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Project Sirius

By Nicky Hager; phone 04 384-5074; Email



The bureaucratic campaign to get new combat technology for the Air Force Orions has relied on secrecy and misleading public relations. Defence has

The reason for the secretive decision-making and misleading public relations is that Project Sirius cannot be justified under the Labour-Alliance government’s policies. This report uses various internal defence documents to explain the nature and purpose of the proposed Orion upgrade and present the case against it.

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Project Sirius - Why it should be cancelled

The government is facing its next major defence decision shortly: whether to spend hundreds of millions on new equipment for the Air Force Orions. The decision will test whether the government is serious about a New Zealand- oriented defence policy.

At first impression it appears reasonable and innocuous to be equipping aircraft to protect New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone. EEZ surveillance was, after all, one of three top priorities in the Government’s June Defence Policy Framework. However, internal Ministry of Defence papers show that the proposed re-equipping of the Orions Project Sirius has almost nothing to do with EEZ surveillance. It is a National Government-era plan, equipping for US-coalition warfighting that has no place in the new government’s defence policy.

The price tag of $75 million per aircraft should be a warning enough that something is amiss. $445 million is enough to buy a brand new computer for all 224,000 secondary students in New Zealand how can that much be needed for new electronics on six aircraft? The reason is that these Orions are not being equipped to search for fishing vessels and lost yachts; they are being equipped to be fully integrated elements in high-tech coalition warfare.

The real purpose of the Sirius equipment is revealed in the documentation collected below from New Zealand and overseas defence officials and from the companies that sell maritime surveillance equipment.

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Key Points
  • Project Sirius has nothing to do with the Government’s policy of improving EEZ surveillance.
  • Defence has misled the public and politicians about its purpose.
  • Defence sees the most likely use of the Sirius equipment being as part of a larger coalition force integrated into an international, probably US led, coalition maritime order of battle.
  • The impetus for the project, the specifications, and even the choice of equipment and supplier have all come from Australia and the United States. Relationship considerations (as Foreign Affairs officials put it) ie doing what these two countries would like us to figure large in the issue.
  • The $445 million upgrade is designed primarily to equip the Orions for Gulf War-type coalition combat roles and submarine hunting.
  • EEZ surveillance is dismissed as a non-military complementary civilian activity in internal Sirius papers.
  • Sirius-equipped Orions are described deceptively by Defence as multi-purpose to reassure those people who don’t understand the issues.
  • Reduced price Sirius options would be no better: retaining the wrong orientation while just deferring some spending for later. It would be a weak and wasteful compromise: like ordering 12 F- 16s instead of 24, when New Zealand doesn’t need any at all.
  • In 30 years the Orions have never been used for combat and never been used for peace keeping.
  • Labour-Alliance defence policy points to re-orienting the Orions primarily for EEZ protection (at a fraction of the cost of Sirius) – or moving to cheaper aircraft designed for the task.
  • The Government has only until late August to make a decision on Sirius.
  • If the Labour-Alliance Government goes ahead with Project Sirius it will be abandoning its promise of a defence force based on New Zealand priorities.

What is Project Sirius?

Project Sirius is a proposal by defence officials to buy new electronics for the Air Force’s six P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft. The official Sirius tender documents, obtained under the Official Information Act, state that the project involves "new more capable tactical systems to ensure the RNZAF can deliver maritime air power" – the first sign that Sirius is more about being part of wars than patrolling our region. The best and final offer price submitted by the preferred contractor, Raytheon, was $445 million. The new equipment comprises a range of sophisticated electronic sensors[1] :

    1. Sophisticated anti-submarine detection devices
    2. Sophisticated surface ship detection devices (all also used for submarines)
    3. Navigation and flight control equipment linked to the sensors through a central computer system
    4. A signals intelligence suite for conducting GCSB surveillance operations and studying target ships and submarines.

What has maritime surveillance got to do with war-fighting?

