Defence Minister questions suitability of $771 million ‘challenging piece of kit’.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says the difficulties in using the Royal New Zealand Air Force's helicopters in cyclone-hit Vanuatu shows the Government needs to be very careful in making its next military purchases.

He said the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) was unable to take any of its eight NH90 helicopters to the Pacific Islands after Cyclone Pam because they were considered too difficult to transport and were not yet cleared for "island-hopping".

The Navy's Seasprite helicopter was sent instead because it could be more easily transported. The Defence Force was also concerned about how the NH90s would cope with "wind-wash" in the islands.

Mr Brownlee said: "I wouldn't call the NH90s a white elephant [but] I think they're a challenging piece of kit. And we've got to be very careful that we don't end up buying more unsuitable equipment."

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The Government is planning to replace the air force's Hercules and Boeing 757s in the next five years, and Mr Brownlee said the NH90 experience showed the importance of careful procurement.

The NH90s were bought by the previous Labour government for $771 million.

Mr Brownlee said: "My assessment on becoming minister is that if you are going to make military procurements you need to make sure that everything fits together well."

Labour's former Defence Minister Phil Goff, who ordered the NH90s in 2006, said the helicopters were used by many countries' defence forces.

Our helicopters
Nato Helicopter NH90
Cost: $771 million for 8 + support
Max speed: 300km/h
Capacity: 3 crew + 19 passengers

Kaman SH 2G Seasprite
Cost: $242 million for 8 helicopters + parts
Max speed: 280km/h
Capacity: 3 crew + 5 passengers.