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Photo of New Zealand Defence Force assisting the local community during the Manawatu floods in 2003.

New Zealand Defence Force assisting the local community during the Manawatu floods in 2003.

Defence White Paper 2010

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Chapter 5: The NZDF's Military Capabilities

  1. This chapter identifies the capabilities needed to ensure that the NZDF remains a useful, versatile, and cost-effective force now and in the future, able to execute the range of tasks identified in chapter four.

Tasks as a determinant of capability

  1. New Zealand's defence circumstances are unique. No other country of comparable size and political and economic standing has at a minimum to be able to deploy defence equipment and personnel from the equator to Antarctica. This is a low-threat environment but a vast space.
  2. In our immediate region, the NZDF needs to be able to deploy forces across distant shores into unstable, potentially hostile but not high-intensity environments,11 and sustain them there until the task of restoring peace and security has been accomplished. We should also be prepared to lead operations in the region, if necessary.
  3. Operations beyond our immediate region are likely to involve the NZDF in higher-intensity environments. We must therefore have capabilities which can be integrated with, and operate alongside, our international partners in such operations.
  4. New Zealand's contributions beyond our region will ordinarily be scaled to the size of the NZDF. Their operational and diplomatic value will be assessed by where they sit on the scale of military credibility. Having effective combat capabilities is therefore critical.
  5. NZDF capabilities will also be used for tasks such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, or the evacuation of nationals.

Mutually reinforcing capabilities

  1. To conduct the tasks set out in chapter four, the NZDF needs to focus on maintaining:
    • deployable ground forces - suitably equipped and in sufficient numbers - including supporting elements such as engineers and medics;
    • strategic projection and logistic capacity to get the force to where it is needed and to sustain it once there;
    • network-enabled intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to understand and interpret the operational environment; and
    • capabilities able to fulfil a credible combat role in support of our sovereignty, our obligations to Australia, and in other operations as determined by the Government.
  2. To maximise the effectiveness of NZDF interventions, these mutually-reinforcing capabilities must be embedded in command and control structures which support:
    • joint activity between the Services;
    • independent action by New Zealand in certain circumstances;
    • interoperability with security partners; and
    • responsiveness to whole-of-government requirements.

Building on strong foundations

  1. The existing range of NZDF capabilities has served the Government well. Over the last 20 years the NZDF has successfully discharged a wide variety of missions both near to home and further afield, with significant numbers of personnel deployed on operations.

Imgae: Bar graph of NZDF Operationally Deployed Personnel 1988-2009

Above image: Bar graph of NZDF Operationally Deployed Personnel 1988-2009.
View text equivalent of above image

  1. The NZDF has sustained extensive operational commitments, especially over the past decade or so. Although there has been some increase in personnel numbers in the past few years, compared with 20 years ago the size of the regular NZDF has fallen by over 2,000 (especially Army) personnel, with a related fall in the NZDF's share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and government expenditure.12
  2. Operational experience over the past decade has underlined the importance of ensuring that the NZDF has sufficient depth in its capability. NZDF personnel have performed well, but at times the quality and quantity of equipment has restricted the options of governments or necessitated a high level of dependence on partners. Sustainability has been a challenge.
  3. The Government is committed to maintaining an NZDF that is able to deliver the range of policy outcomes expected of it.

The Future NZDF

Military capability workshops

  1. To ensure that the capabilities recommended for the future NZDF are not simply an extrapolation from the present, a number of specific military tasks were examined systematically through military capability workshops.
  2. Military and civilian personnel considered a range of potential security events which the NZDF might be expected to undertake over the next 25 years. Particular (but not exclusive) emphasis was placed on New Zealand's EEZ and the South Pacific. Different force configurations were tested in these events, to help identify the capabilities best suited to New Zealand's strategic and fiscal context.
  3. The result is a future force structure which will see the NZDF retain and enhance its current mix of capabilities, enabling it to operate in places similar to where it is today, alongside current partners and friends.

