New Zealand Defence Force

The New Zealand Defence Force (Māori: Te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa, "Line of Defence of New Zealand") consists of three services: the Royal New Zealand Navy, the New Zealand Army and the Royal New Zealand Air Force; and is commanded and headed by the Chief of Defence Force (CDF).

New Zealand Defence Force
Te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa  (Māori)
The NZDF Tri-Service logo
Service branchesRoyal New Zealand Navy
New Zealand Army
Royal New Zealand Air Force
Commander-in-chiefHer Excellency The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy
(as Governor-General of New Zealand)
Minister of DefenceHon Ron Mark
Chief of Defence ForceAir Marshal Kevin Short
Military age17 years of age with parental consent; service members cannot be deployed until 18 (Template:As of 2017)[1]
Available for
military service
955,640 males, age 20-49[2],
981,050 females, age 20-49[3]
Active personnel11,900 (as of June 2017)[4]
Reserve personnel2,600 (as of June 2017)[4]
Deployed personnel302 (as of June 2017)[4]
BudgetTotal budget for 2019/20[5]
Vote Defence Force
Percent of GDP1.1%[6]
Foreign suppliers United States
 European Union
Related articles
HistoryMilitary history of New Zealand
RanksNew Zealand military ranks

As of 2018 the Commander-in-Chief of the NZDF, Dame Patsy Reddy, Governor-General of New Zealand, exercises power on the advice of the Minister of Defence, Ron Mark, under the Defence Act 1990. A previous Chief of Defence Force (2014-2018), Lieutenant General Tim Keating, had previously served in the capacity of Vice Chief of Defence Force, and was appointed to the top position on 31 January 2014. Mark was appointed Minister of Defence as a member of the Labour-NZ First government following the 2017 New Zealand general election, replacing the former Minister of Defence, Mark Mitchell.

Air Marshal Kevin Short took over as Chief of Defence Force on 1 July 2018.[7][8][9] The NZDF has announced that Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies will serve as the next Vice Chief of Defence Force.[10]

New Zealand's armed forces have three defence-policy objectives:

  • to defend New Zealand against low-level threats
  • to contribute to regional security
  • to play a part in global security efforts

New Zealand regards its own national defence needs as modest, due to its geographical isolation and benign relationships with neighbours.[11] As of September 2017 the NZDF had 302 personnel deployed overseas on operations and on UN missions in the South Pacific, Asia, Africa, Antarctica and the Middle East areas.[12]

History of the armed services

Militia (1845–1886)

After the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, New Zealand's security was dependent on British Imperial troops deployed from Australia and other parts of the empire. By 1841 the settlers, particularly those in the New Zealand Company settlement of Wellington, were calling for local militia to be formed.[13] In 1843 a local militia had been formed in Wellington without official sanction.[14] This prompted the Chief Police Magistrate Major Matthew Richmond to order its immediate disbandment. Richmond also dispatched 53 soldiers from the 96th Regiment from Auckland to Wellington.

These calls for a militia continued to grow with the Wairau Affray, the start of the New Zealand Wars. The calls eventually lead to a bill being introduced to the Legislative Council in 1844.[15] Those present noted their disapproval of the bill, unanimously deferring it for six months. On 22 March 1845 the Flagstaff War broke out, which proved to be the catalyst for passing the Bill.[16]

In 1844 a Select Committee of the House of Commons had recommended that a militia, composed of both settlers and native Maori, and a permanent native force be set up.[17]

On 25 March 1845, the Militia Ordinance was passed into law.[18] Twenty-six officers were appointed in Auckland, thereby forming the start of New Zealand's own defence force.[19] Major Richmond was appointed the commander of the Wellington Battalion of the militia.[20] The newspaper article of the time notes that Wellington had a mounted Volunteer Corp. The Nelson Battalion of Militia was formed 12 August 1845.[21]

In June 1845, 75 members of the Auckland Militia under Lieutenant Figg became the first unit to support British Imperial troops in the Flagstaff War, serving as pioneers.[22] Seven militia were wounded in action between 30 June and 1 July 1845. One, a man named Rily, later died of his wounds.[23] The Auckland Militia was disbanded in August or early September 1845 because of budgetary constraints.[24] Disbandment of the Nelson and Wellington Militias followed much to the dismay of their supporters.[25] Those at Nelson under Captain Greenwood decided, regardless of pay or not, to continue training.[26]

