30 Aug 2011

Delays leave soldiers with ineffective weapons

8:41 pm on 30 August 2011

Delays to Defence Force weapon upgrades has meant some soldiers have been left with rifles that cannot accurately sight targets and are ineffective at distances greater than 200 metres.

A report by the Ministry of Defence says insufficient resourcing and problems with getting the right staff have held up the projects.

In September 2008, the Cabinet approved 10 Defence Force projects to upgrade, replace or acquire weapons, at an estimated cost of up to $36 million. The projects included replacing light machine guns and sniper rifles.

The report says the unavailability of project staff has meant only three of the projects - the replacement of the light machine gun, the Steyr upgrade and the increased quantity of tactical shotguns - have been progressed.

The cost of these three projects alone is estimated to be $26.5 million, leaving only $9.5 million of the Cabinet-approved amount for the other projects - a shortfall of $1.7 million.

The Steyr rifle is the standard personal weapon used in the Defence Force, which has been found to be ineffective at sighting targets and firing at ranges greater than 200 metres.

An upgrade was approved in May 2009, however the ministry's report says the dates for the completion of the Steyr and the light machine gun upgrades have been pushed out to the end of 2013.

The report details projects which have been delayed, including the sniper rifle.

It says operations in Afghanistan has identified the need for soldiers to have a rifle which is more precise than the ones the Defence Force currently uses.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp told Checkpoint on Tuesday New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan now have Steyr rifles with improved sighting systems.

The report also details a significant increase in the estimated cost of the light machine guns.

In 2007 it was estimated the cost would be $8.4 million, but the latest estimates put the cost at $16 million because the Defence Force decided to acquire a 7.62mm weapon, rather than a 5.56mm weapon.