David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Companies line up to provide air force's new wings

Kawasaki P-1. Photo / Supplied
Kawasaki P-1. Photo / Supplied

Our next military transport could be built by Kawasaki.

And the aircraft which patrol our maritime borders could come off the same factory line.

The Japanese company is among contenders as the NZ Defence Force prepares to replace some of its oldest and most essential kit.

Among them is the Hercules transporter which has been in Royal NZ Air Force service since 1965. The other main aircraft being replaced is the P-3K2 Orion patrol plane, introduced in 1966 although recently refitted with state-of-the-art surveillance systems.

Defence chiefs are working through options at the moment but the Japanese government is sounding bullish over its prospects.

A Japanese official was quoted in the Nikkei Asian Review saying the contest to replace the patrol plane was a "one-on-one fight with Boeing's P-8 patrol plane".

The news agency reported that "representatives from Japan's defense ministry and Kawasaki Heavy are in New Zealand for negotiations".

The claim prompted an NZDF spokesman to say: "Defence is not involved in any negotiations with the Japanese Government or Kawasaki Heavy Industries."

The pitch by Kawasaki might not yet be at "negotiation" level but the Japanese company is considered a front-runner alongside Airbus, Boeing and the Brazilian company Embraer.

The heightened speculation comes after Japan took the opportunity to offer the Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft to survey Kaikoura and affected areas after the November quake. The aircraft was here for the Royal NZ Navy's 75th celebrations.

The Hercules is a key component of NZDF's ability to transport troops and supplies across the Pacific. While it is also able to - albeit slowly - move troops and equipment across the world, its primary role is to provide "tactical" airlift in New Zealand's zone of influence.

The P-3K2 is a critical component of protecting New Zealand's economic zone, not only providing military support to NZDF but surveillance information to the Ministry of Primary Industries, NZ Customs and Police.

While much of the work of the aircraft happens outside the headlines, both the Hercules and Orion often emerge when disaster strikes - needle-in-a-haystack search-and-rescue missions in the Pacific, natural disaster relief and humanitarian missions.

The common theme in the Kawasaki and other proposed replacements for the Hercules is a comparable cost, lift and size. The Kawasaki C-2 is believed to cost $115 million each, while the Brazilian Embraer's KC-390 has been priced about $120m. Airbus has developed the Atlas, costing about $220m while Lockheed Martin has updated the Hercules with the C-130J 'Super Hercules' at $140m a piece.

There had been speculation NZDF would seek out a C-17 Globemaster, with Parliament's foreign affairs and defence select committee members going for a ride in one in February 2015.

The much larger aircraft - of which none are currently believed available for sale - needs much longer runways, carries twice as much cargo and costs about $300m each.

The NZDF spokesman said it was considering a number of options to replace the P-3K2 and the Hercules.

"A large number of possible suppliers from several countries have responded to the initial Requests for Information (RFI) issued last year, and the ministry expects to get a decision from Government on preferred options and call for tenders mid-2018."

Replacement options

Tactical airlift

Hercules C130. Photo / Duncan Brown
Hercules C130. Photo / Duncan Brown

Hercules C-130
Cost: No longer produced
Max speed: 590km/h
Altitude: 12800m
Range: 7400km
Maximum carry: 17,250kg
Runway needed: 900m

Kawasaki C-2.
Kawasaki C-2.

Kawasaki C-2
Cost: $115m
Max speed: 917km/h
Altitude: 12200m
Range: 7600km
Maximum carry: 36,000kg
Runway needed: 800m

Embraer KC390. Photo / Supplied
Embraer KC390. Photo / Supplied

Brazilian Embraer's KC-390
Cost: $120m
Speed: 850km/h
Altitude: 10,970m
Range: 5000km
Maximum carry: 27,000km
Runway needed: 1100m

Airbus Atlas. Photo / Supplied
Airbus Atlas. Photo / Supplied

Airbus Atlas
Cost: $220m
Speed: 780km/h
Altitude: 12,200m
Range: 6400km
Maximum carry: 37,000kg
Runway needed: 980m

Super Hercules C-130J. Photo / Lockheed Martin
Super Hercules C-130J. Photo / Lockheed Martin

'Super Hercules' C-130J
Cost: $140m
Speed: 640km/h
Altitude: 12,300m
Range: 5240km
Maximum carry: 19,000kg
Runway for takeoff: 950m

Maritime patrol aircraft

Kawasaki P-1
Cost: $240m
Speed: 996km/h
Altitude: 13,520m
Range: 8000km

Boeing P-8
Cost: $360m
Speed: 907km/h
Altitude: 12,496
Range: 8300km

- NZ Herald

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