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Periscope Depth 09/14/23: New Zealand Takes 1st Step Toward Renewed Naval Fleet

Author: Julian Lark

September 13 2023

The New Zealand government issued a request for information (ROI) on Sept. 7 seeking market research in support of the replacement of its aging naval fleet. The defense ministry is developing a new Defense Capability Plan as part of its broader Defense Policy Review. Responses are due by Nov. 15.

The ministry indicated that it wants to investigate alternative fleet configurations, operations and approaches rather than replacing its fleet “like-for-like.”

Under the previously released Future Force Design Principles, this broad ROI will be shaped by a desire to procure off-the-shelf systems with minimal complexity that can support a force capable of deploying to multiple locations at once and engaging in combat.

Most of the New Zealand navy’s fleet is slated to reach the end of its service life by the mid-2030s.

The fleet's principal surface combatants, two Te Kaha-class frigates, entered service in 1997 and 199, respectively, while four Rotoiti-class inshore patrol vessels entered service in 2009 and two Otago-class offshore patrol vessels in 2010. Two of the Rotoiti-class vessels have already been decommissioned for transfer to Ireland. The multirole vessel Canterbury was commissioned in 2007.

Australia plans to begin retiring its ANZAC-class frigates (upon which New Zealand’s Te Kaha class is based) in 2024, while New Zealand upgraded its frigates in 2020 and 2022 for another decade of service. This reflects the differing strategic perspectives between the two countries. Australia has long maintained a full portfolio of military capabilities and taken an active role in support of its allies around the world. New Zealand drastically cut defense spending following the end of the Cold War, reaching a nadir of 0.99 percent of GDP in 2015, and has struggled to recover since. While Australia decided to procure new Hunter-class frigates in 2018, with the lead ship expected to enter service around 2031, New Zealand has only now begun seriously considering its way forward. Given the time such programs take to execute, it is possible that Wellington may be forced to refit its frigates again before they can be replaced.

The ROI has a broad focus, with government perhaps hoping that industry will propose solutions to address the New Zealand Defense Force’s (NZDF’s) persistent personnel shortfalls. In December 2022, a third of RNZN ships were docked due to a lack of crew. Funded to a strength of 2,230, the navy reported only 2,117 personnel in service and an attrition rate of 16.5 percent last year.

New Zealand has long relied on its distance from major powers to provide security. However, with a 1.6-million square-mile exclusive economic zone and increasing tensions in the Indo-Pacific, the bills have come due, particularly if Wellington wishes to be taken seriously in the security domain by its allies and partners.

Defense Minister Andrew Little has emphasized that New Zealand's national security needs have expanded in recent years. In a speech on Aug. 4 unveiling a new defense policy and strategy, Little said that New Zealanders "do not live in a benign strategic environment,” noting growing "competition in our region which, up until recently, we thought was protected by its remoteness."

Wellington was scheduled to release its Defense Capability Plan in 2024. However, general elections set for Oct. 14 may be pushing the Labour government to accelerate that schedule.


“Industry Engagement -- Maritime Fleet Market Research for the Defence Capability Plan,” New Zealand Government, Sept. 7, 2023.

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