Trouble in the Hutt Valley, near Wellington, in early March 1846 prompted the new Governor George Grey to proclaim martial law and call out the Hutt Militia, in what became known as the Hutt Valley Campaign.[27] Following on from this the local paper noted that the No 1 Company of the Wellington Militia had been called out, while the troops stationed in the town had been in the Hutt.[28] The paper further noted that Grey intended to maintain two companies of Militia in Wellington. As problems continued in the area at least 160 Militia remained.[29] These were supplemented by volunteers and Māori warriors from the Te Aro pah.[30]

On 28 October 1846, with the passing of the Armed Constabulary Ordinance in 1846, a fresh call was made by Mr Donnelly of the Legislature to do away with the Militia because of its expense.[31] However the cost to Britain of maintaining a military force in New Zealand was considerable, prompting a dispatch on 24 November 1846 from The Right Hon Earl Grey to advise Lieutenant Governor George Grey that

... the formation of a well-organised Militia and of a force of Natives in the service of Her Majesty, would appear to be the measures most likely to be successfully adopted.[32]

Further pressure in the early 1850s from Britain for removing their forces prompted pleas for them to remain as the Militia were deemed insufficient for the purpose.[33]

1854 brought a new threat to the attention of the colony because up to that time the military focus had been upon internal conflicts between settlers and the Māori. War had broken out between Russia and Turkey. This war began to involve the major European powers and exposed New Zealand and Australia to a possible external threat from the Imperial Russian Navy.[34] Parliament discussed providing guns at ports around the country for use in the event of a war with a foreign power.[35]

By 1858 attention had swung back to local issues with a land dispute in New Plymouth prompting Governor Thomas Gore Browne to call out its militia under Captain Charles Brown.[36] A prelude to what was to become the First Taranaki War and a period of conflict in the North Island until 1872.

The newly-formed New Zealand Parliament revised and expanded the Militia Ordinance, replacing it with the Militia Act 1858.[37] Some of the main changes were clauses enabling volunteers to be included under such terms and conditions as the Governor may specify. The act also outlined the purposes under which Militia could be called upon, including invasion. Debates in Parliament had included expressions of concern about Russian naval expansion in the northern Pacific, pointed out that the sole naval defence consisted of one 24-gun frigate, and the time it would take for Britain to come to the colony's aid.

British Imperial troops remained in New Zealand until February 1870, during the later stage of the New Zealand Wars, by which time settler units had replaced them.[38]

The Defence Act 1886 reclassified the militia as volunteers. These were the forerunners of the Territorials.

Volunteers (1858–1909)

Although there were informal volunteer units as early as 1845, the appropriate approval and regulation of the units did not occur until the Militia Act 1858. Those who signed up for these units were exempt from militia duty, but had to be prepared to serve anywhere in New Zealand. One of the earliest gazetted units (13 January 1859) was the Taranaki Volunteer Rifle Company.[39]

To the Volunteer Rifle Corps were added Volunteer Artillery Corps in mid-1859. The first of these Volunteer Artillery Corps were based in Auckland.[40]

By late 1859 the number of volunteer units was so great that Captain H C Balneavis was appointed Deputy Adjunct-General, based at Auckland.[41]

Colonial Defence Force (1862–1867)

In 1863 the government passed the Colonial Defence Force Act 1862 creating the first Regular Force. This was to be a mounted body of not more than 500 troops, with both Maori and settlers, and costing no more than 30,000 pounds per annum.[42] All were volunteers and expected to serve for three years.

