In this term of government, we’ve been very busy with the defense portfolio. We’ve unveiled the Strategic Defence Policy Statement, which identified how we view the strategic environment in which we operate. Then we built on it with reports on climate change and how the New Zealand Defence Force, or NZDF, will work better in the Pacific. We’ve then used this to create the Defence Capability Plan to meet the challenges we’re facing in our strategic environment and to modernize the Defence Force.
The government has signed off on new P-8As, replacing the C-130H Hercules, training aircraft and simulators, HMNZS Manawanui, the Frigate Systems Upgrade project, and the Network Enabled Army Programme, to name but a few efforts. We’re now moving toward procuring a new Southern Ocean patrol vessel, a landing platform dock to complement HMNZS Canterbury, increasing the size of the Army and new space and unmanned surveillance technology.
All up, the new capital investment in defense will be over $2.6 billion by the time this term of government ends. That’s the biggest investment in defense for a generation.
But it’s in the area of real estate that I think we could have the most lasting and positive impact on the NZDF.
Earlier this year I announced a review of the Defence Estate. It’s no secret that our estate is outdated, and in some cases predates the Second World War. With our strategic needs shifting and new equipment coming online, the time is right to take an open-minded look at the estate and ask ourselves: “What are we going to need in the year 2070?”
Ultimately the recommendations of the team looking into the estate could mean new bases, consolidating bases, moving bases, or even keeping our footprint as it is but upgrading what we have. All options are on the table.
It is an area I’d like to see the defense industry engaged in. Shaping the future of our Defence Estate is perhaps the most important work we will do this term. It could make the difference between success and failure for future generations of defense personnel.
The world is changing, and New Zealand has to be prepared to do an increased amount of work in our own area of the Pacific. We are responsible for one-eleventh of the globe, and we can’t meet that responsibility with outdated equipment and bases.
This government has acted quickly; we have a plan, and we are backing up that plan with action. For too long defense has been an afterthought of governments who have only spent money when absolutely necessary, and usually on the wrong type of equipment.
I’m pleased to say that in my conversations with the opposition, they generally agree with our approach on upgrading the Defence Force. This is important because all elected officials are here for a short time, but the Defence Force is not. It is an institution and will be here long after we are gone.
We owe it to our women and men in uniform to equip them and train them well so that when we ask them to deploy, they are able to do the job we ask them to do, complete it with distinction and, above all, come home safe.
Ron Mark is the defense minister of New Zealand.