New Zealand Defence Force top brass warns Government spending cuts target could ground aircraft

Defence Force top brass have warned that meeting the Government's spending cuts target will affect capability.  

The Chief of Defence Force, Kevin Short, said he would present his minister, Judith Collins, with a list of options which would show the impact of a 6.5 percent cut – which would equate to $150 million of the department's budget.  

"To get to the $150 (million in savings) we would have to divest ourselves of capability," Short said.  

Air Marshal Short made the warning at the annual review of NZDF and the Ministry of Defence at a Select Committee on Thursday morning.  

It comes as every Government agency is under pressure to find cuts of 6.5 per cent as the Coalition looks to suck $1.5 billion out of public service spending.  

"We're presenting that solution but presenting very clearly the impact," Short said.  

Part of the proposal included what the Chief called "trimming" administration, travel and contractors but Short made it clear that to reach the full 6.5 percent required it meant putting maintenance on hold.  

Two Hercules C-130s have already been grounded to save on maintenance costs and Short said more aircraft or ships would also need to be taken out of action to meet the full 6.5 percent cuts target.  

He gave the example of the Seasprite helicopters which support frigates, which Short described as "a fighting vessel that have the capability to tell whoever is threatening that we mean business."  

"The whole reason we have a Defence Force is to allow us to go into harm's way to protect what we think is valuable to NZ and New Zealanders."  

Short was then asked what threat he was referring to. He replied: "To the north."  

When asked what percentage of savings the Defence Force could get to before it started cutting deep into defence capability, Short responded that it depended on the Government's level of comfort.  

"If they take the option of putting the Seasprites on the ground, that's what it is – it pushes us well into the percentage they want. I just think it takes away options that the Government would want."  

 On his own comfort level, Short said "Because I'm the Chief of Defence Force it's zero ... zero comfort and zero percent."  

Collins has been approached for comment on Short's comments but earlier told the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee that growing the Defence Force's capability was one of her priorities.  

But she said her expectation was also that the Defence Force would find savings.  

"We have to look for savings, that's why I've said to Defence 'I don't want you doing anything that's not actually about your business ... I don't want you exploring your personal wellbeing that much, except during your own time'. 

"I need everything being focused on getting the job done."  

The Prime Minister has also previously told AM the Defence Force would have an increased budget this year but they would still need to find some savings.   

"We still want them to have that culture in that mindset to say, let's make things as efficient as possible," Luxon said.