an area of some four million square kilometers; a further 1.7 million kilometers has been added to this under the provisions of the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

New Zealand has responsibility within the realm of New Zealand for Tokelau, and obligations to Niue and the Cook Islands; and is also responsible for both the New Zealand and Nadi Search and Rescue regions, a vast area stretching from Antarctica to the Equator. The need for maritime patrol and presence is significant.

The Maritime Patrol Review’s observations were endorsed by the Government Defence Statement of 8 May 2001, and a Maritime Forces Review was subsequently undertaken and completed in January 2002. The objective of the Government of the day was to ensure that the RNZN had a modern fleet, which was both practical and affordable, to meet New Zealand’s security needs. The challenges of developing such a fleet were not to be under-estimated, as the Sea States around New Zealand and in the Southern Ocean are amongst the roughest in the world, ranging from Sea State 4 and more in coastal waters, to Sea State 8 and beyond (waves in excess of 12 metres and 120 km/hr winds) in the Southern Ocean.

One of the first findings of the Maritime Forces Review was the endorsement of the need for an MRV. It was felt that an MRV could provide tactical military sealift support; could be used for humanitarian and disaster relief in the region; and could take over the training role provided at the time by the frigate Canterbury.

The need for an independent capability to offload people and equipment when there was no access to port facilities was highlighted. The Maritime Forces Review not only re-affirmed the findings of the Maritime Patrol Review that there was a need for greater presence and surveillance in New Zealand’s own EEZ, but that there was a continuing requirement to support South Pacific neighbours in the patrolling of their EEZs.

Many government agencies were consulted in the preparation of the review, and the Ministry of Fisheries, Customs, Maritime Safety authority, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Conservation, Police, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the National Rescue Coordination Centre all spelt out there requirements. The review identified a need for 867 sea days to meet Priority One tasks of all of the civilian agencies involved.

The minimum patrol option identified was for an MRV, two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), and the upgrade of the five existing Moa class Inshore Patrol Craft. It was recognized though that with a length of 27 metres and a maximum speed of 12.5 knots these vessels had limits to their capability. Importantly the review endorsed the need for the continuing availability and viability of the Naval Combat Force; the fleet replenishment tanker HMNZS Endeavour; and the Mine Countermeasure and Diving Support Force.

A provision of NZ$500 million had been made in the Long Term Development Plan of June 2002 for capital acquisition of vessels; the cost of the MRV was capped at US$100 million. This budget was approved by the Government in 2004, and a contract signed with Tenix Defence PTY Ltd (now BAE Systems Australia) for the provision of seven ships rather than three under what was to be termed Project Protector.

The contract included four new build Inshore Patrol Vessels (IPVs) as well as the MRV and two OPVs. The difficulties surrounding the project have been well documented (see APDR April 2008 and April 2010) but with the last Protector vessel, the OPV HMNZS Wellington having been accepted by the RNZN on 6 May 2010 what does the contemporary RNZN look like?

The Naval Combat Force consists of the ANZAC frigates Te Kaha commissioned on 22 July 1997 and Te Mana commissioned on 10 December 1999.

These are capable ships, 118 metres in length, displacing 3,600 tonnes, and with a maximum speed of 27 knots. They are each fitted with an automatic 5 inch gun; an eight cell VLS housing the NATO Seasparrow Mk41; an updated Phalanx CIWS; and two Mark 32 Mod5 torpedo tubes. Each frigate has an embarked Kaman SH-2G Super Seasprite helicopter (five of which were delivered to New Zealand in 2001) that can be armed with Maverick missiles, torpedoes, depth charges and an (FN) MAG-58M 7.62mm machine gun. The frigates work hard and have been regularly deployed into the Pacific, NE Asia and SE Asia, and to the Persian Gulf in support of coalition operations. After a little more than a decade at sea both ships are in the process of receiving a significant Platform Systems Upgrade, with new diesel engines and a new stability enhancement upgrade having been fitted to Te Kaha and with Te Mana in process.

A replacement Integrated Platform Management System, to include integrated bridge systems and enhanced battle damage systems, will be implemented during future maintenance periods, with completion expected by 2012. Intent on ensuring the frigates’ utility well into the future, the Government has approved in principal the ANZAC self-defence upgrade, details of which will be released with the 2010 Defence White Paper.

The Naval Support Force now consists of two ships, the 7,300 tonne purpose built double-sided fleet replenishment tanker HMNZS Endeavour, which invariably supports the frigates on deployment, and the Multi-Role Vessel the HMNZS Canterbury. The Canterbury was the first of the Protector vessels to be completed, being commissioned on 12 June 2007.

With a displacement of 9,000 tonnes the ship has accommodation for up to 360 personnel, including 250 embarked troops; 430 metres of vehicle lanes to carry up to 40 Light Armoured Vehicles, and up to thirty three 20 foot containers. Notwithstanding the initial difficulties with the vessel (and some still to be resolved), over the past year or so Canterbury has had ample opportunity to demonstrate her sealift capability. In May 2009 Canterbury sailed from New Zealand to Samoa, and on to Pukapuka in the Northern Cook Islands, some 1150 kms to the north of Raratonga to begin Exercise Tropic Twilight. The exercise was designed to test the NZDF’s ability to provide support following a natural disaster in the Pacific, and for the first time two SH-2G Super Seasprite helicopters operated simultaneously from the deck of the ship to deliver people and medical and engineering supplies ashore.

