WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The 2012 Annual Report of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) reveals enhanced attention on the South Pacific.
“Our Pacific neighbourhood is the primary focus,” Lt. Gen. Rhys Jones, the chief of Defence Force, writes in the report.
At the heart of the strategy, or as the report describes it, a “key enabler,” is the establishment of a Joint Amphibious Task Force (JATF), based on the Navy’s amphibious flagship HMNZS Canterbury, capable of transporting 250 troops.
Supported by Anzac-class frigates, P-3K2 Orion surveillance aircraft and NH90 helicopters, the JATF is scheduled to be “in place” by 2015.
While the JATF will primarily be structured for the deployment of combat forces, says the NZDF, its most likely contingencies will be humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and “conducting missions in our region to support nation building.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in New Zealand hours after the report was published Sept. 19, said in a TVNZ interview while discussing the development of the NZDF’s amphibious capability that “We certainly can help provide assistance with that.” Panetta mentioned the amphibious expertise of the U.S. Marine Corps, although the report shows the NZDF is already developing an operational JATF, including joint amphibious training.
A deployable joint headquarters, “able to command operations offshore and coordinate the efforts of other governmental, international, and non-governmental organizations in a crisis,” has been established.
During 2011-2012, the Army also stood up a high-readiness platoon, capable of responding at short notice to regional contingencies, such as providing humanitarian and disaster relief, in the southwest Pacific.
The report shows that the NZDF has supported the smaller Pacific nations in the past year, with “some 76 activities … undertaken with South Pacific nations.” These activities included the Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) HMNZS Otago patrolling the Cook Islands’ exclusive economic zone, three Iroquois helicopters deploying to Papua New Guinea, and a 100-strong NZDF contingent delivering a range of health care services to the people of Samoa during Exercise Tropic Twilight 2012.
Other regional deployments included Timor-Leste (East Timor) and the Solomon Islands, while NZDF personnel have been active in the Middle East, including Syria and in South Korea.
The NZDF also has been busy domestically, undertaking its biggest joint exercise since the late 1990s, involving all three services, while Territorial Forces continue to support Christchurch in its earthquake recovery program.
Statistically, the report shows that total regular force strength is at its lowest point this century with a headcount of 8,526, a decline of more than 10 percent in the past year. Since 2010, attrition has more than doubled and now exceeds 20 percent.
However, civilian staff numbers have increased from 2,261 in 2007 to almost 2,600 today.
The Army remains the largest service with 4,288 regular personnel, followed by the Air Force with 2,336 and the Navy with 1,902 sailors.