Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Drones could take the place of boots on the ground

Armed drones may be part of a Defence Force makeover. File photo / NZME.
Armed drones may be part of a Defence Force makeover. File photo / NZME.

A makeover of the New Zealand Defence Force should reinstate airstrike capability and include armed drones, says New Zealand First deputy leader Ron Mark.

The latest Defence White Paper is scheduled for March. The Government is reviewing NZDF's blueprint and how to handle threats and military challenges over the next 25 years.

Mark, who served 20 years in the military, including deployments in Israel, Egypt and Oman, wants a major re-think in policy.

One of the key considerations should be terrorism - domestic and international - and how well-equipped New Zealand is to handle an attack on home soil and defend troops overseas.

Mark says technological advances such as armed drones and more affordable fighter jets offer viable options.

"For a start, we wouldn't have to put boots on the ground. We could offer the service of fighter jets," Mark told the Herald on Sunday.

"There are affordable combat aircraft that meet our needs and budgetary reality, not to mention, the emergence of unmanned ones. If a passenger jet is hijacked in New Zealand, how are we going to bring it down? It's a long way for the Aussies to fly a fighter over here."

The Labour Government axed 17 Aermacchi jets and the combat wing of 17 Skyhawk fighter bombers in 2001. Eight years ago, Prime Minister John Key shot down the idea that the Air Force's strike wing should be restored.

Airstrike capabilities would also provide an alternative to deploying Kiwis on the ground in hotspots around the world, Mark said.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee declined to comment on Mark's suggestions "in detail", saying it would pre-empt the White Paper.

But he appeared prepared to rule out changing position on airstrikes.

"We believe New Zealand can deliver a balanced defence force which meets our domestic requirements and international obligations now and into the future without revisiting the issue of air combat or strike capability," Brownlee said.

He also said defence spending "is rising, not falling" and "in the Budget 2014 the Government announced new operating funding of $535.5 million over four years for NZDF".

- Herald on Sunday

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