Defence 2019-03-05T11:31:54+12:00


“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

                                                                                                                                George Santayana


Successive governments have wantonly abandoned their ‘regal’ responsibility to provide for the defence of the country’s sovereignty. In the last two defence White Papers (2010 and 2016) government has perversely reduced defence policy to calling on allies to protect a helpless New Zealand, should it come under attack, while writing off the risk of that happening within the next 25 years. At the same time both white papers recognise the geopolitical situation is uncertain. Unpredictability calls for risk mitigating preparation not a flagrant desertion of responsibility.

The defence of N.Z and the deterrent effect of being properly prepared is well within New Zealand’s means. Policy must be formulated around the right vision, the most appropriate military doctrines, the right order of battle, proper capability and correct tactics.

Simple facts

At least the white papers acknowledge New Zealand (under the right geo-political conditions), is well within the “technological reach” of a large aggressor state. Two options are available to it:  First, it may use its military to force capitulation by declaring an exclusion zone around the country – laying siege to it. In all likelihood this siege would also include the use of land attack cruise missile (LACM), bombing and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks to write down strategic infrastructure. The second option is an air and amphibious invasion. Properly prepared N.Z. can survive a siege with little erosion of its military capability. The high-risk and necessarily piecemeal nature of amphibious operations also makes it possible for a country N.Z.s size to frustrate a direct attack.

Policy vision

Prepare the country to survive a ‘siege’ and deter or repel a much larger aggressor state requires using military asymmetry and ‘modern system’ in-depth tactics, within the immediate littoral area (0-50km off N.Z.s coast).  Allies are important but national integrity demands N.Z. does not depend on them.  Taken separately the elements within this statement are to be understood in the following terms:

Breaking a siege

Protecting strategic assets with a suitable air defence system and ‘hardening’ sites wherever possible will be vital under siege conditions.. A new strategic anti-air defence force under R.N.Z.A.F. command would be equipped with a combined gun and missile defence system.[2]  The air strike arm would be re-formed.  Key infrastructure must also be protected from cyber and EMP attack. Sustainable food, energy and medical self-sufficiency has to be secured and the strategic oil reserve must be moved to N.Z. Self-reliance dictates that N.Z. must have a munitions industry capable of producing small arms ammunition, shells, and smart munitions, including anti-air and anti-ship guided missiles.[3]

Defeating a direct attack

This calls for the employment of in-depth modern systems defence tactics that relies heavily on the asymmetrical advantage of smart munitions and some innovative approaches. Typically a properly prepared and resourced defence with considerable depth makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an amphibious force to gain sufficient penetration to achieve a breakout even when the attacker enjoys military superiority. (Biddle, 2004).[4] Two elements would underwrite success:

A modern systems defence: New Zealand’s military must be structured and resourced to bring concentrated and coordinated ‘all fires’ to bear across the full span of a littoral defence zone from small arms fire to long range weapons able to reach out 10 – 30 – 50km and much further in the case of anti-ship and anti-air missiles. Combat units must be skilled in independent, highly mobile, well concealed and highly dispersed operations.

A defence in depth: A modern systems military has to be trained and equipped to defend up to a 30-50 kilometre littoral zone from the coast out to sea anywhere around N.Z. Indirect and direct fire from manned and unmanned aircraft, long range artillery, heavy mortars, canons and missiles can be employed to write-down an incoming enemy, force an enemy to syphon off forces to defend flanks and reduce momentum.  The final counterattack that stops an enemy, inflicts heavy casualties and forces it back, occurs on the beaches and air landing zones chosen for any assault.  New Zealand should have sufficient capability to force an enemy to conduct over the horizon (OTH) operations, slowing up amphibious operations and making them more difficult.

Relationship with allies

Existing defence policy orientates the armed forces towards regional policing, EEZ patrolling and minor support roles alongside traditional allies, not national defence. The adolescence in current policy treats Australia and the U.S.A. as the parents who will bail N.Z. out if its defenceless state is ever exploited by an aggressor.  That must change.  The right policy tells N.Z’s allies it can look after itself with some assistance if it is available.  Australia should be confident its eastern flank is secure. New Zealand should retain its blue water support for Australia by retaining its frigates and amphibious warfare vessel, eventually replacing the frigates with vessels similar to the Norwegian Absalom Class, which melds sea-fighting capabilities with a troop and equipment carrying capacity.

Order of battle and capability

Military professionals should determining capability requirements for an in-depth modern systems defence, but it is possible to outline what that military might look like:

The Army: A front line combat strength of some 10,000 is envisaged, divided amongst integrated battle groups, air defence units, artillery battalions and special forces. Key equipment must include fully mobile infantry, heavy mortars, anti-aircraft systems and 155 mm artillery – all in CBRN protected AFVs. Twin 100mm AMOS mortar systems would provide intermediary indirect fire capability.  The latest reconnaissance and weapon delivery drone technologies should be employed.  Battle groups should be equipped with direct fire 105mm turret mounted weapons, RWS on IFVs, the 120mm twin mortar systems and air defence cannon and missiles.

The Air force: A suitable strike arm should be formed to support the in-depth defence strategy.  The air force would also be tasked with the protection of the nation’s strategic assets plus naval and land forces employed in the in-depth defensive battle. Its fixed and rotary wing air lift capability must match likely demand during a direct amphibious and air attack.

The Navy: While retaining its blue water capability for regional peacekeeping and force projection the navy’s primary role must be the interdiction of an enemy’s amphibious vessels and vehicles within the littoral defence in depth zone.  This may involve a new class of in-shore attack craft and the use of UUVs to disperse smart mines and torpedoes.


A risk management approach

Using a comprehensive set of risk indicators would allow the size of the military to expand, beyond a base level, when the indicators suggest an increasing risk of eventual conflict. Base level would be set at about 30-40% of full defensive capability.  That capability can be tied to a realistic siege-invasion scenario.


For a detailed examination of the issues refer to the book Defenceless New Zealand (Salt, 2015. Ibid).


[1] Based on C.M.Salt’s 2015 book, Defenceless New Zealand: Correcting New Zealand’s Woeful Failure to Provide for its Own Defence. Copies are held at the National Library and the Parliamentary Library

[2] E.g. The Skyshield 35 system.

[3] Securing a make-under-licence agreement with a supplier would need to be explored.

[4] Stephen Biddle (2004): Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle.  Princeton University Press, New Jersey.