Home » Foreign Forces » China » U.S. Plans to Send Destroyer for New Zealand Port Call

U.S. Plans to Send Destroyer for New Zealand Port Call

USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) transits the Pacific Ocean during Rim of the Pacific 2016 on July 18, 2016. US Navy Photo

USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) transits the Pacific Ocean during Rim of the Pacific 2016 on July 18, 2016. US Navy Photo

This post was updated with additional information from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

After more than 30 years without a port call, the U.S. is set to send a guided missile destroyer to New Zealand in a one-off visit later this year, two senior U.S. defense officials confirmed to USNI News on Thursday.

An Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (DDG-51) is set to arrive in November to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

“This visit is at the invitation of New Zealand to participate in the November 2016 Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary highlighting New Zealand’s contributions to global security,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross told USNI News in a Thursday statement.
“This visit demonstrates the progress of the mutually beneficial, bilateral relationship between the two countries.

Ross would not confirm the type of ship the U.S. intended to send.

“We have provided the relevant details of the ship for the Government of New Zealand’s consideration,” he said.
“However, it is our practice to not publicly comment on the schedules of individual U.S. Navy ships this far in advance of a visit.”

The port call was announced this week as part of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit in a joint press conference with Prime Minister John Key.

“It would be very odd for us to have all of our friends and acquaintances there, sending ships to celebrate our 75th Naval commemorations, and yet on the same point not have the United States there,” Key told reporters, according to The Associated Press.

While it’s the first potential visit of a U.S. warship in three decades to New Zealand, it’s largely symbolic and does not mark a major change in U.S. defense relationship with New Zealand or is a reaffirmation of U.S. obligations to the 1951 Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) treaty.

Military relations between Washington and Wellington were strained following a 1984 anti-nuclear law in which New Zealand banned warships visiting from carrying nuclear weapons or operating with nuclear propulsion brought by then New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange.

The U.S. continues to have a policy of not disclosing whether or not its ships are fielding nuclear weapons.

As a test of the stance, in 1985 U.S. requested a guided missile destroyer – the former USS Buchanan (DDG-14) – come to New Zealand for a port call.

“The Americans assessed that it might slip under the political radar. ‘Near-uncertainty was not now enough for us,’ Lange recalled. ‘Whatever the truth of its armaments, its arrival in New Zealand would be seen as a surrender by the government’,” according to a New Zealand government history of the incident.
“He had hoped the Americans would offer to send a less ambiguous vessel, but it was the Buchanan or nothing.”

In June, Foreign Minister Murray McCully told news site Stuff.co.nz the government would not require a visiting U.S. ship to openly declare if it was nuclear powered or carried nuclear weapons – a similar position it’s taken with other foreign navies.

“The assessment is made by New Zealand officials … So the nuclear-free legislation is a domestic process that we need to satisfy,” McCully said.
“And that is conducted by way of formal advice from me as minister of foreign affairs to the prime minister under the act – of course, on the basis of advice I have received.”

In the last several years, largely due to China’s military expansion, military-to-military relationship between the Pentagon and the New Zealand Defence Force has improved.

In 2014, then U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the reciprocal ban on Kiwi ships visiting U.S. installations so New Zealand could be a full participant in that year’s Rim of the Pacific exercise. During the 2012 iteration, New Zealand’s ship had to moor at a civilian dock. The U.S. has also relaxed restrictions on joint military training and high-level visits.

While the majority of New Zealanders are supportive of the invite, at least one group has pledged to attempt to blockade the U.S. destroyer and other visiting warships.

“Warships have no place in our peaceful country,” Auckland Peace Action spokeswoman Valerie Morse told Stuff.
“We can’t stand by while weapons profiteers promote war in our beautiful city.”

In addition to the international ship review, the Royal New Zealand Navy is also celebrating its anniversary with a women at sea exhibition, a series of symposia and two touring theatrical productions.


  • Marcd30319

    Certainly gives a new meaning for Down Under.

  • RobM1981

    We should send a boomer.

