Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Seasprite Splashdown?

If a deal’s too good to be true…it probably is.
Our army found that with the under-armoured over-priced LAVs, the navy with their fault-plagued Project Protector fleet…and now the navy's struggling to keep its five Seasprite anti-submarine helicopters airborn.
We bought the choppers in a NZ$350m "steal" deal in 1999. Labour/Alliance had only just come to power in November that year – so this purchase was a National initiative/disaster (under PM Jenny Shipley, Max Bradford was Defence Minister). The airframes had been stored in the Arizona desert before coming here – wonder why? That’s where USA stores the thousands of aircraft that no-one else wants! Soon after that sale, the US Navy ditched Seasprites and scrapped its flight simulator, leaving NZ - which now has the only particular model flying - struggling to train pilots, and parts are not easily available. The Aussies dumped their Seasprite deal in 2008 and returned their machines to the manufacturer. Of course, because our purchase was so damn wonderful, we had no return-to-sender option! Duuuhhh!!!
Now in 2011, a MoD report says three Seasprites have to be flying at any one time, but last October only one could get in the air and earlier this year there were just two serviceable Seasprites. Engineers are finding corrosion or vibration damage in areas where it hasn’t been seen before and the report says the "damage will worsen the longer it is left". It doesn’t help when staff cut-backs reduce the maintenance teams.
Here’re some utterances that may be useful in the future:
Defence Minister Wayne Mapp: labelled the Seasprites "an orphan fleet" when in opposition, but last week said they were safe and very capable.
Air Vice-Marshall Peter Stockwell: says the Seasprites are ideal for their naval role and "absolutely safe to fly".
When trying – on a small nation’s shoestring budget – to equip a professional fighting force (who deserve the best we can supply them), it always pays to look a gift horse in the mouth!

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