New Zealanders think of maritime surveillance as describing lonely patrolling of the wide areas of ocean around New Zealand and the South Pacific. But the term also describes very specific functions as part of maritime warfare. Orions were originally purchased to serve as part of an allied network of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) forces. New Zealand, with 5 Orions, was allocated a large segment of the South Pacific for ASW duties, working in parallel with over 600 Orions in the US Navy and allied squadrons.[2] The stated purpose of the New Zealand Orions in 1960s defence papers was "maritime defence, especially submarine detection". The primary target was Soviet submarines (the 1999 Sirius tender documents still emphasise nuclear submarine targets).

After the end of the Cold War, with a reduced submarine threat, the US military re- oriented its Orions more to maritime warfare. Only a year after the Berlin Wall fell, this new role was tested when the US military asserted its post-Cold War role in the Gulf War. The US Navy’s website describes the role played by US P-3 Orion aircraft in the war:

During Operation Desert Storm, which began on 17 January 1991, P-3s searched for Iraqi naval units and directed strike aircraft to them when they were discovered. According to the Navy, of the 105 Iraqi Navy units destroyed, more than half were initially detected by P-3s. The P-3's APS-137 in the ISAR mode and the aircraft's AAS-36 IRDS [Orion radars and infra-red detectors] were both described as "ideally suited for antisurface warfare operations and made the difference in coalition efforts to destroy the Iraqi Navy." P-3s made 369 combat sorties totalling 3,787 flight hours during Desert Storm.[3]

"Combat sorties" is not what New Zealanders imagine our Orions being equipped for. The Labour-Alliance government would be spending hundreds of dollars on Sirius equipment so that a future National Government could offer the aircraft for future Gulf War-type wars.

Maritime warfare and surveillance are distinctly different activities

The promoters of Project Sirius claim that the equipment needed for a maritime combat role is the same as that needed for surveillance around New Zealand and the South Pacific. The term "multi-purpose" is applied to the Sirius equipment; inaccurate but soothing talk aimed at the politicians. They argue that Project Sirius is the best option, using a single aircraft type, to achieve all New Zealand’s needs.

But information from a company that has provided engineering and software for all the allied Orions (including New Zealand) tells a different story. The Avastar website explains that the P-3 Orion aircraft have three types of missions: Surveillance, Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). It states: "Surveillance includes reconnaissance, intelligence collection, and Search and Rescue (SAR). It requires the detection and identification of small surface vessels for such purposes as drug interdiction, EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) protection, fishery protection, and Search and Rescue missions." These functions do not require the range of state- of-the-art equipment in Sirius.

The sophistication of the equipment required for the combat roles is totally different: "ASuW and ASW involve the detection and identification of hostile surface and submarine ships, and are accomplished with the help of radar, electro-optic, and acoustic sensors all interfaced with navigation and communications systems controlled by a central computer which processes, distributes, and displays the enormous amount of data produced by these subsystems to the operators."[4] This is a good description of the Sirius equipment.

Beware of tricky reduced price options

Concerned that the Labour-Alliance Government may reject the Project Sirius, Defence is preparing some lower price "compromise" options. The most likely one is deferring two planned new anti-submarine sensors (acoustic and MAD sensors). slightly reducing the cost and (more important) appearing to remove a point of criticism about the project. Options such as this would have all the faults of Sirius while still costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

The compromise options put up by Defence will not involve eliminating unnecessary combat capabilities such as submarine hunting. The project would be specifically designed so that the anti-submarine equipment could be purchased later and simply plugged into spaces left for it in the overall system. In other words, it is merely deferring spending. It would be a weak and wasteful compromise: like ordering 12 F-16s instead of 24, when New Zealand doesn't need any.

The main function of these options is to secure government approval for a project that shouldn't be a priority at all. It would not change the predominantly combat orientation of the Sirius upgrading.

Defence officials rank EEZ protection as merely a "Complementary Civilian Task" in internal Project Sirius papers

The Project Sirius tender documents are very revealing on this point. These papers were written by defence officials to explain to foreign military manufacturers exactly what kind of equipment they were looking for and how they intended to use it. Thus in these documents we get real intentions rather than public relations.

