Forget our nuclear-free legislation and forget the controversy over Waihopai - New Zealand defence researchers are helping perfect US missile systems, nuclear submarines and even space warfare craft - IAN WISHART breaks the story

United States nuclear submarines are visiting New Zealand waters as part of a top secret
defence research programme involving five countries, and for joint training exercises.

Defence sources approached Investigate after the April issue revealed nuclear submarines had been seen in Fiordland, and offered to shed light on the arrangement.

They say that despite New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation and the alleged ANZUS "rift", US nuclear-powered and, in some cases, nuclear-armed subs are frequent

"I have personally been on American submarines off Great Barrier Island on a number of occasions," claims one soldier, "during my time with the Special Boat Squadron".

The SBS, a division of the Special Air Service, regularly holds training exercises in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, and those missions sometimes involve Australian commandos and US Navy SEALS.

"We’ve even had a beer with them on the Barrier while we all wait for a boat ride back to Auckland."

The soldier provided photographs of one joint mission involving the SBS and a visiting Australian submarine in the Hauraki Gulf, on the condition that classified military equipment being carried by SBS personnel is not identifiable.

"The Yanks don’t come in as often as the Aussies, but they like to test their anti-detection systems against the New Zealand and Australian airforces, so there’s something in it for everyone.

"They also use the big electric power cable that runs out to Tiri [island, opposite the Army Bay restricted defence area on Auckland’s Whangaparaoa Peninsula]. Now the average Joe in the street probably thinks it’s just a power cable, but it does a lot more than that.

"The electric field thrown out by that particular cable is used by submarines for de-gaussing their hulls. One of the methods used by satellites and Orions to detect submarines is to look for their magnetic footprint. So what the subs do when they come past Auckland is to de-gauss themselves over the Tiri lighthouse power cable."

Officially, if you believe the press-release fed daily news media, the ANZUS rift spelt the end of effective defence ties between New Zealand and the United States. Although it did have an impact, the rift was nowhere near as far-reaching as claimed.

How do we know? Well, in the course of researching the issue of submarine visits, we stumbled across a US Navy website dedicated to military research, known officially as AUSCANNZUKUS (pronounced OZ-CAN-ZUCKIS), and it is by no means low-powered. New Zealand’s supervisory representative on the programme is the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, while the American representative is the Director of the Space Information Warfare Command and Control unit.

Other New Zealanders on the team include the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Development), the Director of Naval Command Control and Communications, the Director of Weapons Engineering and our Assistant Naval Attache at the NZ Embassy in Washington.

Other US officials on the team include the Deputy Director of the Joint and Allied Fleet Requirements Division and the Assistant [Secretary] for Allied Interoperability.

So what does AUSCANNZUKUS actually do? Ninety-nine percent of the documents and reports posted on its website were classified, requiring coded access, but of the few remaining we discovered that AUSCANN arose from communications problems between different allied fleets in World War Two, and what began as a UK/US entity "matured to the current five nation organisation in 1980 when New Zealand became a full member.

"This organisation is firmly established and liaises closely with Washington-based management groups" covering defence research in communications, Naval, Army and Airforce.

Meetings are held up to three times a month in various cities around the world, on topics with fascinating titles like "Human/Machine integration studies" or "Project DOMINO", "PSYCHO concepts" or "NZ SubNet [the communications system for nuclear submarines] Relay Brief". Digging deeper in the website, and ignoring the hundreds of inaccessible classified documents, we did find a presumably declassified report from 1997 on tests of a new "Star Wars" style anti missile system for warships.

Known as the Multi-band Anti-ship cruise missile defense Tactical Electronic warfare System (pictured above), or "MATES" for short, the TTCP Program report reveals an 80% success rate for warship based laser-guns attempting to shoot down incoming cruise missiles in less than two seconds. The need to develop the Star Wars system for ships arose because of "the proliferation of infrared guided anti-ship cruise missiles to Third World countries."

The working principle of the system is not that the lasers physically blow up the missiles, but that they burn out the guidance systems on the cruise missiles, sending them haywire.

Two more declassified reports on the website specifically involved US submarines, and New Zealand.

Headlined "Data Integration for Undersea Warfare", the first of these 1997 reports reveals that "two surface ships, a nuclear submarine, maritime patrol aircraft, and a variety of other assets were employed", with New Zealand and Australia providing "post-exercise data analysis and processing".

The purpose of the research was to test new submarine tracking technology, and the published report includes a "Sonobouy Genetic Algorithm TMA" generated by the New Zealand Navy.

Australia’s CUPID system used the research to accurately generate its own tracking report on the US submarine. The report notes that "Panel members have gained approximately 5-10 years in development time and saved approximately US$1,000,000 that would otherwise have been necessary for test-bed development.

"The data collected are being processed and used to evaluate nationally-developed algorithms which will be used to increase the military effectiveness of undersea warfare programmes in all TTCP countries."

But it is the third research programme, carried out in the early 1990s and released in military circles in 1997, that involves New Zealand the most.

