Up to $20 billion will be spent on New Zealand's Defence Force over the next 15 years, the Government revealed today, including a scaling-up of operations in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica and a greater focus on defending against cyber attacks.
The long-awaited Defence White Paper, released at Parliament this morning, earmarked funding equivalent to 1 per cent of New Zealand's GDP for defence - around half the amount spent by Australia and the United Kingdom.
Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said the paper outlined a modernisation plan which would ensure that the NZDF had the capabilities it needed to meet the country's security and defence challenges up to 2040.
"These challenges include having awareness of, and being able to respond to, activities in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone, supporting our interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, and protecting Defence information networks against increasing cyber threats."
As already signalled, the document outlines plans to replace the NZDF's existing capabilities - in particular the Air Force's ageing fleet of Hercules and the Navy's ANZAC frigates - though replacements are not named in the White Paper.
It also spelled out new capabilities for the NZDF.
To assist with operations in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, a third Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) and a new naval tanker would be acquired and ice-strengthened in order to meet stricter standards for vessels in the region which come into force in 2018. New Zealand will still rely on an American ice-breaker to get its supplies to its Antarctic operations at Scott Base.
The P-3K2 Orion, which is used for surveillance in the region, would also be replaced.
The NZDF said there was a strong focus on southern operations because of the increasing level of international activity in the region.
The dive ship HMNZS Manawanui and hydrographic HMNZS Resolution would be replaced with a single vessel which could support operations from sea onto land - such as when the Defence Force responds to natural disasters in the Pacific.
The other major new focus would be on cyber security "for the protection of Defence networks, platforms and people", though few details are given in the paper about specific threats to the NZDF.
The previous Defence White Paper was published in 2010. The Defence Force said an updated paper was needed because the international environment had changed.
It identified a range of "strategic challenges" for New Zealand to 2040:
• The rising sophistication, range and number of actors operating within New Zealand's EEZ, Southern Ocean and South Pacific
• The increasing likelihood of a terrorist attack in New Zealand since 2010
• A more rapid evolution and spread of cyber attacks than anticipated
• Heightened tensions in the East and South China Seas
• Increases in military spending across South East Asia
• Intensifying turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa
• Degraded relations between Russia and the West
At a press conference at the Beehive, Mr Brownlee confirmed that the new beefed-up cyber security team would be able to carry out its own attacks to deter other forces.
Asked whether the New Zealand military would attack as well as defend, Mr Brownlee said: "It's much wider concept than saying it's to protect or to attack.
"We need to know what other people are up to ... but also need to know specifically that if we have a plane in the air with its glass cockpit, then it's not going to be interfered with from someone outside. Similarly with a ship, or for that matter our land troops in their deployments.
"You'd expect in a circumstance where you knew that someone was trying to attack your communications system or your operational system, or whatever it might be, that you would be able to deter that."
New Zealand already had some cyber capabilities, he said, but it had not come under attack by hackers or any other forces.
Mr Brownlee could not give specific details about the scale of the expanded cyber unit, but said it would be "significant" and was likely to work in co-operation with the Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB).
Labour's defence spokesman Phil Goff said the paper had significant shortcomings.
In particular, it had deferred any decisions about replacing the Air Force's Hercules, Orions and B757s and the Navy's frigates.
"This White Paper is essentially a list of generalities. It doesn't tell us what they're intending to replace the frigates with. We know the Australian frigates will cost about $1.5 billion each."
Even though the frigates were not due to be replaced for nine years, Mr Goff said that "the decisions need to be made now".
Mr Goff said he also expected the paper to address the skills shortage which he said had prevented much of the Defence Force's assets - an issue raised by the Auditor General last month.