The Orions spend as much time each year on anti-submarine training flights east of Auckland as they do patrolling the New Zealand EEZ.

The Request for Tender is almost all about the combat roles: anti-submarine warfare and maritime warfare. In contrast, the Orion’s core work of EEZ surveillance is described in the papers as one of the Orions’ "Complementary Civilian Tasks": "Search and Rescue, Disaster Relief and surveillance of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the EEZ’s of other South Pacific nations." The equipment needed for these "non-military national tasks" is dismissed in one sentence as being "inherently" covered by the military capabilities, and then EEZ work is not mentioned again through the subsequent 200 pages of detailed requirements and specifications.

When the government’s Defence Policy Framework, released in June 2000, gives urgent priority to "effective maritime surveillance capabilities … within the New Zealand EEZ and the EEZs of the Pacific Island States" this in no way points to Sirius- equipped Orions. EEZ surveillance is peripheral to the Orion’s capabilities and primary purposes.

Currently EEZ surveillance around New Zealand and the South Pacific comes a poor "supplementary" second to the combat roles, with the six Orions, on average, spending less than 2 hours each per week on EEZ work.

Combat training and exercises take much more of the Orions’ time

In contrast to a couple of 8-hour New Zealand EEZ patrols a month and 10 South Pacific EEZ patrols a year, the Orions have a constant schedule of anti-submarine and maritime warfare training flights and exercises. For instance, the Orions spend as much time each year on anti-submarine training flights east of Auckland as they do patrolling the New Zealand EEZ – amounting to half of their crew continuation training on submarine hunting.

The Orion activity that gets the most flying hours is anti-submarine and maritime warfare exercises with Australia, Canada, Britain, Korea and South East Asian nations. In terms of resources and time, "maritime surveillance … within the New Zealand EEZ and the EEZs of the Pacific Island States" is a minor activity compared to practicing for the military roles. What’s the difference between the equipment needed for maritime warfare and EEZ surveillance?

This is a large subject. Put simply, it is like the difference between what fire fighters need to fight a complex high rise fire and what they need to get a cat out of a tree. In practice they use the same equipment, because it is what they have got, but one requires far more expensive and sophisticated equipment than the other does.

One example. The radar sought for the anti- submarine and maritime warfare roles is extremely expensive and sophisticated but can of course also be used to detect fishing vessels and lost yachts. Pages 42-43 of the Sirius tender documents explain the specifications for the Sirius radar. They explain that the radar should have two modes: "surface surveillance searches" and much more detailed "high resolution surveillance searches". The first role, that can be handled by all manner of much less costly radars, aims to detect ships from fishing vessel size ("radar cross section 150 square metres") to navy ships ("radar cross section 500-1000 square metres") and, at closer range vessels down to 10 metres in length. The high resolution capabilities, in contrast, are all about submarines, with "representative targets" stated as "submarine periscope, radar cross section less than 0.9 square metres", "submarine snorkel, radar cross section of 1 square metre" and "surfaced submarine, radar cross section of 5 square metres".[5]

Dominion article - click to enlarge

Dominion, February 26, 2000, page 19. As the Sirius decision approached, this journalist was offered a free flight on an Orion around the South Pacific. The article describes the Orion crew searching for illegal fishing boats, "flying ancient planes with old equipment", as they await Project Sirius to "bring them up to the standard of fleets run by New Zealand's allies

Evening Post article

Evening Post, 17 April, 2000: "Word will get around the fishing community that we are monitoring our patch, not just New Zealand's EEZ but further afield", says the Orion crew member in this article written by a Ministry of Defence journalist. The 11-hour Orion flight was in part a PR exercise, including officials from Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Defence's office, designed to promote extra funding for Sirius.

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The P-3C Orion - with radar in the nose, infra-red detector turret under the nose, anti-submarine "MAD" detector in the tube behind the tail, electronic equipment and work stations along the windowless central section of the aircraft and various other detectors visible - is a high-tech weapon in maritime warfare

The key Project Sirius radar specification is: "the Crown has a design goal that a submarine with a radar cross section [ie area that can be seen] of 0.1 square metres shall be detected at a minimum range of 20 nautical miles." This specification – which causes most of the cost – is nothing to do with detecting fishing boats and warships (which have a size of 150-1000 square metres), it is purely for the highly specialised (and for New Zealand virtually irrelevant) activity of trying to detect submarines.