Value for Money and Ministerial choices

  1. This White Paper establishes an NZDF which is consonant with the expected strategic outlook and flexible enough to be reconfigured should that outlook change.
  2. Such a force structure will, however, require the NZDF to realise the level of internal resource redistribution set out in chapter eight. As the VfM review made clear, there is scope to transfer significant resources from the NZDF's ‘middle' and ‘back' support functions to its deployable military capabilities. This must occur if the capabilities contained in this White Paper are to be achieved.
  3. Significant capabilities proposed for the next five years include a replacement pilot training capability; the introduction of short-range maritime patrol aircraft; an ANZAC frigate self-defence upgrade; HMNZS Endeavour replacement; Seasprite upgrade or replacement; a rolling renewal of the land transport fleet; a land command and control system; and a replacement littoral warfare support ship.
  4. Significant capabilities proposed for beyond the next five years include replacements for the C-130 Hercules and P-3 Orion aircraft, and the ANZAC frigates. These are core capabilities. The weighty strategic and fiscal considerations involved will be subject to further examination in the Defence Review to take place in 2015.
  5. Cabinet will be presented with a detailed business case for each significant capital acquisition before it is finally approved, as required by the Government's Capital Asset Management process. This means that Ministers will have various opportunities formally to test the need and composition of each proposed acquisition against the strategic and fiscal context.
  6. Given the need for rigorous fiscal management, the capability programme proposed for the next five years and thereafter will need to be carefully prioritised and phased.

Proposed force structure

  1. Subject to the processes outlined in the paragraphs immediately above, key elements of the proposed force structure are as follows:
Land Combat
Land Combat Support
Support Helicopters
Strategic Lift
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (including Maritime Patrol)
Naval Combat
Command and Control
Joint Logistics
Joint Health

Developing NZDF capability

Land Combat and Combat Support forces

  1. At present, the deployment of land forces is limited by personnel numbers, and by shortages in self-protection and support capabilities.
  2. The planned force structure will see the Army reshaped to increase the combat utility, sustainability, and potential scale of deployments. This reconfiguration will provide sufficient depth to sustain a maximum land force deployment of 800 personnel of two rotations per year (each lasting six months) for up to three years in a mid-intensity environment. This increase will help ensure that the NZDF can conduct its tasks in a way which is consistent with recent operational experience.
  3. One infantry company will be trained with a wider range of higher-end skills, allowing it not only to operate as a regular infantry company but also to undertake some more demanding tasks and, if needed, support Special Forces operations.
  4. The Special Forces themselves will be enhanced to alleviate the strain caused by current operational demands.
  5. These various improvements will require an increase in front line Army personnel. This increase will, at least in part, be achieved by redistributing existing resources from the middle and back, as recommended in the VfM review.
  6. The current Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) fleet of 105 will be reduced to around 90 vehicles, and some will be reconfigured to provide variants such as battlefield ambulances and command and control vehicles. Vehicles from this reduced fleet will be upgraded as operational requirements require. This will allow them to remain effective in a range of tasks, including in higher-end conflict environments.
  7. Supporting firepower to deployed land forces will be maintained, with the existing Light Guns and Mortars replaced with like capabilities at end of life.
  8. There will also be sustained investment in capabilities that support deployed land forces. These include programmes to provide a battlefield Command and Control system (with its supporting communications and ISR sensor network), and to replace the NZDF's general service vehicle fleet (including medium and heavy vehicles, trailers, and mechanical handling equipment).
  9. Over the next two years, the programme to bring the new helicopter fleet into service will continue. These new helicopters will represent a step-change in the support given to land forces. The NH90 will be the primary tactical troop transport aircraft, with the A109 conducting lighter roles. It is planned that both will be fitted with self-protection to enable them to operate in more hostile environments.
  10. To maximise the utility of the relatively inexpensive A109s, a further three will be acquired to provide an operationally deployable output plus training.

