Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee yesterday confirmed that the Cabinet had approved the purchase of a $493 million ice-strengthened tanker for the Navy.
The announcement coming on the eve of the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden is tangible evidence of New Zealand’s willingness to assist the US Antarctic programme by carrying fuel and supplies for the US to the ice.
POLITIK also understands that Cabinet has also approved the purchase of what is called a “Littoral Support” vessel for the Navy which may be shared with the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere Research.
The shared deal would see NIWA be guaranteed a certain number of sea days on the new ship to replace their existing vessel, the Tangaroa.
It appears that this is a Treasury driven idea to make the business case for the new ship more attractive.
The main naval role of the vessel would be as a dive tender and hydrographic vessel and also as a general transport vessel, particularly in the Pacific Islands.
The Government’s 2010 Defence White Paper proposed that a single new Littoral Operations Support Ship be procured to replace current diving and hydrographic vessels HMNZS Manawanui and HMNZS Resolution.
The resolution was decommissioned in late 2012, and Manawanui will come to the end of its life later this decade.
The new naval tanker will be ice-strengthened and winterised for operations in Antarctica, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says.
TheHe said the ship would support a full range of NZDF deployments, including maritime sustainment and humanitarian and disaster relief operations.
It will be built by South Korean firm Hyundai Heavy Industries and is expected to be delivered in 2020.
“The Defence Force can’t operate without fuel, water, ammunition and other bulk goods, and the most effective way to deliver fuel to ships, aircraft and vehicles deployed overseas is by tanker
“This vessel will be significantly larger, will be able to refuel two ships at a time while underway, carry and refuel Defence Force helicopters, produce and store water, and store and transport bulk goods.
“The Government has also opted to include ice-strengthening and winterisation features, representing a very useful enhanced capability when compared to the current tanker.
“This will allow it to deliver fuel and other goods to support Scott Base and McMurdo Station, during summer months once an icebreaker has cleared a path.
“It is important that New Zealand has a significant asset capable of supporting our presence in Antarctica and our interests in the Southern Ocean more generally.
“It will increase New Zealand’s contribution and help further demonstrate our long-term commitment to the Antarctic Joint Logistics Pool with the United States,” Mr Brownlee says.
By maintaining that commitment, the tanker is designed to be a sort of peace offering to the Americans because of New Zealand’s inability to fly its Air Force 757 aircraft fully laden down to the ice.
This has meant we have been seeking more transport time from the Americans, a move the Government believes emperils the continuing existence of the Operation Deep Freeze base in Christchurch.
Minister have spoken openly of the threat to the Base posed by Australian bids to have it relocated to Tasmania.
The next item on the Navy’s shopping list will be another ice-strengthened vessel, an offshore patrol vessel, designed to work in the Southern Ocean.