Part 4: Patrol planning

Effectiveness of arrangements for co-ordinating civilian maritime patrols.

In this Part we discuss:

Summary of our findings

At the time of our audit, the NMCC was introducing changes to its patrol planning system. These changes were too recent for us to assess their effectiveness. However, the NMCC intended the changes to make patrol planning more transparent and consistent. The changes were also intended to provide more robust data from which to decide whether patrols were meeting needs. We support the efforts made by the NMCC, NZDF, and the core agencies to improve patrol planning.

The NMCC's patrol planning systems provided for relevant input from NZDF and government agencies. There was some flexibility in the planning system to adapt planned patrols in response to changing needs or priorities. However, uncertainty about the availability of aircraft and ships, and having few options for patrols, limited the effectiveness of patrol planning and patrols. This was beyond the NMCC's control, because NZDF makes the decisions about aircraft or ship deployment.

The NMCC, NZDF, and the core agencies expected options for patrols and the availability of aircraft and ships to improve as NZDF's projects to upgrade and acquire new aircraft and ships were completed. To ensure that the best use was made of these new resources, some matters needed attention. These included ensuring:

  • that the core agencies' patrol needs were incorporated into NZDF's scheduling and planning for maritime patrol aircraft and ship use in a timely way; and
  • that improvements in the availability of NZDF's aircraft and ships could be shown, and that gaps or issues were identified and addressed.

We make two recommendations about improving patrol planning.

Establishing a new patrol planning system

Improving the effectiveness of patrol planning was a focus for the NMCC.

The NMCC was introducing a new system for planning and co-ordinating maritime patrols. The system was created in consultation with the core agencies and based on a methodology created by Australia's Border Protection Command. This new system would:

  • provide more rigour in planning patrols and measuring their effectiveness;
  • bring about more consistency in risk assessment, and more transparency about assigning patrol requests;
  • take into account risk from a whole-of-government perspective; and
  • provide a consistent method for evaluating individual patrols.

The new system, the "Risk and Effects Based Plan", requires the government agencies making patrol requests to focus on what they are trying to achieve with a patrol as opposed to making a request for a particular patrol aircraft or ship. When making patrol requests, agencies must identify a specific objective for the patrol, assign a risk rating, and specify the "effect" they want from the patrol. An independent risk standard helps agencies in assessing their risks consistently. In specifying the patrol effect, agencies choose from a defined list. Once a patrol is completed, the NMCC records whether the effect was achieved (and if not, why not).

Because individual government agencies are using a consistent system to make patrol requests, risk- and effects-based planning enables the NMCC to:

  • compare individual agencies' risks and assess the risks to New Zealand on a common basis;
  • assess and prioritise risks; and
  • assign resources according to these risks.

We were unable to assess the effectiveness of the new patrol planning system because it had not been in use for long and the NMCC did not expect the system to mature for some time. However, staff from NZDF and the core agencies considered it an improvement and a "step in the right direction". The NMCC, the core agencies, and NZDF anticipated that the planning system would continue evolving as they worked with it.

Using systematic data collection will provide meaningful and consistent information about what patrols are achieving. We consider that the new planning system will encourage government agencies to better target their patrol requests, improve their understanding of how well patrols are meeting their needs, and collect information to contribute to larger-scale evaluations of patrol effectiveness. We consider that this information is crucial for making the most effective use of new patrol resources. We support the efforts made by the NMCC, NZDF, and the core agencies to establish more effective patrol planning.

Planning patrols

Patrol planning systems provided for relevant information from NZDF and government agencies. There was some flexibility in the planning system to adapt plans in response to changing needs or priorities.

One of the NMCC's main purposes is to support effective and efficient use of maritime patrol aircraft and ships. Co-ordinating access to patrol aircraft and ships for government agencies is an important part of the NMCC's role.

Figure 7 shows the process for planning and carrying out patrols and where the NMCC, NZDF, and government agencies can contribute. Paragraphs 4.13-4.18 describe this process in more detail.

Planning patrol aircraft and ship availability

NZDF is funded to provide aircraft and ships for a range of military and civilian patrol needs. It decides how aircraft and ships are made available for civilian maritime patrols and must prioritise these against military needs. NZDF planned its aircraft and ship use annually, scheduling known exercises, training requirements, maintenance, and government agencies' patrol needs. Some agencies have seasonal patrol requirements, which NZDF can incorporate into its plans. NZDF's annual plans are only a guide to aircraft and ship availability, because NZDF's own requirements of its aircraft and ships can change. For example, an aircraft might be required at short notice for search and rescue duties or for representational duties.

