Post 2015 Airforce
Recommendations Stemming from this Study

Overall Study

Force Recommedations

Post 2035 Force



The airforce has been severely run down for the past twenty years. The C-130H Hercules and P-3K Orion aircraft are coming to the end of their operational lives and while the B757's are a useful long range aircraft for logistical support they are not tactical aircraft and are not intended for a tactical situation.

Analysing the fixed wing missions the airforce carries out brings us down to the following:

  • Very long range Maritime patrol predominantly observing surface craft
  • Very long range transport of para-dropped cargoes
  • Very long range transport of relatively small medical teams and their equipment for mercy missions and evacuating casualties (military and or civilian)
  • Very long range transport of soldiers to peacekeeping duties around the world.

Potential requirements for future airforce aircraft include:

  • Very long range maritime intervention including air-sea rescue or boarding.
  • Fire-fighting or spray dumping to combat pathogens
  • Mission control for Unpiloted Aerial Vehicles
  • Very long range interdiction using precision munitions against terrorist targets
  • Very long range interception of terrorist controlled aircraft

Where very long range effectively means the ability to carry out a mission at 2,200 nautical miles (4,500km) and return with sufficient reserves.

Where possible it would be preferable if a common aircraft platform were used for all of the above mission types. This is to reduce operational costs.

Another consideration of significance is the pilot rating progression through the force. Recruiting airforce pilots from civilian operations is a possibility but generally airforces like to have a training continuity from trainee pilot to largest aircraft in the fleet.

Combined Solution Aircraft Families

There following potential solutions in the 2015-20 time frame. These include:

The C-295

The C-295 Persuader maritime patrol aircraft and C-295  transport aircraft has a range of 3,000 nautical miles (endurance 11 hours) and can lift up to 9 tonnes. Its operational costs are a third of the C-130. It is the lowest priced and lowest possible specification.  The aircraft is slow flying at a maximum 250 knots and can take off in 800 metres. For the bulk of short-range domestic missions it would be adequate but for longer range missions it would be too small and too slow. The aircraft costs about US$50 million plus per unit. The Persuader would need another US$25 million worth of sensors and equipment.

The C-130J Family

A beefed up Hercules, used by the US Coastguard, and also by the Australian Airforce. Its main drawback is its outrageous US$120 million PLUS  per unit price tag. The J version has more powerful engines and comes in a larger stretched variant. The aircraft flies at 350 knots to 2,800 nautical miles and carries up to 18 tonnes(though not that far). It can take-off in 1,000 metres.

The Embraer E-Series jets

Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer has announced it will develop a military transport to compete with the C-130J and Airbus A400M. The C-390 is derived from the successful E-190 E-jet series of regional jet-liners. 

Its design specification is to carry 19 tonnes although information about range and cruising speed are not available it could be expected to have a high 500 knot cruising speed but a reduced range somewhere around the 2400nm mark. Latest reports say the aircraft is scheduled for first flights by 2013 but in an important development the aircraft will now also be able to serve as a tanker. A tanker could theoretically extend the operational radius of our aircraft considerably.

The E-190 can carry 100 passengers 3,000 nautical miles and could be adapted for very long range medical evacuation and maritime patrol roles as Embraer already has this expertise using its Lineage business jets which can carry 19 passengers up to 4,200nm. The target price for the C-390 is said to be US$50 million but a better guess would be US$75 million. The E-190 costs about $40 million as a green airframe and would need another $35 million refit to come up to Maritime Patrol standards. A unit cost of around $75 million would not be surprising.

It should be noted that the C-390 aircraft has not yet been built and may not be built. The project has the support of Denel-Saab and on paper stands a reasonable chance of success because of the large fleet of C-130s needing replacement and Lockheed's pricing. But as so far there have been delays on most major development projects including the Airbus A380, the B787, the A-400M and the C-C/P-X shows that this aircraft may not be available until 2020, if at all. 

Kawasaki Heavy Industries P-X and C-X

The previous aircraft all compromise the specification requirement somewhat. However their KHI P-X and C-X aircraft designs are perfect for a small island nation in the Pacific which wishes to dispatch resources over very long range. Both aircraft are based on the same design components although have different wing arrangements (like the Embraer) because of their purposes.  The
C-X is specified to carry up to 37 tonnes over 2,000 nautical miles so could even land a LAV III! Its said it will cost $80 million a copy but it would be prudent to budget on $100 million. The P-X is an anti-submarine aircraft like the P-3 Orion but designed to stooge around. It may be a bit too over-specced for New Zealand purposes. There is also the sensitivity of using P-X's to patrol the Southern Ocean when the Japanese fishing and whaling fleet are most likely to be the perpetrators they are going to keep an eye on. Unfortunately for the moment neither are for sale as arms sales are forbidden under the Japanese Constitution. This may change before 2015.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries has had problems with the C-X and there are even rumours it may need re-design.  While KHI is an experienced airframe manufacturer subcontracting to Boeing, Airbus and Embraer its ability to enter the airframe business and compete against other manufacturers is moot. The danger could be getting stuck with an airframe that is only used by the JSDF and no-one else.

