Defence White Paper: Questions & Answers

  • Wayne Mapp

1.            What is the Defence White Paper?

The Defence White Paper is a comprehensive statement of the Government's defence objectives for the next 25 years.  It examines the national security and strategic outlook; identifies the tasks which it is expected Defence will need to perform given this outlook; and sets out the capabilities (people and equipment) which the NZDF will need in order to deliver on Government expectations.  The White Paper provides a framework for improving the organisational capability and value for money of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and the Ministry of Defence.

•2.            Why a Defence White Paper now?

The Government went into the 2008 election promising to undertake a comprehensive review of Defence.  The White Paper delivers on that promise.

Defence policy is a complex area which requires careful long-term planning. New Zealand's last White Paper on Defence was published in 1997. Since then the world and our region have changed considerably. Operational demands and resource pressures have also increased. A comprehensive review of New Zealand's defence policies and capabilities therefore was overdue.

•3.            What was the process?

The Defence Review comprised three significant activities over 18 months 

  • i. The Secretary of Defence undertook a comprehensive Defence Assessment, the results of which were reported to the Government in July. The Defence Assessment identified, amongst other things, a gap between current defence funding baselines and the projected cost of funding the Government's capability ambitions.
  • ii. An independent Value for Money review, led by Dr Roderick Deane, was tasked by the Government to identify options for bridging this gap. This was completed in August.
  • iii. The White Paper was informed by both documents, as well as by the Companion Studies (on defence industry, the role of the NZDF in youth programmes, and voluntary national service), the views of an independent panel of experts, and an extensive public consultation process.

•4.            How does the Defence White Paper view New Zealand's security outlook?

The next 25 years are expected to be more uncertain than the 25 years just past.  The rules-based international order is under pressure.  Key international institutions are struggling to forge consensus on a range of trans-boundary issues. Economic power is shifting. New military technologies are emerging and the threat of proliferation is growing.  Terrorism is a continuing challenge to state authority.

New Zealand and its territories are highly unlikely to face a direct military threat. But there are likely to be growing pressures on our maritime resources, and an increased possibility of illegal migration. The outlook for the South Pacific is one of fragility.  The resilience of Pacific Island states and the effectiveness of regional institutions will remain under pressure. 

The United States is likely to remain the pre-eminent military power for the next 25 years.  But its relative technological and military edge will diminish.  Tensions related to the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan and the South China Sea will continue, as will pressure points in South and Southeast Asia.  The Middle East will remain a region of strategic interest and instability.

This more uncertain environment underlines the need to maintain, and in some cases enhance, the current range of capabilities of the NZDF. 

•5.            How will the Government use the New Zealand Defence Force?

Our security interests and the strategic outlook suggest that the principal tasks for the NZDF over the next 25 years will remain much as they have been, but potentially with intensified demands.

Tasks in and around New Zealand and the South Pacific will be the starting point for choosing the military capabilities of the NZDF.  This means, alongside Australia, being able to deal with any reasonably foreseeable contingency in the South Pacific. 

New Zealand also has a continuing interest in maintaining and supporting international peace and security. 

The NZDF will therefore need to remain interoperable with our principal partners.  It will also need to be deployable, sufficiently self-reliant, versatile, and adaptable.  Our international interests mean that the NZDF will retain the ability to contribute combat capabilities when required

•6.            Does a focus on the South Pacific mean doing less elsewhere?

No. New Zealand benefits from a stable international order which is sympathetic to our values and is based on the rule of international law.  It is in our interest to contribute alongside friends and partners to the maintenance of such an order.

We will structure the NZDF's capabilities with a Pacific focus, while at the same time not losing sight of the fact that we benefit from (and so should contribute to) stability elsewhere. 

The White Paper will ensure that we have the resources needed to meet New Zealand's overall security requirements, to add weight to Australia, and to support our regional and international obligations.

•7.            How many NZDF personnel are currently deployed on operations, and where?