Called Project TESPEX, defence scientists in the five nations were working on new methods of detecting submarines in shallow water using sonar: previously difficult because of unwanted "pings" from objects on the seabed.

"Promising results from computer simulations made it clear that a collaborative effort to test some of these processing concepts using at-sea measurements would benefit all nations significantly.

"The first experiment took place off the East Coast of New Zealand." The project team notes that "significant" gains were made in advanced submarine detection as a result of the experiments, saying its now "possible to detect, locate and track" subs in shallow water - presumably this technology may one day become available to keen fishermen!

But if you’re thinking New Zealand’s role in the Western alliance is limited to assisting US nuclear strike and attack subs, you’d be seriously mistaken.

Another project team known as AER - Aerospace Systems Group, is at the cutting edge of the new millennium’s final frontier: space combat. Yes, New Zealand is involved in "rocket science".

Kiwi defence official Patrick Conor is named as our member of the project, which "covers the technology and systems aspects of military fixed and rotary wing air platforms and those associated with the construction and deployment of space-based assets.

"It includes UAVs [sorry, we have no idea what they are, ed.] and other novel platform configurations and may include payloads where they are a fundamental part of the air or space vehicle.

"Systems may be studied to gain an understanding of the state of the art, to derive the departure point for future activity, and to evaluate current and near-term technical and operational capabilities."

And then comes the cherry on top: the AER group is currently working on the ultimate Star Wars fantasy - a real space combat craft, albeit low orbital.

"Future LO/survivable combat aircraft will need to achieve similar levels of manoeuvre performance to current aircraft, despite the aerodynamic constraints arising from the LO requirements."

As part of the research, a prototype wing for one of these "Starfighters" is currently undergoing aerodynamic testing in the US and UK (pictured, above left).

Another research team, the C3I "Command, Control, Communications and Information Systems" Group, is working on "Space and UAV Communications", but also of note is New Zealand’s role on the Electronic Warfare Systems Group, which involves New Zealander S. Anthony Brown. The EWS is "responsible for cooperative research and development of electronic warfare systems to support and defend land, sea and air forces."

It was the EWS Group that was specifically responsible for testing the laser system against cruise missiles.

The Maritime Systems Group, which carried out the TESPEX anti-submarine trial off New Zealand’s East Coast, is currently chaired by New Zealand defence official Dr Ralph Marrett. Its task is "to counter the worldwide threat from the sea".

This is where data from New Zealand’s P3 Orion aircraft and navy research ships is accumulated.

The AUSCANNZUKUS website includes a grainy photo of the top-secret T-CSEAL laboratory where the number-crunching is done (above).

New Zealand is also involved with the Conventional Weapons Technology Group, which is working on "Propulsion Technology and Guidance, Control and Fuzing, Indirect Fire Systems and Precision Weapon Guidance.

Again, S. Anthony Brown is the NZ participant.

The Sensors Group is charged with "tracking and identification of air and surface targets, terrain mapping and component technology development", and New Zealand’s involvement is overseen by defence official Dr Robert Hurst.

The Human Resources and Performance Group may study some of the joint NZ/US/Australian special forces operations pictured earlier, because its brief includes studying "the enhancement of physical performance for special operations". The New Zealander on the panel is Lt. Col. Alan McCone, at Defence Headquarters in Wellington.

Unlike the ECHELON eavesdropping system where New Zealand helps the US gather intelligence in a passive role, the Technical Cooperation Program shows that New Zealand defence personnel are actively helping the US develop better weapons systems, including missile development.

Surprising as it may seem to the average New Zealander, the secret visits by American nuclear attack submarines - even to rendezvous points in the Hauraki Gulf - are not illegal under the terms of the Nuclear Free Zone Act.

Evidently missed by the news media when it was passed, the Act only prohibits nuclear armed or propelled vessels from entering New Zealand’s "internal waters", which are defined in another piece of legislation as all the water above the low tide mark. Everything else is defined as "territorial sea" from the low tide mark to a point twelve nautical miles out to sea.

The Act expressly allows, at Clause 12, any nuclear vessel to exercise "the right of innocent passage (in accordance with international law) through the territorial sea of New Zealand."

Under that definition, even a massive strategic ballistic missile submarine could slink up Auckland harbour within two metres of the wharf, and still be exercising its right of passage. The only thing it could not do is berth.

Far from being nuclear unfriendly, New Zealand has continued to provide the US with crucial assistance under the terms of the almost unknown AUSCANNZUKUS Agreement and its research working groups.

As further proof of New Zealand’s committment to US defence, the Labour Government has just asked Washington to approve the sale of $150 million worth of new field radios for the New Zealand military - 756 units to be exact - which averages out at a whopping $198,000 per walkie-talkie.

Whoever said the days of the $15,000 toilet seats in US defence contracting had disappeared, probably hit the wrong key on their calculator.

The Pentagon issued a news release a fortnight ago saying the "proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by improving the military capabilities of New Zealand and further weapon system standardisation and interoperability with US forces," - a factor described as very important for the NZ Defence Force. At the time of going to press, this deal was not public knowledge in NZ.

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