    “We can neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons or propulsion…”

    Sometimes a tail must be twisted, particularly since if China actually did get all funky who, exactly, is going to defend Australia and New Zealand, these days? The Royal Navy? The RAN?

    C’mon. It’s time for a reality check.

    • NavySubNuke

      That was exactly my thought – or if an SSBN isn’t available at least send an SSGN.

    • Spawn_of_Santa

      I’ve actually heard a boomer sailor tell a reporter that. As a Destroyerman ( was on the USS Hoel, DDG-13, sister ship to the Buchanan), I just snorted and tried to walk away but she stopped me and asked if my ship was nuclear powered… I just looked at her for a second thinking “What an idiot” and then pointed to my ship and said; “See the stack, sweetheart? Nukes don’t need stacks.”

      • RobM1981

        Great handle, btw.

        Of course you were lying. Hoel was a *stealth* nuke, built just to fool the Kiwi’s and such… The stack actually was a cooling tower.

        C’mon – ‘fess up.


        • Spawn_of_Santa

          You caught me.

          Actually, one time, we busted a steam line and had to x-ray the repair. So we blocked off a big chunk of the ship because of the power of the Xrays… we had “Danger Radiation Signs” blocking areas and I was sitting guard on the mess decks (Coffee, cards with a buddy, it’s good to be the watch leader) to make sure no one crossed them.

          One sailor asked what was going on and I told him “The Captain HATES boiler techs, so he’s having a nuclear reactor installed so he can us assigned to some other ship.”

          I was backed up by the E-5 who was sitting with me.

          This sailor (a missile tech I think) was all like “REALLY??? Wow….”

          Only, it was true… the Capt. had a nuclear reactor installed to power the particle beam cannons and the time travel teleportation machine (you’ve seen the Philadelphia Experiment? Same thing, only no one materializes in walls).

          • old guy


  • Charles R Jones

    When I was Ops Officer on USS Bainbridge CGN 25 back in 1978, New Zealand would not let us have a port call there, but none of the prime cities in Australia would, either, apparently (overtly) due to the anti-nuclear thing. We ended up visiting the northern port of Darwin, which welcomed us gladly, despite a few wimpy protesters (who sneaked aboard), whom we gladly gave a tour of the ship when they came aboard with other visitors. The Aussie version of the CIA pointed out to me which of the “guests” were anti-nuke,

    As CDO I put them in one “exclusive” tour group together and had one of the JO’s put on his TWL’s and escort them wherever they wanted to go, other than the propulsion plants (CRD NOFORN). The anti-nukes were not a problem and were surprised that they received “royal treatment” especially when their CIA-types had tattled on them. As a US warship, we were not about to be overly worried about a few “protesters” even if they were onboard the ship. (In my later nuclear consulting career, I did the same thing — invited the anti-nukes to have a very close look at what they were concerned about.)

    Upon leaving the port of Darwin to head to Tonga (Figi refused us, but Tonga did not), we undertook an exercise with the Australian Air Force, where they made attack runs on the Bainbridge for us to lock on with our anti-aircraft fire control radar. The problem was that we were so close to land for that exercise that our radars were landlocked, which meant there was no way we could lock onto a fast, low flying aircraft in time to shoot it down.

    The Aussies wanted a “victory”, of course, but we still denied it to them by simply pretending that we did lock onto their planes, even though their cockpit alarms in that regard were silent. Our postex message simply indicated that we had no problem locking onto them at all. They were mystified.

    Looking back at this point, I am offended by both “allied” countries, not just New Zealand. Thus, I would send nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers into their ports and ignore any objections. We can anchor out, if needed, and they can withdraw from ANZUS. After all, the Australians and the New Zealanders may still want to have a “royal” visit and tour of the ships, not to mention the financial benefits of a few thousands sailors on liberty.

    – Technidigm

    • silencedogoodreturns

      I have never heard of Australia declining a USN port visit. I was an exchange officer in Australia once. No two countries have deeper defense ties than the US and Australia. They are just as tight as is the US-UK one.

    • RobM1981

      Do you remember that major nuclear accident on Bainbridge, back in the day?