The Israel-built EL/M2022A radar selected as part of Sirius illustrates the orientation of the Sirius equipment. The least expensive Version 1 of this radar provides "medium- range detection", detecting small ships at 100 km range and tracking up to 50 simultaneous targets.[6] Version 2 is described by the manufacturers as being "configured for long-range periscope detection", while Version 3 is for even longer-range periscope detection and can track 100 simultaneous targets. Version 1 is already considerably more sophisticated than required for South Pacific EEZ surveillance. But it is Version 3 that the Air Force wants in Project Sirius.

Like the Skyhawks, in thirty years they have never once been used in this type of role. Why, then, keep on equipping, training and exercising for it?

The French-built maritime patrol system AMASCOS illustrates the same point. The 100 version (made up of a radar, infrared detection for night-time surveillance and computer processing) is designed for uses such as "economic exclusion zone surveillance, search and rescue and law enforcement". The 200 version has extra electronic sensors and is designed for "anti- surface missions". The 300 version, with an array of sensors like Sirius, is described as "offer[ing] both anti-surface and ASW capabilities….The core of the system is a dedicated tactical computer which collates and processes data from the different sensor and related onboard equipment."[7] Indonesia’s maritime patrol aircraft use the 100 version. Project Sirius is at the other end of the scale.

Main Sirius electronic sensor systems

Like the cost of Sirius, Defence has refused to release these details. They show that Sirius is identical to a recent Australian Orion upgrade.

What about search and rescue?

Promoters of Sirius have responded to critics arguing that the sophistication of Sirius is required for search and rescue, where the Orion may be searching for a lost yacht or lifeboat. They argue that a radar reflector on a lost yacht is smaller than a submarine periscope and calls for more accurate sensors. This argument is unsound and disingenuous. Radar reflectors are small but they are specifically designed to return a strong radar signal in all directions. Submarine periscopes, in contrast, are specifically designed to avoid detection. Search and rescue barely gets a mention in the Sirius tender documents nor in the international publications that describe the systems used in Sirius. It is not the basis for the Sirius specifications.

Defence officials also argue that anti-submarine warfare is only 8% of Sirius.

This is another evasion being used to avoid criticism of Project Sirius. First, the real issue is how much of Sirius is devoted to coalition warfare (anti-submarine and maritime warfare) as opposed to surveillance in our region – more on this below. But even the figures for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) are untrue. The main specific ASW sensors are acoustic processors (which pick up signals from sonobuoys dropped into to sea to listen to submarine sounds) and the magnetic anomaly detector (which picks up variations in the world’s magnetic field caused by large metal submarines under the water). They may possibly make up only 8% of the cost of Sirius.

But much of the other equipment is optimised for the ASW role as well. The anti-submarine specs for the radar are described above, and the Orion’s infra-red detectors also play a key role in detecting submarines. The navigation systems are designed to support ASW operations (if you don’t know exactly where the aircraft is, you cannot determine exactly where a target is); and the sophisticated data processing computer that integrates data from all the sensors to try to detect targets is essential to the ASW capability.

It would be more accurate to say that anti-submarine warfare has determined the specifications of almost every part of Sirius.

According to the US Navy, "the end of the Cold War and the vastly reduced ASW threat from Russia has resulted in a large scale drawdown of active P-3 USN squadrons." Despite this, anti-submarine warfare requirements are spelt out at length in the Project Sirius tender documents. They are divided into "Nuclear Powered Targets" and "Non-nuclear Powered Targets", describing the different equipment needed for operations against the two types of submarines.

The documents make it clear that there is no need for submarine surveillance around New Zealand: "the low level security challenges to New Zealand would be restricted to surface surveillance and reconnaissance". This is not surprising as there are virtually no submarines ever present in the South Pacific (except Australian and US ones). The only nuclear powered submarines are former cold war enemies of the US alliance who are no longer enemies.

