Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman is downplaying suggestions the military could use so-called "drone" technology to attack and kill opponents in any future conflict.
The Defence Force has earmarked $600 million over the next 20 years to fund a "network-enabled army" that would include unmanned aircraft, robots and sensors to enable troop movements and health to be monitored.
Coleman said no papers had gone to Cabinet yet, but there was money in the long-term capital plan and initial advice was expected this year.
"Rather than have people with paper maps you've got to bring them into the digital age otherwise our troops will be disadvantaged in the field." He said it was not about using drones as the United States had in Iraq and Afghanistan to attack specific targets.
"That's not what this is about. It's certainly not something that I've seen any paper about," he said.
"What you can say is that as technology develops you're likely to have aircraft which are unmanned but the primary purpose, if hypothetically New Zealand was ever to get that capability, would be more around actually gathering intelligence."
So instead of putting up an Orion aircraft to check on illegal fishing it would be cheaper and more efficient to put up an unmanned aircraft.
"Drones are a capability but it is how they are used and what they do is the key thing. I want to distinguish between using it for the type of purposes we already use our military aircraft for as opposed to an offensive purpose." The technology would allow troops to better communicate with partner nations in the field and get a better picture of what was going on.
Coleman told the foreign affairs and defence select committee the capability would "digitise" forces' capability.
Answering questions from Labour defence spokesman Phil Goff, Coleman said morale and staff retention were improving.
After peaking at about 23 per cent, attrition was now at 15 per cent - lower than the public service average of 17 per cent.
Coleman again clashed with Goff over the Labour MP asking questions, using details of a court of inquiry report, that had been suppressed by the coroner, into training for troops in Afghanistan and their capabilities.
Coleman said Goff was breaking the law by quoting from the inquiry, but Goff asked why the information should be suppressed and should not be in the public arena.
The two had previously clashed over the same issue in Parliament.
The commanding officer of the affected Crib 19 rotation to Bamiyan, Lieutenant-Colonel Brett Wellington, said training that would have normally been done in New Zealand was done in Afghanistan.
The deployment was two months longer than normal, but that had been managed.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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