Strategic Lift

  1. The NZDF will have a small but adequate airlift capability once the C-130 upgrade is complete. It has only one sealift ship (HMNZS Canterbury), which is being progressively modified to improve its operational effectiveness.
  2. The current upgrade programme for the five C-130H Hercules aircraft will continue, maintaining the NZDF's independent airlift capability. The aircraft will be replaced at end of life (around 2020) with an equivalent - or better - capability. Decisions on the appropriate replacement will be informed by a study to be concluded before the next Defence Review in 2015.
  3. In considering the most appropriate airlift fleet mix, this study will also take account of the most effective use of the jet airlift currently provided by the two B757s. The roles, capabilities, and cost effectiveness of the current B757 fleet will be assessed, and the optimal configuration of any strategic jet transport capability will be determined.
  4. The sealift ship (HMNZS Canterbury) will receive remedial work to address the existing deficiencies in operational capability. The operational effectiveness of the ship will be maintained, and it will be replaced with a similar capability at end of life.

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (including maritime patrol)

  1. Non-defence maritime patrol requirements cannot currently be met by the NZDF.13 Capabilities have been enhanced by the introduction of the Offshore and Inshore Patrol Vessels, but the lack of an effective wide-area surveillance network hinders efficiency, and the asset mix is unbalanced.
  2. A satellite imagery capability will be introduced to provide sustained and longer-range surveillance, and to ensure that maritime patrol assets are more effectively targeted on areas of interest.
  3. The current upgrade of the six P-3 Orions will continue. The aircraft may then progressively be fitted with self-protection and anti-submarine sensors, improving their combat capability and enhancing the ability of New Zealand to contribute more robustly to global efforts. The P-3 Orions will be replaced with an equivalent level of capability, manned or unmanned, in about 2025. Studies closer to this date will determine the types of replacement platform.
  4. A number of low-end regional surveillance tasks (for both defence and other agencies) could be performed more cost-effectively by using maritime patrol aircraft with short takeoff and landing and sufficient range. The introduction of this capability would increase our surveillance capacity in both the EEZ and the South Pacific.
  5. To maximise its cost-effectiveness, this new aircraft would also be expected to perform a transport and multi-engine flying training and consolidation function, as currently provided by the B200 King Air. An indicative business case is being prepared, with the intention of acquiring this new capability as soon as practicable.
  6. A study of Pilot Training options is scheduled to be completed by early 2011. It will take into account the capabilities to be provided by the proposed new maritime patrol aircraft and the need for training to match the full range of operational demands made on aircrew. The merits of acquiring a simulator for some aspects of pilot training will also be explored.
  7. The Offshore Patrol Vessels and Inshore Patrol Vessels will be replaced at the appropriate date. In the meantime the merits of enhancing the sensors and armaments of these vessels are being investigated.
  8. The two ships currently used for diving, mine countermeasures, and military hydrographic operations will be replaced by one ship. The new ship will consolidate a number of linked capabilities, and will have the speed to provide timely support to operations. Hydrographic work, which is currently conducted by both the Navy and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), will be rationalised.
  9. To make best use of the information flows that the new ISR capabilities will provide, a corresponding increase in the capacity of the NZDF and the National Maritime Coordination Centre to process and analyse collected information will need to be considered.

Combat Capability

  1. Army land combat units, Special Forces, and ANZAC frigates currently provide effective, credible combat capabilities which the Government can deploy alongside partner forces if it so chooses. The combat capability of the ANZAC frigates will rapidly degrade without a self-defence upgrade.
  2. This force structure will see the ANZAC frigates given a self-defence upgrade to address obsolescence and to improve their defensive capability against contemporary air and surface threats. The two frigates will be replaced at end of life (projected at around 2030), taking account of the wider range of naval combat options then expected to be available.
  3. Naval helicopters will continue to provide extended reach, surveillance, and air-delivered weapon capabilities (air-to-surface missile and anti-submarine torpedo) for the frigates. A review will determine whether it is more cost-effective to upgrade or replace the existing Seasprite helicopters when they are due for an upgrade in the middle of this decade.
  4. Detailed descriptions of capability developments for other combat-capable elements of the NZDF are covered in earlier sections. They are not repeated here.

