Big changes are in store for the New Zealand Defence Force, as the Government looks to "reprioritise" spending due to the economic climate.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp revealed the Defence White Paper in Auckland this morning.

Click here for the full paper.

It is the first comprehensive review of the Defence Force in 13 years and provides a blueprint of the strategic and defence challenges for New Zealand over the next 25 years.

Dr Mapp said Defence Force resources would be redistributed to sustain and build front-line capabilities and new ways of doing business would be identified.

"We have addressed financial issues in detail. We must plan now to replace the strategic air transport and air surveillance fleets, and the naval combat force."

Rather than cutbacks, Dr Mapp said the defence budget would be reprioritised.

"This is necessary due to the increased cost that comes from introducing the new and upgraded capabilities, including $900 million worth of new helicopters, $500 million of new ships, and $600 million of upgraded Hercules and Orion aircraft."

Consolidating defence bases

As a result of this, the Government is looking at consolidating the Central North Island Defence 'hub' at Ohakea - making it a joint Airforce and Army base - which will mean moving the Linton base and reducing personnel at Waiouru. Woodbourne and Trentham bases would also be looked at.

"Much of the infrastructure is run down and does not meet current requirements," Dr Mapp said. "The costs in maintenance are high. We will be looking for new public/private partnerships to provide efficient facilities that will save money in the long term."

The Air Force, Navy and Army would also work together more closely, with IT and administration systems, training and logistics jobs done on a tri-service basis.

"The current Defence Transformation Plan has already reprioritised $100 million," Dr Mapp said. "The Value for Money project will identify a further $250 million (around 10 per cent of the Defence budget) to be reprioritised over the next five years."

Strategic outlook

The paper said "the next 25 years are likely to be more challenging than the 25 years just past" and in a "sometimes violent world there will be occasions when the use of military force is appropriate".

It said New Zealand would consider the use of military force in response to a direct threat to New Zealand and its territories, Australia, as part of collection action in support of a Pacific Island Forum member, as part of the country's commitment to the Five Power Defence Arrangements, or if requested by the United Nations.

The paper said the country's strategic outlook and security interests suggested the Defence Forces principal tasks for the next 25 years will remain as they have been, but potentially with "intensified demands".

"New Zealand and its associated states are highly unlikely to face a direct military threat over the next 25 years," the paper said. "But increased pressure on maritime resources and an increased risk of illegal migration are likely."

The United States was likely to remain the pre-eminent military power for the next 25 years, but its relative technological and military edge would diminish.

"Tensions related to the Korean peninsula, Taiwan and the South China Sea will continue, as will pressure points in south and Southeast Asia," the report said.

"Security structures in the Asia-Pacific region will continue to evolve. The Middle East will remain a region of instability."

While the South Pacific would be a focus, there also needed to be capability for credible contribution to stability in Asia, as well as further afield.

"It is proposed that the combat effectiveness, protection, sustainability, and mobility of land forces be improved, and that the critical enabling capabilities of long-range air and sea transport be maintained. These measures will allow the Defence Force to deploy more troops on overseas operations, and for longer."

Short range maritime patrol aircraft and satellite imagery were part of the proposed force structure, to enhance New Zealand's domestic and regional border and maritime resource protection capability.

The two Anzac frigates and transport aircraft would be replaced "at the end of their life".

The Defence Force would also "civilianise a significant number of posts currently filled by uniformed personnel not required to deploy operationally", enabling it to shift uniformed personnel to the front of the organisation.

Progress will be reviewed after five years.

While cutting costs was a major focus, the Defence White Paper also outlined what resources and capabilities need to be invested in to fulfil its numerous roles.

In brief:

* The next five years should see the introduction of a short-range maritime patrol aircraft, self-defence upgrades for ANZAC frigates, replace the HMNZS Endeavour, Seasprite helicopters upgraded or replaced, a rolling renewal of the land transport fleet, a land and control system, and a littoral warfare support ship to replace HMNZS Manawanui and HMNZS Resolution.

* Beyond the next five years replacements will be sought for the C-130 Hercules and P-3 Orion aircrafts and the ANZAC frigates.

* Other key elements of the proposed force include an upgrade programme for a reduced fleet of Light Armed Vehicles, replacement of existing light guns and mortars, NH90 medium utility and A109 light utility support helicopters introduced, an upgrade programme for C-130 Hercules continued and B757s reviewed, remedial work on the HMNZS Canterbury (replaced with equivalent at end of its life), and P-3 Orion upgrades.


- NZPA