Review suggests more part-time soldiers

By Debbie Porteous -

Part-time soldiers from a new "high-readiness reserve" force could find themselves in the line of fire alongside regular forces as part of a review's suggested cost-cutting.

The review says reserves are much cheaper to maintain than regular force members while not on deployment and suggests, for example, that if the Defence Force was to replace 1000 regular force members with 1000 members of a new "high-readiness reserve", it could save $49 million in four years.

"Costs could be saved if, for example, more [reserve force] personnel were employed on operations - particularly (but not exclusively) at the lower end of the conflict spectrum."

Replacing some full-time soldiers, sailors and air crews with the new type of part-time reserve is one of the options the Defence Force is considering as it works out how to save $400 million by 2015.

An external review of the reserve forces, commissioned by previous Minister of Defence Wayne Mapp through the Chief of Defence, recommends re-proportioning the regular forces and reserve forces (also known as territorial forces) as one way to make significant cost savings without losing operational military capability.

The report is one of several pieces of work, including a "value for money" review, which have identified options for reaching the savings target.

Members of the high-readiness reserve would spend 40 days a year in service and be deployed on a military operation with regular forces once every four years.

They would be integrated into regular force units.

Employers would be paid $5000 a year by the Defence Force if they employed a member of the reserve.

The 2011 report - from former Chief of Army Major-General (Rtd) Lou Gardiner, international security specialist Dr Beth Greener and merchant banker and colonel Paul Bayley - contains 43 recommendations on how to reconfigure the reserve forces.

It recommends introducing a second and third tier of reserves - the active reserve, which would be in local communities and provide services including local civil emergency response and youth training; and the standby reserve for ex-regular force or reserves who have a service liability under the Defence Act, or who wish to stay linked with the Defence Force.

It also recommends merging the six reserve battalion groups into three support battalions, based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and then divesting unneeded infrastructure, including the Arch Hill facility in central Auckland, home of the 3rd Auckland and Northland Battalion.

There is no reference in the report to the Kensington Army Hall in Dunedin, but it does suggest that maintaining the Defence Force presence in communities could be done relatively cheaply by co-locating with other Defence Force users and hiring smaller buildings.

A briefing to Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said the merger would also represent cost savings in the loss of up to 600 reserve positions.

The report writers said although many of the changes recommended were already under way, integrating reserve and regular force personnel and having part-timers adopting more significant roles would still present a significant challenge to existing structures and institutional culture.

"We believe the Defence Force has a clear investment choice: that choice is to reduce the size of the regular force and invest the savings in high-readiness reserves."

The Defence Force has already achieved savings through various means, including "civilianisation" and cutting military bands.

Asked if the reserves review had been considered and any of its proposals were being taken further, a spokeswoman for the Defence Force said the request could take "a little while" to answer.

Otago Daily Times

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