New Zealand's future high-tech soldiers will be satellite-tracked and wear linked-up helmet-cams on the battlefield, according to a new $100 million project.

It comes as the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) moves to digitise its Army and special forces for 21st Century warfare.

Drones, artificial intelligence (AI), and big data are being considered for its arsenal while new gear for frontline soldiers will see them communicate directly with comrades and take orders from officers.

The electronic evolutions will also help commanders digest crucial information about potential enemies, civilians, possible threats and terrain features faster than ever before and relay it directly to their troops.

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Communication is often the first casualty during the chaos of war and Defence Minister Ron Mark says the cash-boost gives "our men and women in uniform the tools they need to function in today's dynamic and fast moving environment".

"We no longer will have an analogue Army operating in a digital world," said Mark.

The Defence Force wants a nimble, highly-trained and tough light fighting force with multi-skilled Kiwi soldiers to operate in modern conflicts.

The NZ Army's 94-page Future Land Operating Concept 2035: Integrated Land Missions (FLOC 35) released two years ago predicted that over the next two decades drones will be "as ubiquitous as section machine guns".

Future adversaries will use "hybrid warfare" and blend conventional and irregular methods with information and cyber tactics, it says.

Now, Army bosses want cutting-edge tools that enable Kiwi troops to "sense, act and react faster and with better precision than likely adversaries" and autonomous systems and robotics on the battlefield.

The digital moves are part of the Network Enabled Army project, first launched in 2015, and is the main Army focus in the Defence Capability Plan 2019.

Today marks the second tranche of measures, backed by a capital investment of up to $106 million rolled out over four years.

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A wide range of hardware and software, including a command and control system, satellite terminals, sensor systems for listening, security and protection, and power generators will update the Army's basic deployable force - a Light Task Group of 250 personnel, which includes small units backed by logistics, medical, engineering and other support elements.

And it will expand the NZDF's intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance sensors and systems that will "help commanders and personnel see beyond their immediate vicinity, and feed that information into a common picture for everyone".

Assistant Chief of Army Strategy Colonel Duncan Roy told the Herald the moves are "transformational" for the Army to have modern, secure digital services that work in remote, rough locations.

"When we deploy overseas we need to take our own version of Chorus and own version of Vodafone so that we can have a secure communications network that does both data and voice and this allows us to do that," he said.

"We need to be able to talk at the tactical level, amongst the soldiers and back to headquarters, but also back to New Zealand at the strategic and operational level while making sure it's interoperable with any coalition partners."

While the technological upgrades will improve battlefield situations, they will also help humanitarian and disaster relief operations, the Defence Force says.


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