Formation of the first unit did not begin until early April 1863, with 100 men being sought at New Plymouth under Captain Atkinson.[43] Hawke's Bay was to have the next unit.[44] By late April, papers were reporting few had enlisted in New Plymouth.[45]

Formation of an Auckland unit under Colonel Nixon commenced in July and by the 14th had 30 men.[46]

Authorised units by July 1863

Commander: Major-General Galloway[47][48][49]

Location Authorised Actual Commander
Auckland 100 50 Lieutenant Colonel Marmaduke George Nixon
Ahuriri (Hawke's Bay)[50] 100 100 Major George Stoddart Whitmore[51]
New Plymouth 100 - Captain Harry Albert Atkinson
Otago[52] 50 Mr Branigan
Wairarapa 50
Wellington 100 James Townsend Edwards[53]

By October 1863 there was no Wairarapa-based defence force, and 50 were based in Wanganui.[54] The Otago force had earlier been moved to Wellington, with further Otago volunteers heading for the Auckland and Hawke's Bay Units. The total Defence Force numbered 375 by 3 November 1863.[55]

In October 1864 the Government decided to reduce the numbers in the Colonial Defence Force to 75 with three units of 25 members each in Wellington, Hawkes Bay and Taranaki.[56] By this time there were about 10,000 British Imperial troops in New Zealand, supplemented by about as many New Zealand volunteer and militia forces. There were calls, particularly from South Island papers, for the British Imperial troops to be replaced by local forces.[57] Parliamentary debates in late 1864 also supported this view, especially as the cost of maintaining the Imperial troops was becoming a greater financial burden on the colony.[58]

Defence review, March 1865

At the request of the governor in January 1865 a formal statement on the defence of the colony was presented on 20 March 1865. This proposed an armed constabulary force supported by friendly natives, volunteer units, and militia as the case may require be established to take the place of the Imperial troops.[59] The proposed force was to consist of 1,350 Europeans and 150 Maori – 1,500 in total. They were to be divided into 30 companies of 50 men each based as follows:

Province Location Number
Auckland Queens Redoubt south, between the Waikato and Waipa Rivers 6
From the Bluff to Pukorokoro 3
In reserve at Papakura or vicinity 3
Tauranga 1
Taranaki and Wellington Taranaki and Wanganui Districts 12
Wellington 1
Hawke's Bay Napier 4

The total Defence budget, which included purchasing a steamer for use on the Waikato, Patea, and Wanganui rivers, was 187,000 pounds per annum. The budget's focus was solely on internal conflict. The issue of external conflict did not begin to resurface until the following year, with thought being given again to coastal defences.[60]

The Colonial Defence Force was disbanded in October 1867 by the Armed Constabulary Act 1867. Its members transferred to the Armed Constabulary.

Evolution of volunteers and militia

From 1863 to 1867 Forest Ranger volunteer units were formed, tasked with searching out Maori war parties, acting as scouts, and protecting lines of communication. They arose out of the need to prevent ambushes and random attacks on civilians near forest areas.[61] The Rangers were well armed and more highly paid. These units used guerrilla style tactics, moving through areas under cover of darkness and ambushing war parties. The Forest Rangers were disbanded on 1 October 1867.[62]

See New Zealand Police

Alongside the militia and the British Imperial forces were the Armed Constabulary. The Armed Constabulary were formed in 1846 with the passage of the Armed Constabulary Ordinance.[63] The Constabulary's role was both regular law enforcement and during the New Zealand Wars militia support. From 1867 to 1886 the Armed Constabulary were the only permanent force in New Zealand. In 1886 the militia functions of the Armed Constabulary were transferred to the New Zealand Permanent Militia by the Defence Act 1886. Lieutenant Colonel John Roberts was the Permanent Militia's first commander from January 1887 to his retirement in 1888.[64]

Defence Act 1909

The Defence Act 1909 replaced the Volunteer forces with a Territorial force and compulsory military training, a regime that remained until the late 1960s, with breaks from 1918 to 1921, 1930 to 194?, and 194? to 1948.[65]

Separate services (from 1909)

See Royal New Zealand Navy, New Zealand Army, Royal New Zealand Air Force

Independent New Zealand armed forces developed in the early twentieth century; the Royal New Zealand Navy was the last to emerge as an independent service in 1941.[66] Prior to that time it had been the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy. New Zealand forces served alongside the British and other Empire and Commonwealth nations in World War I and World War II.

