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Management and utilisation of Mission Essential Tasks Lists

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Section 4: Discussion and recommendations


The preceding Sections have discussed the linkage of strategic direction to tactical employment through scenario-based planning involving METLs.

The NZDF has made some progress at the operational level, including the production of an NZDF Universal Joint Task List. There is documentation relevant to contingency planning based on the ECs, although the documentation and the plans need updating. HQ NZDF does not seem to have had an active role in these developments, and progress by the Services in implementing systems of tactical mission essential tasks has taken different approaches with varied results.

Implementation of METLs-based training throughout the NZDF has so far taken 11 years and is still not complete. The NZDF should refocus on what it expects of a METLs-based readiness training system before determining what resource and priority to apply to its further development.

A system of METLs for the NZDF

The NZDF's Joint METLs Handbook presents Joint METLs as a bridge between strategic guidance and tactical employment. In the Handbook's analysis Joint METLs are situated within a construct based purely on the ECs in the Output Plan and scenarios derived from the ECs. The Handbook presents Joint METLs as the heart of a system to encompass all of the tasks that the Government expects the NZDF to be able to do and therefore all of the training that the NZDF needs to carry out to undertake those tasks.

Others have different expectations of METLs-based planning:

  1. Inspectors-general want it to provide better performance measurement tools than they currently have.
  2. Commanders, trainers and budget managers hope that it will predict training costs more accurately.
  3. Commanders see it as a tool to identify to higher command the risk associated with not carrying out certain training.
  4. Some staff in HQ NZDF see it as being purely about collective training and therefore something that involves just HQ JFNZ and subordinate units. HQ JFNZ's responsibility for development of Joint METLs in the mid-2000s reinforces this view.

METLs are not the complete answer to arriving at the DLOC training bill; training plans do this. METLs themselves are not granular enough to produce training bills and do not capture all inputs to unit training plans.

NZDF tactical and operational level mission essential tasks identify the tasks needed to accomplish missions but do not describe how success occurs. Only when tasks are operationalised in a mission plan is there is something to measure through the addition of qualitative and quantitative performance standards. See further discussion on this subject in paragraphs 4.28 to 4.30 below.

We gave some thought to whether mission essential tasks are potentially as useful for planning of training in the platform-based Services. We reasoned that the Army focuses on training units and sub-units as building blocks of task tailored forces and therefore needs to deconstruct tasks to a lower level of detail than does the Navy and Air Force. We surmised that it is likely the Navy and the Air Force would use ships and aircraft in much the same configuration for a wide variety of tasks. Consequently, METLs-based training may be a different issue for the platform-based services.

The Navy did not accept this view. The Navy regards some of its Force Elements as capability bricks. A frigate deploying to anti-piracy operations is a different package, requiring different readiness training, to a frigate deploying for high end war fighting. The Littoral Warfare Support Group might deploy any of its three elements (operational diving, mine counter measures and hydrography) individually or as a composite unit depending on the need.

The Air Force was more accepting of the notion that the platform nature of its aircraft made the deconstruction of tasks at the tactical level a less-complex consideration, while also maintaining that its training is based on approved roles or tasks. We note that deployable non-flying units such as No. 209 (Expeditionary Support) Squadron may deploy either in whole or in part as components of task-tailored forces.

We identified a number of areas for the NZDF to consider as it continues to implement METLs-based training throughout the NZDF.

Direction and guidance

If the NZDF wants Military Response Options and METLs embedded within a scenario-based activity and training planning system then ownership of that system must be at a higher level than HQ JFNZ. The Ministry of Defence must be included where appropriate. HQ NZDF needs to provide direction, and appoint an appropriate sponsor. Successful implementation may require a project management organisation.

There is no NZDF policy relating to the whole system involved in turning strategic intent into tactical training and employment in the manner briefly described in paragraph 2.7 above. The only Service-level policy found was in the sections in the Army Training Policies and Procedures manual pertaining to METLs and The Army Universal Task List.20 The Army policy does not cover all the steps set out in Annex A. Neither should it.

The layered approach to implementing METLs and the multiple responsibilities implied in the approach mentioned in paragraph 2.1 is ineffective. Nobody or no headquarters of the NZDF is responsible for implementation across the whole organisation and development has, as a consequence, been piecemeal.


The NZDF, Army and developing Air Force universal tasks lists are not referenced to a common scheme of battlefield or capability functions. A common schema or accurately mapped hierarchies are required to show the link in METLs-based planning and training between operational and tactical levels.

The operational level NZDF Universal Joint Task List is arranged according to the seven fundamental NZDF capabilities required to deliver war fighting.21

The Army's universal task list is arranged according to the seven Battlefield Operating Systems,22 and is not aligned with the NZDF Universal Joint Task List: The 2009 version of the US Army's universal task list which the NZ Army has now adopted has followed yet another schema of six war fighting functions.23

For convenience at this developmental stage the draft RNZAF tactical tasks are grouped according to the core competencies of the United States Air Force Tactical Task List, but the final ordering of them has yet to be decided.