"More likely, RNZAF elements will be employed as part of a larger coalition force integrated into an international, probably US led, coalition maritime order of battle."

In each of the last 10 years New Zealand Orion’s have dropped an average of 1,874 sonobuoys (costing $500 - $3,000 each) while practicing hunting submarines, 90% of them during exercises.[8] The Orions themselves cost $5,700 per hour just for fuel and maintenance costs. None of this anti- submarine exercising is intended to help defending New Zealand or even the South Pacific. In the absence of a good reason why hunting submarines should be a New Zealand priority, this role is hidden behind public relations about EEZ surveillance.

Then where does Defence envisage the upgraded Orions would be operating?

The Sirius Request for Tender document makes it clear that they do not expect the Orions ever to be using the Sirius combat equipment independently or in our region. It states: "At the very least we expect to be integrated with the forces of a larger ally such as Australia. More likely, RNZAF elements will be employed as part of a larger coalition force integrated into an international, probably US led, coalition maritime order of battle."

The documents say that "the most likely scenario for deployed operations is for two aircraft, three crews plus maintenance and operational support deployed to a forward operating base for an extended period." They go on: "Deployed operations would operate as part of a multinational MPA force from established airfields", relying on "Allied missions support centres, for example, Tactical Support Centres of the US forces’".

The first thing to say about this is that, like the Skyhawks, in thirty years they have never once been used in this type of role. Why, then, keep on equipping, training and exercising for it? But actually it is more of concern that New Zealand Orions may start being used for this role.

As noted earlier, the Gulf War marked the transition of the US Orions to "antisurface warfare operations [in which they] made the difference in coalition efforts to destroy the Iraqi Navy." Later that decade, for the first time, the New Zealand Orions were invited to play that role. In February 1998 the National Government sent two aircraft plus crews to the "forward operating base" of Diego Garcia (exactly the "most likely scenario for deployed operations" referred to in the tender documents) when war with Iraq was again threatening. Fortunately, that time, war was averted.

Building up the capability for that kind of operation is precisely what Project Sirius is all about. If the Labour-Alliance Government does not believe priority for New Zealand defence funding should go to equipping Orions for Gulf War-type roles, then it should not proceed with Sirius.

"Interoperability with Australia" means being designed for integration into US-led forces

One of the main justifications advanced for Project Sirius is that there is value in New Zealand Orions being "interoperable" with Australian Orions. This is another fake argument. Defence recently conceded that there has never been an instance of New Zealand and Australian Orions patrolling the South Pacific together. When patrolling the New Zealand and Pacific Island nation EEZs, our Orions operate alone and independently. Moreover, even if New Zealand did conduct surveillance with other Orions, this requires only some equipment, for instance communications systems, to be compatible. But what we find with the Sirius equipment is that, piece for piece, it is exactly the same as the new equipment recently put into the Australian Orions (one wonders why Defence went through the motions of studying New Zealand’s needs and calling for tenders at all).

The explanation for the identical equipment is that the planning wasn’t about South Pacific surveillance at all. Again the requirement for interoperability for Project Sirius comes from planning for coalition warfare. And interoperability with Australia is not the real issue. The Sirius tender documents state: "The NZDF is committed to a very high level of interoperability with our Allies, particularly the United States of America, in order for contributions to be effective." Our contributions to their wars. This is what "interoperability" and Orion exercises are all about. In the following sentence the goal of Orion exercises is explained: "Accordingly, the [Orions] conduct regular detachments to exercise deployment and interoperability capabilities."

Interoperability with Australia is not the real issue. The Sirius tender documents state: "The NZDF is committed to a very high level of interoperability with our Allies, particularly the United States of America, in order for contributions to be effective." Our contributions to their wars.

The Sirius tender documents are explicit about what interoperability with the United States involves. It is not just aircraft being able to communicate and work together. It is about equipping the Orions so that they can work under the control of a US commander just as if they were US aircraft: as the papers say, "integrated into an international, probably US led, coalition."

