November 24, 2014:
Like most other Western Pacific nations, New Zealand has been upgrading and expanding its military lately. In the last year personnel strength has increased by more than six percent, to nearly 9,100. With civilian employees the New Zealand defense forces now number 14,100 personnel. There are still shortages in key technical areas, like operation, maintenance and repair of complex equipment. This is caused, in part, by the introduction of new equipment, like NH90 and A109 helicopters. Finding sufficient personnel to man the six coastal patrol ships is also difficult.
At the same time New Zealand is trying to assemble a Joint Task Force (JTF) with personnel from the army, navy and air force operating from the new (since 2008) MRV (multi-role vessel) HMNZS Canterbury. This 9,000 ton vessel that can operate large (CH-47 class) helicopters and carry up to 250 troops. Four UH-60 class helicopters can be carried and maintained. There is also a small hospital, which can be expanded into the hanger deck. The vehicle deck can carry a hundred or more vehicles and cargo containers. The ship has a crew of 110, and was built to commercial standards. The model for the ship was a roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) ferry. This meant the ship only cost about $100 million. The ship carries two landing craft, but does not have a well deck for launching them. The 55 ton LCM class landing craft are lowered into the water. There are also 2-4 smaller, and faster, craft for landing commandos. Armament consists of one remotely controlled 25mm autocannon. Canterbury is basically a peacekeeping ship.
This military expansion has been going on for most of the last decade. In 2010 the island nation's government has decided to increase the New Zealand Defense Forces' (NZDF) annual budget by .7 percent, to $1.89 billion (about one percent of GDP) for the next fiscal year. Ironically, the overall budget for the entire Ministry of Defense is being cut 24 percent, to $158 million.
This might sound fairly routine if only the Defense Ministry's budget was being slashed, but the fact that the defense bureaucracy was getting cut while the warfighting elements were getting a boost indicated that the small country is trying to shift its priorities, spend its money wisely and pay more attention to the types of conflicts it is likely to face in the future. The Army, as usual, received the largest share of the new budget since, to this very day, it continues to be the branch of service that bears the brunt of the fighting and casualties during New Zealand's military deployments. The Special Forces has also experienced regular budget increases.
The New Zealanders have good reason to take care of their military and take it seriously. New Zealand has never faced invasion, but has seen peacekeeping and war fighting deployments stretching back to the First World War, either in aid to the British Empire forces or as part of international counter-terrorism efforts. New Zealand Army troops, particularly their Special Air Service, are highly prized as allies in the War on Terror.
Despite its tiny size (4.4 million population, 9,000 active duty troops, plus 2,200 reservists), the Kiwis produce one of the most well-trained, equipped, and disciplined ground forces in the world, based primarily around infantry and special forces, their own version of the Special Air Service. They bring to the field first-class training and morale, and decades of successful warfighting experience in unconventional warfare. During their experiences in World War II and the Vietnam War, the tiny New Zealand force, alongside the Australians, were considered by many to be the undisputed masters of tropical warfare, paying close attention to ambushes, patrolling, and small unit tactics at squad and platoon level.
New Zealand is eager to maintain the outstanding reputation its army has developed over the years. It is starting to realize the government is going to have to spend more money for equipment, training, and manpower retention if the world is going to continue to hold its military in extremely high esteem.