The Navy does not have a tactical task list as such. The Navy does however need to be able to demonstrate alignment between MONICAR training tasks and relevant Joint METLs, and that there is no training redundancy.

Despite similarities among these various ways of ordering and describing capability and war fighting functions, there is not presently any mapping between operational and tactical levels. A number of people see this as a problem for the NZDF's contingency and operational planning that will gain significance as the NZDF refocuses to meet its Joint Amphibious Operating Concept.

Other planning considerations

The NZDF will use an existing plan if a matching event or contingency occurs. But the existing plan may not be the best plan for what is happening. Contingency Plans are necessary to plan training but those plans must be flexible and scalable for actual operations.

Flexible and scalable plans help establish the gap between current operations and future operations, or between DLOC and OLOC. If the view is taken that current operations are the primary focus, then having determined the Joint METLs-based training required for current operations, the difference between that and the Joint METLs-based training required for possible future operations can be analysed and serve as a basis for resourcing decisions. A similar rationale applies to the difference between DLOC and OLOC.

The NZDF needs to manage its system of METLs-led activity and training so that changes made in one part of the system flow through into others. This will require people with the necessary authority and accountability acting according to a centrally-directed plan.


The full value of Joint METLs-led training will not be realised unless the training is the most economical formulation of all training that a Force Element must achieve to maintain readiness for all likely tasking. The process depicted in Figure 2.1 does not generate training for standing plans such as AWHINA. Decisions about appropriate training for those contingencies are being made at the tactical level. Joint METLs-led training needs to be a construct based on not just the documented employment contexts, but also other likely or priority areas of employment.

There is uncertainty within the NZDF over whether the planning for Joint METLs based training should be bottom up or top down. A view expressed at the HQ JFNZ Training Branch was that, “We try to flow up. Can that bad guy in that vehicle, and what we have to do about him, be traced up to some employment context?”

The alternative view, and the one adopted in extant planning as represented by the documented ECs is that the requirement must flow from strategic-level analysis and defence policy down through the planning structure.

NZDF platforms and equipment have inherent capabilities which the NZDF has traditionally trained for. Training may exceed that required by current outputs. A top down approach to deriving Joint METLs is intended to eliminate redundant activities from DLOC training. But some command flexibility to depart from that top down approach is desirable. This would be in the case, for example, when training activities were not being emphasised in a particular period. Experimentation during training on sophisticated equipment could lead to greater effectiveness and procedural and doctrinal change.

The NZDF was until recently working on Project METIS,24 which was intended to deliver activity scheduling and reporting and simplified co-ordination of plans. All exercises and activities were to have tasks associated with them and by that means the monitoring of mission essential tasks and METLs achieved was to be automated and more efficient. METIS would have given commanders a better appreciation of risks to training and preparedness in the face of resource cuts, and the ability to advise higher command accordingly. Many people were seeing METIS across the NZDF as a panacea for what is defective or missing from METLs planning. The project is now in abeyance due to competing resourcing priorities.

A system to cross reference training completed to mission essential tasks and thus the ability to eliminate activities which would duplicate the achievement of mission essential tasks would necessarily be complex. This suggests that an automated system with electronic data bases would be necessary. To be fully effective, any such system whether manual or automated would need the linkages between tactical and operational planning mentioned in paragraphs 4.15 to 4.19.

METIS was not to replace the NZDF's Operational Preparedness Reporting System. Rather the intention was that by linking various corporate systems, it would deliver automated personnel and equipment data to the inspectors general more efficiently than current manual processes.


It is recommended that HQ NZDF:

  1. develops and promulgates policy for, and appoints a sponsor to direct and guide, the ongoing development of Joint METLs-based training throughout the NZDF;
  2. directs that NZDF task lists at both the operational and tactical levels are referenced against the same battlefield or capability functions or if this proves to be not possible that accurate mapping occurs between them;
  3. ensures that Military Response Options and Joint METLs are scalable for a wide range of responses possible under each illustrative planning scenario;
  4. ensures that Joint METLs-based planning is inclusive of all likely contingencies and not just the contingencies represented by the documented ECs; and
  5. within a top-down approach to Joint METLs and METLs development, retains a degree of command override sufficient to ensure that:
    1. the focus on current operations and planning does not allow required capabilities to become dormant; or
    2. capabilities may be researched and developed in the interests of effectiveness and doctrinal change.

  1. Respectively, Sections 2 and 7 of Defence Force Orders for the Army Volume 7 – Training Policies and Procedures.
  2. These are Command, Inform, Prepare, Project, Protect, Operate and Sustain. NZDDP-D Foundations of New Zealand Military Doctrine.
  3. DFO(A) Vol 7 Training Policies and Procedures. The Battlefield Operating Systems are Intelligence, Manoeuvre, Fire Support, Air Defence, Mobility/Counter-mobility/Survivability, Combat Service Support, and Command and Control.
  4. Movement and Manoeuvre, Intelligence, Fires, Sustainment, Command and Control, and Protection.
  5. METIS is not an acronym. Metis is the Greek goddess of wisdom and deep thought.

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