Key Points:

I wish that some of those commentators claiming the New Zealand Army "cannot fight" would look some of my soldiers in the eye and try saying that.

Or that our Navy cannot sail. Try telling that to the crew of our warship HMNZS Te Mana which returned home yesterday after five months at sea as part of an international coalition task force in the Central and Southern Arabian Gulf.

Or that our Air Force can't fly. The dedicated aircrew of New Zealand's P3 Orions who flew more than 2300 hours last year, conducting maritime surveillance over New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Pacific and the treacherous Southern Ocean, might just have something to say about that too.

Those who doubt the courage, commitment, comradeship or integrity of the men and women of New Zealand Defence Force are misinformed. At no time in my 36-year career in New Zealand's armed services can I think of a time when as much was being asked of our men and women.

Right now, the New Zealand Defence Force is actively defending New Zealand's interests within our territorial boundaries and in trouble spots around the globe. Currently more than 600 personnel are deployed across three distinct theatres - the South Pacific, Asia and the Middle East.

At home we have around 1000 people who are preparing to deploy, who are on short notice standby for an emergency deployment, or are continually engaged in such tasks as search and rescue, patrolling the EEZ, providing assistance to the police, doing explosives disposal and assisting with rural firefighting.

At the same time, we have embarked on a massive rebuilding and modernisation programme.

The Government has injected $4 billion of capital into the Defence Force since 2002 to replace outdated equipment across the Navy, the Army and Air Force.

Projects either already completed or well under way include:

* New equipment for our Special Forces ($14 million).

* The purchase of the "Javelin" medium range anti-armour missile for the Army ($24 million).

* Providing the Army and Special Forces with 321 modern, light operational, military vehicles - the Pinzgauer ($93 million).

* The replacement of two Boeing 727s with Boeing 757s ($220 million).

* Extending the life of the C-130 Hercules aircraft by upgrading the avionics and aircraft systems ($234 million).

* Upgrading the mission management, communications, and navigation systems required for the P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft ($373 million).

* The Navy's Project Protector fleet - four new inshore and two new offshore patrol vessels and the multi-role vessel Canterbury ($500 million).

* Replacing the aged Iroquois utility helicopters with eight new NH90 medium utility helicopters ($771 million).

The list goes on. So the Defence Force is doing what it is trained and, importantly, is equipped to do - defending New Zealand's values, interests, culture and way of life.

Yes, every day presents a challenge to the leaders of our armed services: to be ready to do more than we are currently doing, to be ready to meet the next contingency, all the while bedding-in new equipment.

The results of this tension to continue delivering for New Zealand while adding new capabilities and new equipment are what was revealed in our recently released Annual Report.

Sadly, some commentators lumped together any output targets that were not met and characterised the Defence Force as being unable to fight, float or fly. This is just wrong.

In Afghanistan, the latest contingent of 136 New Zealand Defence Force personnel deployed in April, serving in the Bamyan Provincial Reconstruction Team. In Timor-Leste, New Zealand has about 180 Defence Force personnel as part of the Australian-led International Security Force. And a 44-strong platoon provides New Zealand's current contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands.

All of these men and women are helping to build and keep the peace and are directly contributing to New Zealand's foreign policy goals.

They are prepared and equipped to meet extreme situations. Let me add that the high standards and levels of integrity with which they conduct themselves are a credit to all New Zealanders.

Around 175 service personnel are currently preparing to deploy for four months aboard the frigate Te Kaha to Southeast Asia. At the same time 170 soldiers will exercise with Australian, Canadian, British and American colleagues in Germany. And shortly a Royal New Zealand Air Force helicopter detachment will return home after successfully serving in Timor-Leste.

In the New Zealand Defence Force, the total number of personnel has increased to their strongest levels in seven years. Our Annual Report confirms that this is also true of the Defence Force's "Regular Force" numbers, which represent the mission critical end of our personnel numbers.

Despite this, we do continue to have shortages in a number of key trades and ranks but efforts around recruitment, and a project that we introduced earlier this year focusing on pay and conditions we can offer our people, is starting to make a difference.

We are in the midst of an exciting rebuilding phase. But because of the level of our commitment around the globe, this rebuilding will continue to 2014.

New Zealanders can be assured though, that the New Zealand Defence Force is a valued partner on the international stage, continually punching above its weight.

* Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae is Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force.