Deployment to train Ukrainian troops is all very well – but Henare should fix sights on new hardware and lifting NZ army morale

When PM Jacinda  Ardern  announced this week the  government had decided to give  additional  support  to Ukraine  against  Russia’s illegal  war, she described the deployment  of 120 personnel from the NZ Defence  Force to the UK  to  help  train Ukraine soldiers as “significant”.

The decision follows a  completed deployment of  30 NZDF personnel who went  to Britain in May to   train Ukrainian military  personnel in operating  artillery.

“We know that one of the highest priorities for Ukraine right now, is to train its soldiers, and New Zealand is proud to stand in solidarity alongside a number of other countries to answer that call,” Jacinda Ardern said.

Point  of  Order  has  no  doubt the NZ  contingent will  do a  very  good  job.  It may even  revive  the rundown morale  among NZ’s  armed  forces.

But  so  far  the  Ardern  government hasn’t  heeded the real  message of the Russian invasion  and  subsequent bombardment, which is to  equip  NZ’s  own  army  with modern  hardware.

All  that  Defence Minister Peeni Henare has  succeeded in doing in the  portfolio since  he  took over two years  ago is  launch a defence policy  review.

As  he sees it, the latest deployment

“…  provides an opportunity for NZDF personnel to gain valuable experience through conducting core soldier skills in a foreign environment.”

Implicit in that  comment is  an acknowledgment  of  what  critics  regard as  the  decline in  NZ’s  own  defence forces because of  low  morale  and inadequate  equipment.

The world, including the Pacific, is not the benign environment it was only  a  few  years  ago, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China deploying one  of the largest and most modern fleets in the world and with aggressive intentions towards Taiwan and growing surveillance within  the  Pacific.

When he launched  his defence review, Henare  noted  what he  described  as “the intensification of geo-strategic competition”.

Through the  review  he  wants   to   ensure

“… that New Zealand’s Defence policy, strategy, and planned capability investments remain fit for purpose.”

He  insists the  Ardern government remains

“…  committed to ensuring that Defence have the policies and equipment they need to do their jobs. The importance of this review is paramount so that we can make sure future investments are fit for purpose in a post COVID-19 environment, a Pacific region grappling with climate change and the intensification of strategic competition, and a world which is seeing a brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. 

“The current capability work programme will continue while the review is underway, with all individual capability investments continuing to be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

Henare  boasts  the Ardern Government’s record is

“… already one of historic investments in our Defence Force, having already invested  $4.5 billion in 12 major defence capability projects since taking office.”

But  the  $4.5 billion investment  was  the  result  of Henare’s  predecessor – New  Zealand First’s Ron Mark –  pushing  through projects  like  the purchase  of  new maritime  aircraft  initiated  by  the  previous  government.

The  four new P-8A Poseidon aircraft, and five new C-130J Super Hercules aircraft  are in effect  a  legacy  of previous ministers.

Henare  says the  review will produce a defence policy and strategy statement which will set out a high level strategy for Defence.

“In addition, a set of design principles will be developed to help shape the future New Zealand Defence Force so that they’re enabled to undertake activities that may be required of them.

“Similar to previous reviews, a Ministerial Advisory Panel will be established to provide independent advice throughout.”

The policy and strategy statement will be delivered to the Government by the end of the year, with the future force design principles to follow in the first half of next year.

The Government will take further decisions on the next steps in the review process based on the findings of these initial products.

Defence commentator  Professor  Alexander  Gillespie, of  Waikato  University, on  a  Radio NZ  programme  said    the war in Ukraine is demonstrating, the technology of warfare is evolving fast.

“Preparing for that change will be essential if New Zealand is to have a credible defence system.

“New Zealand may have no capacity for nuclear-powered submarines or aircraft carriers, but its armed forces will need access to some of the equipment already being deployed against Russia’s invasion.The defence review should also examine the next generation of platforms, including quantum technologies, hypersonic weaponary, advanced cyber capabilities, electronic warfare, artificial intelligence and potentially some autonomous systems.

“Inter-operability with allies will be crucial. And the review should explore the possibility of New Zealand contributing proportionately to joint allied military budgets for things beyond its own capacity to supply, such as fighter aircraft or advanced weapons systems”.

Will  the  Ardern  government take  heed? Perhaps  it  should  also be seeking membership  alongside  Australia  in AUKUS.

2 thoughts on “Deployment to train Ukrainian troops is all very well – but Henare should fix sights on new hardware and lifting NZ army morale

  1. Si vis pacem, para bellum. “If you want peace, prepare for war.” The world and the Indo-Pacific have never been a benign environment, that is simply wishful thinking. New Zealand cannot afford submarines but the Poseidons and new Hercules aircraft are excellent purchases. A glance at the map tells us we need to focus on the Navy and the Air Force. The Air Combat wing must be re-established and a strong drones capability developed.

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    1. I don’t think an air combat wing would be useful. Maybe have a “squadron” of pilots that fly with the RAAF or USAF but the bald fact is that the fast jets we had never ever saw any useful deployments.

      We certainly need to arm up the Orions, and finding a way to be able to switch Hercules from transport to gunship would be useful.

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