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Interview: Maj. Gen. Dave Gawn, Chief of New Zealand Army

Nov. 12, 2013 - 07:53PM   |  
By NICK LEE-FRAMPTON   |   Comments
Maj. Gen. Dave Gawn is chief of the New Zealand Army.
Maj. Gen. Dave Gawn is chief of the New Zealand Army. (LAC Amanda McErlich / NZDF)
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In February, Maj. Gen. A.D. “Dave” Gawn stepped into his role as New Zealand’s chief of Army, after serving as the service’s deputy chief and then as commander of Joint Forces New Zealand. During his Army career, he has served in Bosnia, East Timor and Singapore.

Though a comparatively small force with just over 4,200 regular troops, the New Zealand Army is well acquainted with deployments.

In April, New Zealand withdrew its provincial reconstruction team (PRT) from the town of Bamian in Afghanistan’s Bamyan province. The deployment — which involved more than 3,500 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel operating since 2001 at both Bamian and Bagram, with New Zealand special forces based in Kabul and elsewhere in the country — has cost almost NZ $300 million (US $254.2 million) overall, with $8 million spent on development within Afghanistan.

New Zealand Army personnel also served in the National Support Element at Bagram Airbase, in the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, and in the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul.

NZDF casualties in Afghanistan included 10 fatalities, with eight combat deaths since 2010.

In addition, the Army, during the past decade, has sent soldiers to participate in other missions across the globe — in East Timor, mentoring the Timorese military; in the Solomon Islands, assisting with the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands; in Sinai, Israel and southern Lebanon; South Korea; South Sudan; and Antarctica, where they continue to help support the New Zealand and US Antarctic programs.

In September, the NZ Army co-hosted, with US Army Pacific, the Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (PACC) and the Pacific Armies Management Seminar (PAMS) in Auckland.

Q. How has the Army’s doctrine and training that was in force a decade ago stood up to the turmoil of deployments in the past decade, including Afghanistan?

A. The doctrine and training system has provided the theoretical foundation that has enabled the NZ Army to conduct operations in a wide and diverse range of theaters over the past decade. Each operation has presented different challenges and threats that require extant doctrine and procedures to be adapted to suit the desired operational effect. The basic building blocks of doctrine and training have served the Army well in meeting the demands of contemporary operations.

Training and doctrine has and always will evolve due to changes in capabilities, equipment and as a consequence of operational experience. Elements of our training have evolved, and methods of delivery have changed over the last decade — not directly as a consequence of operations in Afghanistan but from the collective experience gained on all of our operations. These continual incremental improvements in training and doctrine will ensure that the NZ Army remains relevant and ready to meet the demands of future conflicts.

Q. What are you doing to ensure the Army part of the proposed Joint Amphibious Task Force (JATF) functions efficiently and effectively?

A. The New Zealand Defence Force’s Strategy Future 35 outlined the organization’s vision of joint operational excellence. An objective of Future 35 is the development of a Joint Amphibious Task Force by 2015. The desired outcome is the development of a JATF that is capable of undertaking a wide range of tasks and optimized to operate in the Southwest Pacific.

Exercise Southern Katipo 13 and 15 are the mechanisms the NZDF will utilize to test and assess the JATF. Amphibious operations are complex, and it will take time to develop the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to meet this objective. The NZDF is on track to achieve the milestones expected of Exercise Southern Katipo in 2013. The assessment of competency levels achieved on this exercise will shape the training development plan necessary for the obtainment of the objective by the completion of Exercise Southern Katipo 15.

Q. How is the attrition rate trending this year? What effect has the civilianization process had?

A. At the year ending 31 July, the rolling attrition rate for the NZ Army was 16.7 percent [compared with] 23.85 percent a year earlier. [While] 2011 and 2012 were periods of high attrition for the NZ Army, the attrition rates have been in decline for the past 12 months.

The civilianization process has predominantly affected the middle and back functions that support the Army [so] has not directly impacted readiness levels or unit strengths.

Q. How are the recently introduced new small arms performing?

A. The In-Service Weapon Replacement/Upgrade Programme [ISWRUP] is to ensure that all NZDF personnel have the small arms they need. ISWRUP has introduced 222 Benelli M3A1 tactical shotguns and has delivered 600 of the new 7.62mm light support weapons to replace the current in-service 5.56mm light support weapon.

More than 100 of the 7.62mm marksman rifles have been purchased and will be introduced to service early in 2014. With regard to sniper rifles, personal protection weapons, anti-armor weapons and the Steyr rifle upgrade, the user requirements are confirmed and the business case is in development.

Q. What is happening to keep the Army’s 105mm guns effective?

A. As well as a rebuild for the guns, the upgrade project includes a digitized indirect fire prediction system, new meteorological equipment and a battery power management system.

Also being acquired is a a gun navigating and pointing system, otherwise known as the Laser Inertial Artillery Pointing System [LINAPS], produced by the Scottish division of Selex ES, a Finmeccanica company. LINAPS has been successfully deployed operationally by both the British and Canadian armies in the [Arabian] Gulf and Afghanistan.

These improvements are intended to carry the guns, which fire the US M1-type ammunition, through to 2030.

Q. Will New Zealand follow Australia in acquiring the US-built M252A1 81mm mortar?

A. We plan to review the current in-service 81mm mortar capability with respect to either upgrading or replacing it. No decision has been made at this stage with regards to either upgrading or replacing the L16A2 81mm mortar capability.

Q. What is being done in response to concerns about the Army’s lack of safety during training?

A. The Army has safety rules and regulations throughout current policy and procedures. They have been developed over the years and inform the training, tactics and procedures.

In recent times, we have had accidents and incidents that serve as a reminder of command, organizational and individual responsibilities for duty of care. As part of our continual improvement process, this year we are re-emphasizing our safety in training with the theme “operations first, safety always.”

Q. What is the status of the NZ Light Armoured Vehicle (NZLAV)?

A. The NZLAV has served with the NZDF for 10 years and a number of vehicles have been twice deployed on discreet operations in Afghanistan. Despite the unforgiving terrain and high altitude, post operational reviews have confirmed that the reconfigured vehicles performed very well in theater.

However, refurbishing them is likely to take up to 800 hours per vehicle to return them to the state they were in prior to the deployment.

We purchased 105 LAVs to equip two motorized infantry battalions. However, a change in NZDF outputs has recently seen the vehicles move into a single cavalry regiment, and 20 NZLAVs have been identified as surplus and will likely be sold. A project to extend the service life of NZLAVs until 2035 has recently commenced.

Q. What is the response to the new multiterrain camouflage uniforms (MCUs)? Are they performing as advertised?

A. All feedback received to date has been positive. There have been a few reports on defective or unsatisfactory material raised for minor issues. In 12 months time, [we’ll] conduct a detailed review of the new uniform to confirm it is meeting our requirements. The uniform has not been tested on operations to date.

Q. Why has the new uniform been issued only to the Army and not the rest of the NZDF?

A

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The Navy have their own new layering system, so don’t require the MCU. The Air Force are looking at using the same fabric in a different design. All NZDF personnel who deploy on a land mission will be issued with MCU.

Lee-Frampton reported from Wellington.

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