One-off Maritime Patrol Options

A range of civilian airliners and business jets have been adapted for maritime patrol. These are discussed in the original Review.

Another consideration is the BA-609

Mentioned here. Which has a 750nm range but very short endurance (no more than four hours) even if it can vertical intervene if need be. This design is expected to get FAA approval in 2010 and had quite a list of despositors. Whether that list survives the current economic turbulence is uncertain.

And the

Piaggio P-180 Avanti II

Which is a long range (1845nm), high altitude (42,000ft) business turboprop costing about US$15 million before adaption. A very economical but relatively small radar/FLIR platform. The Italians have bought a few of them for maritime patrol, the same way they buy Lamborghinis for highway patrol.

ShinMaya US-2 Amphibian

The Japanese company ShinMaya has updated its original search and rescue amphibian for the Japanese airforce. With a 2,500 n mile range the aircraft could patrol the Southern Pacific and intervene relatively easily in good weather. Amphibians are, however no use in high seas. ShinMaya builds these aircraft as one-offs and there is no production run to speak of. Security of parts supply would be somewhat dubious.

The Irkut Corporation/ Beriev A-42P

Beriev's forlorn efforts to sell a monster amphibian aircraft "Sea Dragon" have been palmed off on to the Russian/Indian joint venture corporation Irkut .The Russian Navy has however injected new hope into the project with an order for two and a possible development of an ASW version with many possible orders.

One-Off Transport Options

Most of these are mentioned here.

Of these the main ones are the

Airbus A400M

which has yet to fly in service for anyone. Indeed Airbus has warned France that it is likely not to recieve its first aircraft until 2010 - a two year delay on the original schedule. Its outrageous price tag (over US$120 million ) gave even the Japanese pause.

and the

Ilyushin IL76MF/MD/TD

For some time there the ability of Rosoboronexport (the Russian state arms export company) to meet delivery requirements for the big Ilyushin was highly questionable with delayed deliveries to China and Jordan due to problems with the assembly factory in Tashkent. The formation of United Aircraft Corporation out of all the big name Russian design bureaus and the move to repatriate Ilyushin production in Russia proper now suggests however that the Russians are pulling finger and intend to regain their position as one of the leading aircraft manufacturing nations. Production is expected to resume before 2012 on new versions with the latest avionics and engines.

There can be little doubt about the performance of the IL-76 family. The aircraft is a busy one working with the United Nations and even being used by Canada to move its troops to Afghanistan. As noted in the Review. The IL-76 is a serious aircraft. It has been around for years and performed very well. The only question is whether an aircraft of this size fits with the rest of the current and actual Defence Force. 

IRKUT Corporation Tactical Transport

Russian aircraft manufacturer Ilyushin (now part of United Aircraft Corporation) and Hindustand Aeronautics Limited have formed the Irkut joint venture corporation to develop a tactical transport very similar to the Embraer C-390. This aircraft is planned for the 2015-2020 time-frame. There is no plan to offer a maritime patrol version although the company has inherited the monster amphibian designed by, Beriev, the  A-42.

Transport Discussion

New Zealand international air transport missions do not typically require a lot of ramp-delivered cargo.  In general the main vehicle delivered is the Pinzgauer Light Operational Vehicle rather than the far more hefty LAV III. Indeed in this author's view delivering LAVs by air would be a fairly pointless undertaking as they are so heavy there would be too few to make much of an airport bridgehead.   

The B757 will probably survive for another ten to twenty years. This aircraft is a long range freighter, good for moving staff and their equipment overseas. It cannot however paradrop nor carry vehicles. This aircraft will probably meet the needs of most of the long range transport missions required by the Airforce, although over time it will become increasingly expensive to operate.

At the same time there are a number of occasions where the use of the Hercules to deliver medical aid or evacuations has not made much sense. The teams are small, the distances are long and equipment they carry portable.

Many RNZAF domestic transport flights are for relatively small numbers of staff with their equipment between airports. These are too short to make much sense of using the B757s. 

The ability to fly in commercial airliner routes is a benefit the Japanese in particular rated well above very short field operations. As New Zealand is more like Japan than Australia we should take this view seriously.

The jet transports are the IL-76, C-X, the C-390, and the Irkut. The prop transports are the A-400M, the C-130, and the C-295. The first question we have to ask is what ramp delivered cargo are we going to transport and how far do we want to be able to carry it.

One of the main considerations has to be whether we wish to carry 3.5T Pinzgauers or heavier 10T logistics vehicles. If not we can greatly reduce the weight capability requirement of the aircraft. In my view two Pinzgauers should be regarded as the minimum model load and the required distance should be a return trip to 2,200 nautical miles in a single 9-hour (flying time) mission.

Essentially the aircraft that meet this specification are the IL-76, the C-X, the C-390, the Irkut and the A-400M. Of these the C-390 and the Irkut are minimal conforming, while the IL-76, C-X and A-400 would probably fit another Pinzgauer in their holds. On the other hand the C-390 and the Irkut would certainly be the lower operational cost aircraft.