Over 370 Defence Force personnel are currently deployed overseas on operations.  Of these, over 230 are in Afghanistan, 78 in Timor-Leste, 44 in the Middle East, 12 in Antarctica and nine in Solomon Islands.   

In Afghanistan, the New Zealand commitment consists of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan, Special Forces, a National Support Element, and Afghan National Army trainers, and staff officers.

•8.            What military capabilities are recommended in the Defence White Paper?

The existing range of NZDF capabilities has served the Government well.  Over the last 20 years the Defence Force has successfully discharged a wide variety of missions both near to home and further afield, with significant numbers of personnel deployed on operations.   

The pathway set out in the White Paper will retain and enhance the NZDF's existing capabilities, so that it can perform the tasks expected of it to 2035.

The NZDF undertakes or supports a range of tasks, including maritime resource protection, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and search and rescue as part of a whole-of-government effort directed by civil authorities.  But the core task of the NZDF is to conduct military operations.

It is proposed that the combat effectiveness, protection, sustainability, and mobility of land forces be improved, and that the critical enabling capabilities of long-range air and sea transport be maintained. These measures will allow the NZDF to deploy more troops on overseas operations, and for longer.

It is also proposed that naval combat capabilities be upgraded to ensure the ANZAC frigates continue to provide a valued contribution to coalition operations, and that short-range maritime patrol aircraft and satellite imagery capability be introduced to enhance New Zealand's domestic and regional border and maritime resource protection capability.

•9.            How will our Special Forces be enhanced?

Our SAS personnel are rightly recognised for their high quality.  This means they are in considerable demand.  Learning the lessons of recent years, we will aim to alleviate the strain of operations. 

This may mean a small increase in overall SAS numbers, as well as using the Regular Army to better support the Special Forces.

•10.        Is the Government proposing to disband any major platforms?

No. The existing range of NZDF capabilities will be maintained and in places enhanced. 

But we need to plan now so that we can replace the strategic air transport and air surveillance fleets and the ANZAC frigates when the time comes. 

•11.        Is there anything new?

The major new direction to emerge from this White Paper is the priority given to enhancing the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability of the NZDF. 

This is a niche area in which our people and platforms can and do provide a discrete, valuable contribution to international operations and exercises.  The introduction of a satellite imagery capability and the proposed addition of short-range maritime patrol aircraft will provide a more diverse fleet of ISR assets, including for use in our EEZ and the near region.

The White Paper will also put some of our existing capabilities - such as the Regular Army - on a more sustainable footing.  And it establishes a forward plan for replacing or upgrading core capabilities.

•12.        How will the Government fund the proposed capability pathway?

This White Paper is distinguished from its predecessors by the level of scrutiny given to financial issues. We have consciously sought to align policy, capability, and funding.  This includes by emphasising the need for internal efficiencies.

There will in particular be an internal re-focusing of resources from the middle and back of the organisation to the front.  The Government expects that by 2014/15 the NZDF will free up $100m from the existing Defence Transformation Programme, and $250-300m from other Value for Money initiatives, on an annual recurring basis, for front line capabilities. 

This target is achievable, and the internal redistribution process is already underway.  We want to see more of the NZDF's resources spent on front line capabilities.  There is a strong appetite within the NZDF for this.

•13.        How does New Zealand's spending on Defence compare internationally?

This White Paper is about preserving and in some cases enhancing the capability of the NZDF.  Existing NZDF resources will need to be redistributed to sustain and build front line capabilities. 

Other countries are cutting defence budgets as governments look to reduce expenditure following the global financial crisis.  This Government has not cut the Defence Budget. 

That the Government has been able to retain and strengthen the NZDF in such difficult financial circumstances underscores the success of this White Paper.    

•14.        What will be the impact on NZDF personnel?

The White Paper introduces a new approach to managing the NZDF's workforce. The over-riding goal is to match positions with staff that possess appropriate skills. This will improve corporate performance by making more use of technical experts.  It also means employing military personnel in military roles.

