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Critical Challenges Facing Defence: Dr Wayne Mapp

Critical Challenges Facing Defence

Defence accountability
Last week New Zealand’s senior defence officer, Lt Gen Mateparae, and the Secretary of Defence, John McKinnon, appeared before the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee (FADT). This is an annual event, where they account for the previous financial year ending 30 June. However, questions can also be asked of the current situation. Members of Parliament can also submit in advance written questions, and a large number were submitted, especially by the National Party MPs on the committee.

Depth not breadth
The whole philosophy of the Labour government has been ‘depth not breadth’, which comes directly out of the FADT report of 1999, “Defence Beyond 2000”. It was considered during that review that the New Zealand Defence Force was spread too thinly to be able to do the critical tasks required, and that priorities were skewed. A number of deployments during the 1990s had shown up the problems.

On this basis the Air Combat Force was disbanded, the idea being that the resources would be redirected to those parts of the Defence Force actually being deployed.

Critical tasks
After seven years, it should be possible to tell whether we have actually got more depth. For instance, one of the critical tasks of the Army is to be able to deploy a battalion (as occurred in East Timor) and a company (as in the Solomons) simultaneously. This is not a fanciful requirement; it has occurred recently, and could easily be required again.

Depleted numbers
The core of the Army is the two rifle battalions, one at Linton and the other at Burnham. Questions revealed that they each had two full strength rifle companies. In both cases the third rifle company has less than five people in it. This is a total of 425 riflemen between the two battalions - an historic low. And yet the Army has the same overall regular force numbers as it had eight years ago.

Lt Gen Mateparae admitted the Army would not be able to meet the requirement to deploy a battalion group and a company group simultaneously. So it seems that the New Zealand Defence Force has lost the breadth, but has not gained the depth.

Navy crewing
The Navy is hardly in better shape. They now have two frigates, each with crews of 160 people, and seven new vessels are being introduced (four are inshore patrol craft with crews of 20 each). Twelve years ago the Navy had four Leander Class frigates, each with a crew of 260 people – a total of 1040. The frigates and the Project Protector fleet will require approximately 650 people. The result of introducing the Project Protector fleet means that one of the two frigates is likely to be tied up alongside for most of next year, with only a skeleton crew. Again, the problem of no depth.

To top it all off, the Air Force has managed to have both B757s in for major refurbishment and three of the five C130s also on major refurbishment and overhaul. The concept of getting greater depth rather than breadth does have logic, but it does require the right amount of people.

Recruiting and retention
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the critical task facing defence is recruiting and retaining people to fulfil the role that we reasonably require. There has been an increased tempo of deployments which makes this even more critical.

National’s first challenge in government will be to ensure that the most important part of our defence force, the highly skilled professional people, is strengthened. We owe our people nothing less.

Ambitious for New Zealand – Meet John Key

On Tuesday John Key launched a 12-minute DVD, "Ambitious for New Zealand – Meet John Key". The DVD is intended to give Kiwis a closer look at John’s life and what he stands for. In it, he talks a little about his life before politics, the things that motivate him, and his ideas for confronting some of the challenges we face as a nation. You can download and watch at National’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/user/NZNats .

Over the next few weeks, John will be travelling to around over 30 towns throughout the country to introduce himself to as many people as possible. He’ll be handing out the DVD wherever he goes.

I encourage you to tell your friends about the DVD so that they also have the opportunity to get to know John a little better.
Dr Wayne Mapp

www.waynemapp.co.nz

ENDS

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