Of these only the C-X and the C-390 are part of a family of aircraft. The C-390 will have wider access to a range of parts as it is already part of a family of operating E-190 aircraft while the C-X is not.

In the original review the IL-76MF (plus the C-295 and the A319) were selected.  However the IL-76 was partnered with the AMV vehicle and MAN HX/SX truck which was intended to be capable of more muscular interventions than the Pinzgauer. For all its limitations the Pinzgauer has effectively become the principal logistics and patrol vehicle of the internationally deployed NZDF.  More to the point the IL76 was selected instead of the B757 not as well as the B757 as it was to do pretty much the same job (but better). The selection of the Pinzgauer reduces the need for a very heavy airlift aircraft. That said the IL-76 is not a new design and parts are widely available.

From a parts and service point of view the best aircraft are the C-130, the IL-76, the C-390 and the C-295. The A-400M, Irkut and C-X can be discounted immediately.

From an operational cost point of view the best offers will be the C-295, the C-390 and the C-130.

From a capital cost point of view the best offers are the C-390, C-295 and IL76.

For domestic missions the scope expands to the C-295. This aircraft has significantly lower operating costs than the jets but it must be pointed out the EADS aircraft is becoming very expensive, costing almost as much as the cheaper jets. The C-295 has better short landing capability but with a maximum load of 7.5 tonnes over any distance is better at carrying paratroops, pallets and equipment rather than vehicles.

Maritime Patrol Discussion.

The P-3 Orion is an anti submarine warfare aircraft. It is highly unlikely that we will face a submarine threat in the next fifty years. Indeed most of the threat is to our EEZ from fishing vessels who refuse to acknowledge our sovereignty.

At the same time we need to provide a long range maritime patrol to:

1. Search and (if possible) rescue mariners
2. Identify targets for intervention/investigation
3. Engage in electronic communications monitoring of vessels
4. If necessary drop rescue stores or guided munitions
5. "persuade" fishing vessels to comply with instructions (typically with a 12.7mm machinegun) to return to port

and in disasters

The ability to conduct rapid hydroscopic surveys of at-risk shipping channels (eg Rangitoto, Barrets Reef, etc) using laser bathymetry.

To achieve this an aircraft will need:

1. A decent synthetic aperture radar for wide area scans with 1 metre resolution out to 100nm from 45,000 feet. This is to find boats.
2. Forward Looking thermal telescopic scanners with 0.3 metre resolution to 25nm from 6,000 feet. This is to find people.
3. Shallow water LIDAR
4. A 12.7mm HMG pod
5. External hard-points
6. ECM equipment
7. Potential UAV controller

and very long range and endurance.

In addition the aircraft could also operate as a long range air ambulance for cases needing to be repatriated to New Zealand.

All of this is a bit of a hotch-potch to say the least. Perhaps the biggest question is the aircraft's operational altitude.

The P3K is a low level loitering type aircraft with four engines. However a synthetic aperture radar works best at high altitudes as for example on the Global Hawk UAV. The assumption is that the aircraft will scan the sea surface with SAR for interesting targets, eavesdrop on communications using ECM and descend for visual contact and more detailed interrogation and intervention only if necessary.

Essentially aircraft split into three main types. These are converted passenger or corporate jets (eg P-8, P-X, an A320 variant and a E-190 Lineage variant using the Embraer R-99B as a model); then there are the regional turboprops (the C-295, the ATR-72, the Saab etc); and finally there are the oddments such as the A-42, Shamaya US-2 and BAE-609.

Summarising the types ;the jets tend to be expensive but have excellent logistical support; the turboprops lack range but are less operationally expensive; and the oddments are either too short ranged or too expensive.


While technically the Ministry of Defence specifies specifications rather than solutions and allows people to tender for the contract in practical terms the Defence Force usually writes the spec so tightly that only one conforming tender is left standing and everyone else threatenes to sue.

Not being in the Ministry means I don't have to worry about these games and can cut to the chase.

To my mind the clear winner is the Embraer C-390 and E-190 family. The aircraft are much cheaper to buy and operate than any other aircraft. But of course there is an IF. The IF is the C-390 actually gets built.

The second place getter is the EADS C-295. Its too expensive for what it is, shorter ranged, and less capable than the Embraer but you can kick one's wheels today and that counts for a lot.

The A400M is discounted for being late and very expensive.
The C-130 is discounted for being slow and very expensive
The IL-76 is discounted for being expensive to run and too large given we already have B757s for long range service.
The C-X/P-X is discounted for being short-run production
The IRKUT offerings for being short-run and a bit odd.

An Immodest Proposal for MinDef

Order 2 C-295 MPA Persuaders for shorter range maritime patrols and 2 C-295 cargo aircraft when our dollar looks auspicious again.Replace 2 P3Ks and 2 C-130s by 2015. This will reduce operational costs although it will increase the capital charge.  

Make strong enquiries to Embraer regarding the C-390 and the feasibility of converting the E-190 Lineage into a very long range maritime patrol aircraft a la the R-99B, with an eye to buying three of each. Replace the other P3Ks and C-130s by 2020.