More troops needed but cash is short

ATTENTION: Lieutenant-General Jeremiah Mateparae, Prime Minister John Key and Defence Minister Wayne Mapp talk to media representatives.
ATTENTION: Lieutenant-General Jeremiah Mateparae, Prime Minister John Key and Defence Minister Wayne Mapp talk to media representatives.

More frontline soldiers, sailors and airmen is the key to New Zealand's defence future but there is not much in extra money, a defence white paper has revealed today.

The long-awaited New Zealand Defence Force white paper, released today, says there will be more investment in front-line personnel for all three branches of the military as many uniformed personnel are freed from roles to be taken over by an increasing number of civilians working within the military.

Defence Minister Dr Wayne Mapp said the last white paper was 13 years ago and the world had changed considerably since then.

On the quarterdeck of the multi-role ship HMNZS Canterbury at the Devonport naval base in Auckland, he said the white paper outlined the Government's defence objectives for the next 25 years.

While New Zealand was unlikely to face a direct military threat, there were growing pressures on maritime resources and an increased possibility of illegal migration, he said.

"The outlook for the South Pacific is one of fragility."

While the focus would be on the South Pacific it did not mean New Zealand would do less elsewhere.

The combat effectiveness of the army would be enhanced and the navy's two Anzac frigates would upgraded to ensure they could continue to work effectively with New Zealand defence partners, he said. Short-range search and rescue aircraft would be introduced to free up the costly Orion maritime surveillance aircraft for other core duties.

More elite troops would be added to the Special Air Services to reduce the strain on an internationally recognised force in considerable demand.

Dr Mapp said changes in the distribution of resources within the defence force would free up to $300 million a year for more front-line capabilities.

New civilian roles could cover areas such as technical training, gymnasium management, some physical training, photography, human rights administration, logistic engineering support, psychology and construction engineering, training and education and bands.

The army, navy and air force reserves could also be "reshaped" top give them a more integrated role in the Defence Force.

The white paper also recommended fewer defence sites and that could include bringing the army and the air force together at a single military "hub" at the Ohakea air base in Manawatu, meaning the moving of the army base at Linton, near Palmerston North and reducing personnel at Waiouru.

The army would be restructured to increase its combat capability so that up to 800 soldiers could be sent offshore every year for three years in six-monthly rotations.

Some of that would be achieved with more soldiers, paid for by redistributing resources "from the middle and back."

The light armoured vehicle fleet would be reduced from 105 to 90 and some would be reconfigured into ambulances and command and control vehicles.

The two new helicopter fleets, which have yet to be delivered, would replace the Iroquois and the Sioux training helicopters, and both fleets would get self-protection to allow them to operate in more hostile environments.

The fleet of five A109 training and light utility helicopters would be increased to eight.

The white paper said the air force's five Hercules aircraft would be replaced by 2020.

The air force's six Orion aircraft would continue to be upgraded and be replaced in 2025 with either manned or unmanned aircraft.

The fleet tanker and supply ship HMNZS Endeavour would not comply with international maritime regulations after 2013 and would be replaced with a more versatile ship with some sealift capabilities.

The chief of the Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae, said people were the backbone of the New Zealand Defence Force.

"What the Government has done with this paper is to say 'We are going to invest in the defence force'."

He said the paper was a blueprint which allowed for options.

"We are not facing any cuts and that is a huge, huge vote of confidence in the defence force, about what we are, what we do and how we do it.

"You look around the globe and there are people facing big and massive cuts. Not so for us."

NZPA