The NZDF will introduce a greater degree of flexibility into the way it manages its military and civilian positions.  The aim is less about reducing numbers and more about better ways existing personnel resources, recognising that people are the NZDF's most important capability.  The NZDF will civilianise a significant number of posts currently filled by uniformed personnel who are not required to deploy operationally, thereby enabling it to shift uniformed personnel to the front of the organisation.

Examples of current military roles not directly supporting operations that could be civilianised include: 

  • Technical training instructors; gymnasium management and some physical training instructors; photographers; and HR administrators.
  • Other areas that will be examined are: New Zealand based logistic and engineering support roles; specialist officers (medical officers, psychologists, construction engineers); fire-fighters; training and education roles; HR roles; and bands.

Some of the civilianised positions would be filled by a mix of ex-Regular, new civilian or Reserve Force personnel as part of a Total Defence Workforce concept.

•15.        What other Value for Money initiatives are underway?

Other Value for Money initiatives include the rationalisation and centralisation of:

  • HR policy and service delivery;
  • training development and delivery;
  • logistics services (incl. vehicle management, codification and munitions supply) and reduction of the logistics personnel;
  • provision of financial and support services;
  • libraries, bands and museums;
  • the outsourcing of some Health Services;
  • the Reserves will be reshaped so that they have a more integrated role in the NZDF;
  • changes to the Defence Remuneration System to facilitate the delivery of the White Paper and Value for Money review; and
  • rationalisation of NZDF real estate, including a reduction in the NZDF housing estate footprint.

•16.        Does the Defence White Paper recommend any base closures?

Significant economies of scale can be achieved by concentrating Defence activities on fewer sites.  The NZDF will therefore broaden and accelerate the process of estate rationalisation which is already underway.   The greatest potential benefits are likely to come from bringing together Air Force and Army activities at a single Manawatu ‘hub' centred on the Air Force base at Ohakea. 

Activities currently undertaken at Burnham, Trentham, Waiouru, Tekapo and Woodbourne will also be examined to see if they can be delivered more efficiently in rationalised bases.  Major training and exercise areas will be retained, but permanent personnel may be relocated.    

•17.        Does the Defence White Paper recommend organisational reform?


The organisational management of the NZDF will be improved by strengthening the authority and accountability of the CDF in his role as chief executive.  A new position of Chief Operating Officer will be established to support the CDF in the organisational management of the NZDF and in the realisation of the Government's affordability objectives.

The Ministry of Defence and the NZDF will in future work together more closely on a wider range of tasks, including the whole-of-life management of military capabilities.  The Secretary of Defence and CDF will be accountable for putting in place new organisational arrangements to achieve this.  An independent Defence Advisory Board appointed by the Minister of Defence will also be established. 

•18.        How widely did the Government consult?

The Defence Review was consulted across New Zealand.  Over 600 written submissions were received from individuals and organisations.  A further 250 people attended public meetings in 16 centres throughout the country, and workshops were held with members of the wider defence community.  The Government also appointed an independent panel of experts to test key assumptions underpinning the review. 

•19.         What next?

This White Paper is the start, not the end of the process.  It sets out the overall direction.  A fresh review will occur every five years to take account of strategic, fiscal, and other developments.

Significant capabilities proposed for the next five years include a replacement advanced pilot training capability; the introduction of short-range maritime patrol aircraft; an ANZAC frigate self-defence upgrade; a replacement for HMNZS Endeavour; Seasprite helicopter upgrade or replacement; a rolling renewal of the land transport fleet; a land command and control system; and a replacement littoral warfare support ship.

  • Each major proposal will be fully scrutinised before approval to proceed is given.
  • The detailed capability business cases identified in the White Paper will need to be prepared, and an overall capital plan (with clear priorities) will need to be developed.
  • The resources redistribution target will need to be pursued with vigour.
  • The organisational changes within the NZDF, and between the NZDF and the Ministry of Defence will need to be implemented. This is likely to involve legislative change.
  • A review of the Reserve Forces will need to be undertaken.
  • The case for NZDF base rationalisation will need to be prepared.