New Zealand has ruled out restoring its air force's strike capability, with the country's new government insisting that a planned sale of 17 McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks that have been in storage since 2001 will go ahead.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force has not had a strike capability since a previous government cancelled the purchase of Lockheed Martin F-16s in 2001, and later retired its Skyhawks and Aermacchi MB-339s. It has since been trying to sell the Skyhawks, and occasionally flies the MB-339s to keep them operational.

After the National Party took power in early November, incoming defence minister Wayne Mapp suggested that the MB-339s could rejoin the service to retain some jet training capability, possibly leading to the restoration of a strike capability.

But Prime Minister John Key later dismissed the comments, telling parliament that the defence ministry had "greater priorities", and reiterated: "There are no plans to restore the Skyhawks and the air strike wing."

The sale process for the Skyhawks continues, with two companies that are bidding for US Department of Defense contracts for air training support requiring the use of ex-RNZAF aircraft. "If either of these companies is successful, the US State Department and the US Department of Defense have undertaken to fast-track approval for the sale of the aircraft," says Mapp. The defence ministry could not confirm if it was looking to also sell the MB-339s.

The RNZAF embarked on an extensive modernisation programme early this decade, when it identified plans to upgrade three existing platform types and acquire three new models. Its fleets of Boeing 757 transports, Lockheed C-130H tactical transports and Lockheed P-3K Orion maritime patrol aircraft are being upgraded, while Wellington has bought eight NH Industries NH90s and five AgustaWestland AW109 training and light utility helicopters. It is also preparing to release a long-planned request for proposals covering a new fixed-wing advanced training aircraft and simulators to replace its leased Beechcraft King Air B200s.

Source: Flight International