WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A further 30 New Zealand Defence Force personnel will deploy to the U.K. until the end of July to help train Ukrainian soldiers on the L119 towed 105mm light howitzer, New Zealand’s prime minister announced Monday.
“There are very few armed forces that can provide this skill right now,” Jacinda Ardern said, “which is why New Zealand has been called upon.”
Defence Minister Peeni Henare this week noted his participation in the Ukraine Contact Group — a gathering of about 44 nations to coordinate aid to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia’s invasion, which began Feb. 24.
Chief of Defence Force Air Marshal Kevin Short said New Zealand expects to train about 230 Ukrainian troops. “We think it would take at least a week for a gun crew to be trained,” he noted.
At least 30 gun crews were expected to learn how to operate the gun, which is also operated by the British Army. Known as the M119 in the U.S., the gun has a range of more than 10 miles, and New Zealand’s military has used the weapon since the 1980s.
Defense analyst Gordon Crane said the training plans cross important policy thresholds.
“In March, we introduced sanctions against Russia; last month, we sent a Hercules [aircraft] and provided funds for more weapons; this month, as well as artillery training, New Zealand is supplying gun sights and training ammunition,” Crane said. “This should strengthen our relationship with Washington. It shows New Zealand is moving in concert with its major allies in supporting Ukraine.”
However, Crane pointed out that New Zealand’s Army has fewer than 5,000 regular personnel and that its collective readiness has declined as soldiers, together with Air Force and Navy personnel, have had to take on the task of managing the country’s COVID-19 isolation and quarantine policies in recent years.
As well as preventing staff from practicing their military roles, the emphasis on soft skills has sent attrition soaring at a time when recruitment is declining, he explained.
“Probably the Hercules deployment could be extended another month or two, bearing in mind the [Royal New Zealand Air Force] has only five C-130s, all of them in service since the 1960s,” he said. “Our expertise is in niche areas, including explosive ordnance disposal. In terms of hardware, though, the NZDF is sparsely equipped, with fewer than 30 Javelin anti-tank missiles for example; there are no fast jets, no tanks, no [multiple launch rocket systems] or combat UAVs.”
“However, Kiwis are highly adaptable, and Wellington’s political support for Ukraine has only grown stronger,” he added, using a term for New Zealand citizens. “The impact of that resolve should not be underestimated.”
Nick Lee-Frampton is the New Zealand correspondent for Defense News.