Command and Control

  1. The NZDF currently relies on the creation of ad hoc command and control arrangements for operational deployments. These take time to establish, placing limitations on the readiness, scale, duration, and effectiveness of the headquarters organisation the NZDF can deploy.
  2. A trained, equipped, and deployable headquarters organisation will be created, to be activated and staffed when required. This will improve the NZDF's ability to lead operations, as well as its capacity to contribute to a combined headquarters.

Joint Logistics

  1. The current Fleet Replenishment Ship (HMNZS Endeavour) will, after 2013, no longer comply with international maritime regulations. A shortfall in logistics personnel currently hampers the NZDF's ability to support deployed land forces.
  2. HMNZS Endeavour will be replaced, possibly with a more versatile vessel incorporating some sealift capability (to supplement that provided by HMNZS Canterbury).
  3. A third Land Combat Service Support Group will be established, to mirror the new structure of land combat forces. The Support Groups will also be rebalanced to increase efficiency of support elements, improve the ‘teeth to tail' ratio, and reduce costs.

Joint Health

  1. The NZDF needs an extended period of notice and substantial augmentation from civilian medical specialists in order to provide a life- and limb-saving surgical capability to deployed forces.
  2. A Forward Surgical Team (surgeon, anaesthetist, emergency doctor, and nurses) will be resourced from within the NZDF, including the Reserves. This will enable the NZDF to provide a surgical capability quickly, and to conduct evacuation to out-of-theatre medical facilities. Additional equipment will also be procured.


  1. The future force set out in this White Paper will increase the sustainability of the NZDF and update a range of capabilities so that they will better meet contemporary threats.
  2. Applying the lessons of recent operational experience, we will improve the combat effectiveness, protection, and sustainability of land forces, including key supporting capabilities. This should allow the NZDF to deploy troops in greater number, and for longer, than it can at present. This applies to both the regular Army and the Special Forces - whose effectiveness will be further enhanced by improving the support they receive from the regular Army. The mobility of the land forces will be enhanced by the introduction and expansion of the support helicopter fleet.
  3. This force will ensure that we maintain the ability to deploy and sustain forces across our extensive territorial domain, and beyond it. Strategic air and sealift will remain critical supporting capabilities, and will be maintained and improved. More emphasis will be placed on the effectiveness of a joint, deployable logistics capability.
  4. It will also see a significant investment made to ensure that the ANZAC frigates continue to provide a valued contribution to coalition operations.
  5. The effectiveness of the NZDF on operations will be enhanced by the creation of a deployable headquarters capability. Combined with investments in creating a networked Command and Control capability, the NZDF will be better placed to link with partners and - crucially - to lead operations independently.
  6. There will also be a step-change to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability of the NZDF. The introduction of satellite imagery will increase the ability of the NZDF to monitor and protect our borders and resources, and will ensure effective direction of maritime patrol assets through the inter-agency National Maritime Coordination Centre. The proposed addition of short-range maritime patrol aircraft will provide a more diverse fleet of ISR assets.
  7. This force strengthens the capabilities most likely to be deployed by the NZDF on operations, both at home and abroad, over the next 25 years.
  8. It will ensure that the NZDF remains well-placed to protect New Zealand territory and citizens from possible threats, to conduct and lead missions in the South Pacific region, and to make a meaningful contribution to peace and security in the international environment. It will also be equipped to support whole-of-government efforts in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, at home and overseas.
  9. It will provide a firm foundation for adapting to any shock in the strategic environment.

  1. See glossary under ‘intensity of conflict' for a definition of high, mid, and low intensity.
  2. The NZDF's share of GDP fell from 1.7% in 1990 to 1.0% in 2009; its share of government expenditure fell from 4.6% in 1990 to 3.4% in 2009.
  3. A review study in 2009 indicated a shortfall in the number of annual P-3 Orion flying hours available for effective aerial surveillance of the EEZ, and noted that earlier studies had identified a potential lack of sea-going days available from the Inshore Patrol Vessels for the inshore domain.

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