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Defence Force Priorities

The majority on the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee wants a re-ordering of Defence priorities to meet modern day realities, with greater emphasis on joint force operations involving elements of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

They said this was the trend being pursued by countries with much larger military machines than New Zealand’s. European countries were now looking closely at the United Kingdom’s move towards greater co-ordination of the activities of the three service, most importantly in the development of Joint Rapid Reaction Forces.

In its “Defence Beyond 2000” final report, the majority said that to meet its top defence priorities, New Zealand needed to develop a self-sufficient, quickly deployable, hard-hitting force, fully equipped and highly trained, ready to be deployed at short notice.

In making this proposal the majority said it was not suggesting (as the Government wrongly contended in its response to the Committee’s interim report) an amalgamation of the three services. What it wanted was greater inter-service understanding, co-operation and cohesion to enhance joint force capability.

“Taking into account the speed of technological improvement, it is possible that the only affordable force development programme, within present spending limits, is one that concentrates on smaller but sharper capabilities,” they said.

The majority said these priorities, in descending order, should be:

 Protecting our interests, including the EEZ ,and our South Pacific responsibilities.

 Contribing forces for peace support purposes.

 Providing any public service (to the benefit of local communities in New Zealand).

 Assisting in the maintenance of law and order.

 Contributing forces under collective security arrangements.

 Defence of New Zealand where direct use of armed forced was unlikely in the short to medium term at least.


The majority report said credibility was judged on what we could do now, not some time later on. In this respect the Ministry of Defence/NZDF evaluation of the capability options appended to the Defence Assessment was very frank:

It should be kept in mind that our judgements and assessments are based on the capabilities called for in the options at the time they are achieved, as opposed to the current level of effectiveness of the NZDF. In most cases the effective capabilities will not be achieved for several years. For example, the Army currently has some significant limitations on its capabilities. Under all options it will take about five years to reach the point where the more serious shortcomings are overcome, and about another five years before the Army achieves the capabilities called for in the option. The situation is similar in the Navy and Air Force.

“We find this completely unacceptable,” said the majority.

To regain credibility, the committee majority said that the first priority in reshaping the Defences Forces was to identify within the current force structure a useful range of combat force and combat-support force options that allowed New Zealand to contribute at short notice, fully trained, well-equipped and sustainable forces to the most likely crisis management and peace-building tasks.

“If the NZDF were intended for nothing more than peacekeeping operations (in which combat was not expected) and participation in peacetime maritime defence exercises with regional defence partners, the present range of capabilities might be appropriate,” it said.

“But … we consider that a greater degree of combat readiness is required for New Zealand to maximise its value to its defence partners as a contributor to international peace and security.”

Finance was limited and priorities had to be set. The top priority was Army combat and combat support elements with helicopters, deployed by modern Hercules aircraft and a logistic support ship protected by a well armed frigate and maritime surveillance aircraft.

Next the need to strengthen selected force elements in numbers, equipment and support to enable them to operate in a wider range of hostile situations, more self-sufficiently where necessary, and to provide sustainment options. Given that naval and air maritime patrol forces were in better shape, these fall into the second priority.

The current strategic assessment and financial realities meant that the introduction of new capabilities (such as attack helicopters) and/or further development of existing capabilities to increase the flexibility of the NZDF stood as third priority.

Fourth priority was maintaining the expertise and limited operational capabilities in force elements such as the air combat force that could possibly be needed should our strategic circumstances deteriorate.

Developing smaller but sharper capabilities could mean that it might be best to upgrade a single frigate with weaponry similar to the Australian ANZAC frigates and retain fewer strike aircraft but fit them with precision bombing equipment.

The Committee majority also recommended to the Government a stepped policy for the procurement of specialist military equipment which

 avoids the risk of subsequent block obsolescence;
 takes into account likely utility in the short to medium term;
 upgrades joint military capabilities to a level where they are deployable and sustainable in medium-level combat; and
 maximises the potential to keep abreast with technological advances

The majority also made these points:

 The single services continue to wrongly attach priority to their service needs rather than the overall defence viewpoint. A classic example was the fact that 11 years after it was recommended (in the NZ Defence Resource Management Review) a versatile, multi-purpose logistic support ship was still not available.

 As long as individual services differed on acquisition priorities – such as the Navy favouring frigates over a logistic support ship – “we will continue to face the ridiculous situation where one service is optimised for (say) deployment – as in the case of the Army – but is unable to get there and be sustained because another service is not equipped to deploy and support it.”

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