      Me neither…

      Nuclear power is plenty dangerous when not handled properly. Ask the Soviets. The fact that the USN handles it so brilliantly is a testament that our allies should praise and respect.

      Nuclear fission, like gunpowder and petroleum, is more of a discovery than an invention. It can’t be un-invented, and it can’t be contained in any real way. I remind anti-gun loonies that the revolver is a design from well over 150 years ago. The Colt 1911 is, duh, over 100 years old – thus the name. You can no more stop humans from building firearms or burning petroleum than you can stop the sun from rising.

      Uranium fissions. Every daughter element, all the way down to lead, is proof of this. Helium is proof of it. You can no more stop it than you can stop gravity.

      The fact that Americans – with some help from quite a few very smart Europeans – were the first to harness it doesn’t change the fact that the genie is out of the bottle and ain’t going back in.

      I repeat: the fact that the USN has kept that genie not only under control, but *brilliantly* under control for over 60 years is extraordinary. Australia and New Zealand should be ashamed.

  • publius_maximus_III

    So, the USN and the Kiwi’s have finally buried the hatchet, and settled on a new “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” nuclear policy. Will wonders never cease? It would seem that as China begins to flex its PLAN muscles in the South China Sea and elsewhere, New Zealanders see their past posturing as perhaps not the most beneficial strategic approach for their long-term security.

    • Curtis Conway


    • old guy

      So, I sez to dem, “Call me when dose pesky Chinese want yur islands, I’ll sendya a cupill of non-nuke LCSs. RIGHT, COBBER?”

  • Russ Neal

    I visited Auckland on the USS Long Beach in 1974. Anti-nukes tried to blockade us with pleasure boats and even a guy on a surfboard. All of the Kiwis were gracious hosts. One sailor fell in the shower on board and the local newspapers headlined “ACCIDENT ABOARD NUCLEAR SHIP!!”

  • John B. Morgen

    Better to send more DDGs than just one DDG, or we could send the USS America and three DDGs. That would be an outstanding event.

  • send a carrier…then they can say…WE love NUKES!!!

    kiwi’s are just two faced…..we love americas protection……we are afraid of nukes!!

    BS…let china mess with them a bunch more

    • percynjpn

      Yes, two-faced hypocrites! Pathetic.

  • percynjpn

    “New Zealand’s contributions to global security”

    Ha! That’s hilarious – good joke!

  • Secundius

    How About a Mk.6 Patrol Boat? That’s about the Least Ambiguous as your going to get. That’ll make the PRC “CRINGE”, Cringe about a Much as the Iranian’s did…

  • old guy

    AS A WW2 VETERAN, I am glad to applaud the courage and bravery of the WW2 ANZAC forces. They were great, capable troops and loyal friends. It is a shame that it all changed when a cabal of left wingers assumed power. I am sure, if trouble arises they will again be at our side.

    • Pro_bono_publico

      Hear, hear, sir.

      Please see my comment above how domestic Labour Party politics were behind the 1984 decision by the Lange government.

  • Pro_bono_publico

    The 1984 NZ anti-nuke law had embarrassing results for everyone involved. Of course, the U.S. Navy cannot disclose which of its ships have nuke capability because that would make them instant targets, and that was even more true in 1984 than it is now. Lange’s government knew and understood this. They did it anyway, largely as a symbolic nod to the left wing of their NZ Labour Party because they were forced by the NZ dollar devaluation and other fiscal and economic problems to adopt free market reforms over the objections of their party’s left wing. Helen Clark once said the “anti-nuke” law was Lange’s legacy. Indeed it is, and it caused very real injury to a close defense relationship with its most important defense ally dating to shared sacrifice in World War II. Lange demonstrated that for him, at least, domestic party politics trumped doing the hard and right thing.

    • vetww2

      Thanks. Much more than I knew. It is truly a shame that these “Globalists” (nee Communist) have such appeal to the unknowing voters here. It will shake them to their cowardly socks, if Trump makes it and then sets the UN B.S. artists on their collective (pun intended) heels.