Whilst this was an exercise, Canterbury was to be involved in responding to a real disaster only four months later. At the end of September 2009 a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Samoa and Tonga. Canterbury was pulled out of a maintenance period to deliver aid to the stricken islands. Thirty vehicles, and one thousand fale poles and twelve containers for Samoa, with fifteen pallets of supplies for Tonga were loaded, accompanied by 170 personnel and the Navy’s Detached Hydrographic Unit, which was to prove invaluable in surveying harbour damage.

The use of the two landing craft (LCMs) from Canterbury was essential to ensure that aid could be landed ashore at Niuatoputapu Island, Tonga, with the reefs surrounding the island ensuring that only small vessels could get to shore. Delivering ADF vehicles from Darwin to Dili, participating in the Indonesian Navy Fleet Review, and resupplying the Department of Conservation at Raoul Island were all part of a busy, successful and varied year for Canterbury.

Project Protector ultimately promised seven new ships, with two OPVs and four IPVs in addition to the MRV. The IPVs are proving to be the most capable inshore craft the RNZN has ever had. With a length of 55 metres and a displacement of 340 tonnes, the vessels have a range of 3,000 nautical miles and a top speed of 25 knots – over twice as fast as the venerable IPCs they replaced.

HMNZS Rotoiti was the first of the IPVs to be commissioned in April 2009, with HMNZS Hawea, HMNZS Pukaki and HMNZS Taupo being commissioned in May 2009. Already the ships are proving popular both with their crews and with the public, clearly demonstrating their presence around New Zealand.

In fact HMNZS Hawea has circumnavigated New Zealand twice in the past twelve months. In a five day operation with Fisheries Officers off the coast of Northland recently HMNZS Pukaki supported the boarding of eleven vessels – nine commercial and two recreational; four of the vessels were not complying with the law. With Hawea affiliated to Westport / Greymoiuth, Pukaki to Nelson, Taupo to Whangarei / Northland and Rotoiti to Napier and Hawkes Bay, Navy vessels will be a much more common sight around New Zealand’s coast.

The Offshore Patrol Vessel HMNZS Otago was accepted into the RNZN on 12 February 2010, and HMNZS Wellington was accepted on 6 May 2010. Fitted with a Bushmaster 25mm Naval gun and two .50 calibre machine guns, at 85 metres long, displacing 1,900 tonnes and with hangar facilities for an embarked SH-2G helicopter, the ice-strengthened OPVs are impressive ships.

Notwithstanding the original concerns about their weight issues, with prudent management HMNZS Otago and HMNZS Wellington will be capable of sailing for many years deep into the Southern Ocean, with patrols to the edge of the ice-fields, and far up into the South Pacific. With a core complement of 35 and total of up to 83 personnel on board, the ships have a range of more than 6,000 nautical miles, and a maximum speed of 22 knots.

Early indications are that these ships will add substantial capability to the Navy. With a total of 825 – 886 sea days budgeted for the six ships for 2010 / 2011, the Naval Patrol Force is well equipped to meet the needs identified by the Maritime Forces Review.

The Littoral Support Ship HMNZS Resolution forms the core of the Hydrographic Survey Force, with HMNZS Manawanui forming the core of the Diving and Mine Countermeasures Force. Littoral support has been enhanced in recent years with the RNZN having purchased four REMUS 100 (Remote Environmental Monitoring Units) systems. Since entering service, the vehicles have successfully performed a wide range of military and civilian tasks including location of downed aircraft, police and customs operations and military exercises both within New Zealand and overseas.

These REMUS systems came into the public eye last year, when New Zealand was asked in August 2009 to assist Tonga, in the location of the ferry, “Princess Ashika”. REMUS located and identified the ship, lying in 110 meters of water and images were recorded of the vessel and associated debris field. At the start of November, Resolution, Manawanui the Mine Counter Measures Team (MCMT), and the Operational Diving Team (ODT) all sailed for Noumea to participate in the international Lagoon Mine Exercise. The various participating units were tasked with locating the mines and starting their removal. The MCMT transferred to Resolution for the operation, and commenced underwater survey operations utilising two REMUS AUVs. The MCMT task was to map the sea floor and identify potential contacts of interest, which the ODT would then validate as mines (or otherwise) visually during diving operations. The plan was for the mines to then be lifted off the seabed using air-filled lifting bags to allow explosive destruction below the surface.

The Royal New Zealand Navy has been working hard to both re-equip itself and reorganize itself to achieve its aim to be ‘The Best Small Nation Navy in the World’. That aim was given substance at the end of 2009 when the RNZN was awarded the internationally recognized New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation Gold Award.

The Award was recognition that the corporate organization of the Navy, to support the Navy’s ships and personnel, was world class. As Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Tony Parr commented at the acceptance of HMNZS Wellington, “With the completion of Project Protector the Navy can deliver the full range of maritime military capability, from combat and security missions to peacekeeping, border patrol and humanitarian and disaster relief.” With the last of the Project Protector ships now delivered, the Royal New Zealand Navy has a modern, versatile fleet of which it can be proud.

APDR at a glance