Scheduling patrols and detailed patrol planning

Patrols are scheduled three months in advance at monthly planning meetings attended by planning staff from the NMCC, government agencies, and NZDF. As described in paragraph 4.7, agencies prepare patrol requests and submit these to the NMCC. The requests are matched with available patrol aircraft or ships. Upcoming patrols are discussed at these monthly planning meetings and confirmed, rescheduled, or cancelled as aircraft and ship availability or agency needs change.

Figure 7
How maritime patrols are planned and carried out

Figure 7: How maritime patrols are planned and carried out.

Adapted from the National Maritime Co-ordination Centre's documents for patrol planning processes.

Government agencies work directly with NZDF for planning the specific details of a patrol. There are standing patrol orders that provide guidance about roles and responsibilities when on patrol. Individual patrol briefs and orders are produced through operational planning processes. The NMCC does not have much involvement in the detailed operational planning, which is in keeping with its role of co-ordinating access to aircraft and ships.

On patrol, and analysis of information from patrols

Relationships on patrols were largely between the government agencies and NZDF. Analysing and processing patrol information was done by agencies' liaison officers or agency analysts because they are the subject-matter experts. They used information coming from patrols to cross-check and verify information against other intelligence sources, and to inform decisions about whether further action was needed.

The NMCC used information from patrols to build an understanding of what was happening in the maritime domain and to contribute to maritime domain awareness. Patrol information fed into collated maritime domain information that could be distributed to all organisations involved or interested in maritime patrols.

Post-patrol feedback and lessons learned

The NMCC, NZDF, and the core agencies had recently improved their evaluation of post-patrol feedback and lessons learned from the patrols. Alongside the new planning system, the NMCC introduced a separate meeting for sharing feedback and considering lessons learned (which are referred to as "co-ordination" meetings). NZDF had its own existing post-patrol evaluations, which included recording operational details and lessons learned into a database. NZDF was encouraging government agencies to add their own information to this database. The Navy produced an assessment tool to help agencies to define the success of a patrol (see paragraph 5.25).

Responding to changing needs or priorities

Although elements of maritime patrols can be routine and planned, the dynamic nature of patrolling means that it needs to accommodate changing needs or priorities. There is some flexibility to respond to emerging situations, but any response will be limited by the availability of a suitable patrol aircraft or ship.

"Response" patrols are not common but can be carried out when an agency identifies a situation requiring a response outside scheduled patrols. For the financial year 2008/09, four response patrols were recorded (out of the 107 patrols carried out).

The NMCC co-ordinated the requests for response patrols. When a request is made, NZDF's planners work out what is available to respond to the request, and assign an aircraft or ship to the task – if there is a suitable aircraft or ship available. Aircraft or ships on military tasks can be redeployed to meet response requests. For example, an NZDF training flight was diverted to conduct an infringement action on a fishing vessel.

Dealing with these situations comes down to operational priorities. Decisions about deployment or redeployment rest with NZDF. The NMCC's co-location is beneficial in these situations, because there is direct contact between NMCC's staff, NZDF's planning staff, and the commanders with oversight of NZDF's patrol aircraft and ships.

Factors that limit the effectiveness of patrol planning

Effective maritime patrol co-ordination was difficult because of uncertainty about patrol aircraft and ship availability, and limited aircraft and ship options for patrols.

Uncertainty about patrol aircraft and ship availability

Demands on NZDF's aircraft or ships could change at short notice, and the NMCC did not always get timely information about aircraft or ship availability. Decisions about deploying aircraft or ships were NZDF's responsibility and largely beyond the NMCC's control, so although the NMCC could request access to aircraft or ships it not command their use. The NMCC must manage this uncertainty about aircraft or ship availability, knowing that although it can schedule patrols it does so knowing that these planned patrols could change.

We examined patrol data to see whether there were any trends in changes to planned patrols.

In 2008/09, 23 patrols were recorded as cancelled. The most common reasons for cancelled patrols were:

  • other "tasking", such as search and rescue (six cancellations);
  • agency requests (five cancellations); and
  • weather conditions (five cancellations).

Other patrols were cancelled because of, for example, unavailable NZDF crews and unplanned maintenance.

The data showed a fairly even balance between NZDF cancelling patrols and the government agencies cancelling patrols. Also, patrols were often cancelled for reasons beyond the control of NZDF, the agencies, and the NMCC. The agencies accept that search and rescue situations take priority over planned patrols.

The planning cycles of the core agencies and NZDF were not well aligned, and this contributed to the uncertainty about the availability of aircraft or ships.

NZDF planned its aircraft and ship use annually. The core agencies planned their patrols three months in advance. This did not support effective patrol co-ordination, because NZDF's annual planning could schedule other tasks during times when agencies had a high need for patrols.

