School leavers could be offered a gap year in the military that helps pay for their tertiary education as the Government examines introducing "voluntary national service".

Students would spend a year in the Army, Navy or Air Force before going on to university and earn a salary or credit off their student loan.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said the military gap year was being investigated by Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae as a way of involving more New Zealanders in the armed forces. The Australian Defence Force already has a gap year programme where students earn A$40,000 ($50,500) a year, with no further involvement required.

Dr Mapp and Associate Minister Heather Roy - who have both served as Territorials - revealed the volunteer service proposal yesterday when detailing a major White Paper review of the Defence Force.

Dr Mapp said those on a gap year would choose whether they went on overseas deployment or not, just as Territorials do.

Mrs Roy will lead a "companion" review of voluntary service alongside the White paper that will look at further "quid pro quo" options such as allowing people to study first then return to volunteer armed service later.

"In return for a period of service from our young people [the Government] would provide incentives in terms of training and study. A quid pro quo could be drawing down student loans."

She said volunteer service could extend beyond the Defence Force to the police "or other areas where there are gaps".

Mrs Roy is Act's deputy leader and voluntary national service was part of the party's policy to boost the Defence Force's reserves to 20,000 over five years. It currently has 9339 regular personnel, and 2181 "reservists", mainly in the Territorials.

Labour leader Phil Goff said the gap year, along with the boot camps for young offenders, would turn the Defence Force into "babysitters" and was a distraction from its core role.

Mr Goff said Australia's programme was expensive and introduced when there was a tight labour market, making it difficult to recruit, which with the current economic situation was "yesterday's answer to today's problem". The White Paper review will take a broad look at all issues facing the Defence Force, particularly its role and structure. It will begin next week, include a period of public consultation, and be released in March next year.

Dr Mapp said the possible sale of some of the light armoured vehicles (LAVs), bought in 2005 for $700 million, would be part of the review.

"We have 105 of them, mostly parked in garages where they are in long-term storage. My own philosophy is Defence should have things they use and don't have things they don't use."

Defence Force bases could also be sold off, with Mrs Roy saying public-private partnerships were being considered.

"The Defence Force doesn't necessarily need to own everything. It could work in a partnership where somebody else owns the land or owns the buildings and lease it back."

Dr Mapp said much of the force's infrastructure was "quite run down". The C130 Hercules, P3 Orions and two Anzac frigates will need to be replaced by 2020. Dr Mapp said there was not likely to be any significant increase of the 1 per cent of GDP New Zealand spent on defence.

Secretary of Defence John McKinnon will lead the review.

Outgoing Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Murdoch, Customs Chief Executive and Comptroller Martyn Dunne and Ernst & Young chief executive Rob McLeod will make up the independent ministerial advisory panel.

USE-BY DATE 2020
* Five C130 Hercules.
* Six P3 Orions.
* Two Anzac frigates.