Without admitting it to the public or Parliament, all current New Zealand Defence Force planning and development of high- tech defence command, control, communications and intelligence systems is based on full integration into US military systems. The current Minister of Defence appears to be allowing this to continue. For instance, the Defence Force has participated fully in the United States-run "Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration 2000" (late July 2000) which demonstrates new

Command, Control, Communications and computers ("C4") warfare technology that the United States wants its allies to adopt. A Defence Force paper on the JWID demonstration blandly explains that the event "supports the United States’ current focus on coalition operations." It is not New Zealand policy to have focus on coalition warfare, it is US priorities shaping New Zealand planning.

The tender documents explain that these new Sirius systems would be part of NZDF participating in the "US DoD program of migrating automated C4I systems to DII/COE compliance." This military-speak means that, by using the Sirius equipment, the New Zealand’s Orions electronics would be being upgraded to be part of a common DII or "Defence Information Infrastructure" (a US system), where all the aircraft and ships in a coalition combat force would share commands, target information and data about the common operating environment – geography, enemy positions and so on. The tender documents required suppliers of Sirius equipment to specify the extent to which their equipment complied with United States DII/COE specifications. This is a Pentagon programme of upgrading all of its own and its allies’ command, control, communications and intelligence systems to be able to operate as an integrated force. A large part of the cost of Sirius comes from seeking to meet these US specifications.

The six Orions, on average, spend less than 2 hours each per week on EEZ surveillance... most flying hours go to anti-submarine and maritime warfare exercises and training

Defence presentation

Part of a Defence power-point presentation to the Minister of Defence in March 2000 on Sirius. It shows an Orion operating with an allied Orion and fighter jets against the coastal areas of an enemy country with tanks and palm trees (suggesting Iraq?); and hunting a submarine together with an ASW helicopter and warships. Note is it also linked to a Waihopai-type station back on allied land

ANZUS in all but name

The coalition warfare planning and associated rhetoric all sounds worryingly like a re-run of the 1970s and early 1980s ANZUS era. While the government’s Defence Policy Framework talks about "a new approach to defence", "New Zealand’s own assessment of… [its] best interests" and "comprehensive security" – and doesn’t

New Zealand must decide between a defence force oriented to New Zealand priorities or one that is primarily shaped according foreign expectations and pressure.

mention the United States once! – the real detailed defence planning is strongly oriented to integrating New Zealand forces into US-led coalition warfighting. This anything-but-new approach to defence is the basis of the Sirius proposal.

Listen to this ANZUS-style rhetoric (Dominion, 18 July 2000): "United States Defence Secretary William Cohen has urged Australia to boost defence spending to ensure its forces were on par with US forces in future joint operations. There will have to be additional investment if Australia hopes to maintain a modern incorporate force with the United States and its allies." "A modern incorporate force", "forces on par with the United States in future joint missions" – this is no different from the Cold War pressure on the ANZUS allies to provide forces to assist and help to legitimise US military interventions. Mr Cohen’s specific request to Australia was that it "could play a key role" in the United States’ controversial missile defence project.

Just like in the ANZUS years, New Zealand needs to make a serious decision whether we want a defence force oriented to New Zealand priorities, or one that is primarily shaped according expectations and pressure from the United States and Australia as a "contribution" to their military plans. Project Sirius is totally in the second category.

This is not about peace keeping

Although Defence uses the calculatedly ambiguous term "peace support", projects such as Sirius have nothing to do with preparation for peacekeeping operations. New Zealand’s Orions have never been used in peacekeeping and contributed nothing to restoring peace in East Timor, Fiji or the Solomon Islands. "Peace support" has become the Orwellian term for war, coalition war.