NZDF staff told us that three months is a short time frame for military planning. NZDF considered that earlier notification of government agencies' patrol needs would allow it to incorporate these needs into its planning, and make it easier for NZDF to meet patrol requests. The NMCC was working towards better alignment of the planning cycles. Through the new planning process, the agencies were required to produce an annual risk-based surveillance plan.

For patrols to be effective, it is important that government agencies can access patrol aircraft and ships in a timely way. We consider that better information on agencies' annual patrol needs can help NZDF staff to better plan how aircraft and ships are used for military and civilian tasks. Understanding the anticipated agency need for patrol capability at different times in the year could improve NZDF's scheduling and planning, ensuring that patrol aircraft and ships are available for government agencies at times of high demand.

Recommendation 5
We recommend that the National Maritime Co-ordination Centre, the New Zealand Defence Force, and government agencies work together to better understand the timing of the agencies' patrol needs. This information can then be used in more effectively scheduling and planning civilian and military use of maritime patrol aircraft and ships.

Limited options for meeting patrol needs

Limited options for meeting patrol requests constrained the effectiveness of patrol planning and patrols. The 2001 Maritime Patrol Review identified a need for improved patrol capability, which led to projects for acquiring and upgrading NZDF's patrol capability – Project Protector to acquire seven ships, and a project to upgrade the six P-3K Orion aircraft (see Figure 3 for more information.)

Delays in these projects, coupled with phasing aircraft in and out of service, affected NZDF's ability to provide aircraft and ships. In particular, delays in the delivery of Project Protector ships meant there were few options for surface patrols.

In 2008/09, for example, 39 of 45 unmet requests were the result of unavailable or unsuitable aircraft and ships. Almost all (91%) of these unmet requests were for ships. If no suitable patrol ship was available, an aircraft was often the only patrol option, irrespective of whether an aerial patrol was the best way of achieving the patrol's objective.

The lack of available patrol aircraft and ships, and the limited options for carrying out patrols, meant it was sometimes not easy for the NMCC to meet government agencies' patrol requests. However, the agencies told us that they were comfortable with their access to NZDF's patrol aircraft and ships within the resources available, and accepted that NZDF's ability to respond to their patrol needs was limited. They commented that the limited patrol resources made them carefully prioritise their needs.

The core agencies told us (and patrol data showed) that, when requests could not be met, alternatives were sought. Some requests were able to be met by rescheduling the request to other weeks or months. This flexible response was made much easier because of the generally positive relationships between the NMCC, NZDF, and the agencies. However, rescheduling patrols is not ideal if patrols are to be targeted in the most timely and effective way.

Improving patrol capability

The NMCC, NZDF, and the core agencies anticipated that NZDF's new and upgraded patrol ships and aircraft would provide broader options for patrols and improve access to aircraft and ships. It would enable complementary surface and aerial patrols to be used. Ship availability would increase and ships would be able to patrol farther and longer.

Some of NZDF's new patrol ships were coming into service at the time of our audit. Initial indications were that ship availability continued to be a challenge for patrol planning. Crew availability was part of this. Delays in delivering the patrol ships led to some loss of crew skills and people needed to be retrained. Having NZDF staff available to operate patrol ships and agency staff able to go on patrols is important when it comes to making the most of improved patrol capability.

NZDF expected improvements in the availability of its aircraft and ships once the Project Protector ships were in service and the P-3K upgrades were complete (this was likely to happen during 2012/2013). However, there will continue to be some uncertainty in the short to medium term because NZDF needs to carry out operational testing and evaluation, adapt tactics, and train crews. Consequently, it is likely that some unexpected or short notice cancellations of civilian patrols will occur.

Demonstrating improvements in patrol capability

It was difficult to robustly assess the extent to which the unavailability of patrol aircraft and ships limited the effectiveness of patrol co-ordination. Some limitations in patrol data made it difficult to form an accurate picture of patrol needs and use. We discuss this further in Part 5.

It is important that the potential of increased patrol capability is realised for government agencies and that improvements in the availability of, and access to, NZDF's aircraft and ships can be demonstrated. To do this, there needs to be better information about agencies' patrol needs and how the aircraft and ships are used.

As we note in paragraph 4.10, the new patrol planning system will provide some of this information. We consider that the NMCC should ensure that the information it collects enables a thorough assessment of patrol aircraft and ship use. Such information would provide robust evidence for identifying gaps or issues and the need to act on these. This information could include:

  • how requests for response patrols were met, whether an aircraft or ship was available, or if redeployment was needed; and
  • the proportion of civilian relative to military patrol tasks.
Recommendation 6
We recommend that the National Maritime Co-ordination Centre ensure that the information it collects on patrols enables it to robustly assess how effectively patrol aircraft and ships are used, so that any identified gaps or issues can be raised through the appropriate governance mechanism for consideration and action.
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