The only specific example given in the tender documents of the kind of operating environment anticipated for Sirius equipment is the United States joint exercise, Rimpac.[9] Dating from the Cold War era, Rimpac practices full-scale US-led maritime warfare. Rimpac 2000 included seven nations, over 50 ships and 200 aircraft, including US, Australian, Japanese and Korean Orions (and equivalent British Nimrod aircraft). All the warships and aircraft were interconnected using the same, new electronic communications network, called the Coalition Wide Area Network, that was being demonstrated in New Zealand in the same month (using a frigate and Orion) in the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstrations. This system means that New Zealand’s Orions have never been used in peacekeeping and contributed nothing to restoring peace in East Timor, Fiji or the Solomon Islands. communications within the coalition forces are not structured by national commands: all forces are equally integrated into the US command. This is the type of environment for which the Sirius maritime warfare and anti-submarine equipment is intended.

There are good alternatives

Many countries take EEZ protection much more seriously than New Zealand does. Currently, the New Zealand agencies responsible for EEZ tasks such as fisheries protection and customs are privately critical of the surveillance being provided by Defence. They can see that defence EEZ activities come a poor second to military activities in priority for the Navy and Air Force resources. There is a strong case for taking EEZ protection off the military and reallocating money from unnecessary military expenditure such as Sirius into the responsible civilian organisations. There should be a full review of EEZ protection to consider this option (in contrast to the March 2000 Resource Protection and Sovereignty review produced by the Ministry of Defence, which was uncritical of the Orions and appeared designed to pre-empt more critical reviews).

When Defence tells the Ministers that Sirius is the cheapest option for EEZ protection, it is like recommending attack submarines for ocean bottom surveying. The best option for New Zealand is selling the P-3 Orions. With high-tech equipment like the Orions its ongoing maintenance, operating, crew and upgrading costs are extremely high (eg. Orions cost nearly twice as much per hour as a Skyhawk to fly). Over their next 20 years the operating costs would be many times more than the hundreds of millions wanted for Sirius. In contrast, EEZ surveillance aircraft could be purchased and run for a much lower cost and, without the conflict with combat-related training and exercising, they would be more available for EEZ work.

Even if EEZ protection stays with defence, and Orions are used, they could perform this task with much less and lower technology equipment than Sirius. The only necessary equipment would be a surveillance radar of much lower cost than the Sirius radar. The anti-submarine and other electronic sensor systems could be eliminated. There would also therefore be no need for the extremely expensive data processing computer system of Sirius. No urgent new equipment would be required and any upgrading would be under 10% of the cost of Sirius. This of course means dropping the never-used and low priority capabilities related to maritime combat. There are plenty of examples of EEZ protection aircraft around the world that do not have the expense and complexity of a combat-equipped Orion.

The Australian Defence Force stated this year that it is considering not using its Orions for the "non-defence task" of EEZ protection at all, as this was seen as an inefficient use of "Defence capabilities designed and acquired for warfighting".[10] The same issues apply in New Zealand but the Australians are just more open about the purpose of their Orions.


1: "The modification shall upgrade the P3K Orion’s navigation, radar, electro-optics, ESM [electronic support measures], MAD [magnetic anomaly detector], acoustic processing, communications, armament and ordnance [eg. torpedoes], self protection, and data management systems with new more capable systems." (Ministry of Defence, Project Sirius Request for Tender, RFT No. 4212, 10 February 1999.)

2. These include over 500 US Orions (at one time deployed worldwide in 16 overseas bases) and other allied squadrons: Australia (30), Canada (18), Japan (45), Netherlands (13), Norway (7), Spain (6) and (later) South Korea, Thailand, Portugal, Pakistan and Greece.

3. US Navy website, June 2000.

4. Avastar website,, July 2000.

5. Ministry of Defence, Project Sirius Request for Tender, RFT No. 4212, 10 February 1999.

6. Janes, Radar and Electronic Warfare Systems, 1999-2000, pp. 201-202.

7. Janes, Radar and Electronic Warfare Systems, 1999-2000, p .195.

8. Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, Questions for 2000/01 Estimates, set three, July 2000.

9. Ministry of Defence, Project Sirius Best and Final Offer, BAFO No 4212, 30 November 1999, p.4/5.

10. Australian Department of Defence, Defence Review 2000.

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