The fall of Singapore in 1942 showed that Britain could no longer protect its far-flung Dominions. Closer military ties were therefore necessary for New Zealand's defence. With United States entering the war, they were an obvious choice. Links with Australia had also been developed earlier; both nations sent troops to the Anglo-Boer War and New Zealand officer candidates had trained at Australia's Royal Military College, Duntroon since 1911, a practice that continues to this day. A combined Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was formed for the Gallipoli Campaign during World War I, and its exploits are key events in the military history of both countries.

The NZDF came into existence under the Defence Act 1990. Under previous legislation, the three services were part of the Ministry of Defence. Post-1990, the Ministry of Defence is a separate, policy-making body under a Secretary of Defence, equal in status to the Chief of Defence Force.

Higher direction of the armed services

A new HQNZDF facility was opened by Prime Minister Helen Clark in March 2007.[67] The new facility on Aitken St in the Wellington CBD replaced the premises on Stout St that had been the headquarters of NZDF for nearly 75 years. The Aitken St facility initially was home to around 900 employees of the NZDF, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) and the New Zealand Ministry of Defence; the NZSIS moved across to Pipitea House in early 2013,[68] and the NZDF were forced to vacate the Aitken St building after the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, which seriously damaged the building.[69] As of October 2017 it is undergoing demolition, with this scheduled to be completed in early 2018;[70] HQNZDF functions having been moved into other buildings and facilities across the region. HQNZDF operates as the administrative and support headquarters for the New Zealand Defence Force, with operational forces under the separate administrative command and control of HQJFNZ.

Joint Forces headquarters

The operational forces of the three services are directed from Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand opposite Trentham Military Camp in Upper Hutt. HQ JFNZ was established at Trentham on 1 July 2001. From this building, a former NZ government computer centre that used to house the Army's Land Command, the Air Component Commander, Maritime Component Commander, and Land Component Commander exercise command over their forces. Commander Joint Forces New Zealand (COMJFNZ), controls all overseas operational deployments and most overseas exercises.[71]

Senior officers

As of 2019:

Chief of Defence Force
Air Marshal Kevin Short
Vice Chief of Defence Force
Air Vice Marshal Tony Davies
Commander Joint Forces New Zealand
Rear Admiral James Gilmour

Chief of Navy
Rear Admiral
David Proctor

Chief of Army
Major General
John Boswell

Chief of Air Force
Air Vice Marshal
Andrew Clark
  Special Operations Component Commander
Unnamed NZSAS Colonel[72]
Maritime Component Commander
Tony Millar
Land Component Commander
Jim Bliss[73]
Air Component Commander
Air Commodore
Tim Walshe
Deputy Chief of Navy
Mat Williams
Deputy Chief of Army
Evan Williams
Deputy Chief of Air Force
Air Commodore
Carol Abraham

The Defence Force created a joint-service corporate services organisation known as the Joint Logistics and Support Organisation (JLSO) in the 2000s, which later became Defence Shared Services.

Following the establishment of Special Operations Command on 1 July 2015, the new position of Special Operations Component Commander was created. This officer reports to the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, and is of equivalent status to the Maritime, Land and Air Component Commanders.[74]

Support for servicemen and women

In recent years, the New Zealand Defence Force has implemented a policy of honoring veterans, and increased its support to still servicemen and women in a number of ways.[75] This includes starting the Defence Force KiwiSaver Scheme, and appointing financial advisers[76] to support the welfare of members.[77]


The Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) has 2,132 full-time and 435[78] part-time sailors. The RNZN possess two Anzac class frigates, developed in conjunction with Australia, based on the German MEKO 200 design. Nine other vessels are in use, consisting of patrol vessels and logistics vessels. In 2010, the RNZN completed the acquisition of seven new vessels: one large Multi-Role Vessel named HMNZS Canterbury, two Offshore Patrol Vessels, and two Inshore Patrol Vessels. All of these vessels were acquired under Project Protector, and were built to commercial, not naval, standards.


New Zealand's Army has 4,584 full-time and 1,671 part-time troops.[78] They are organised as light infantry and motorised infantry equipped with 102 Canadian-manufactured LAV III Light Armoured Vehicles (NZLAV). There are also armoured reconnaissance, artillery, logistic, communications, medical and intelligence elements. The New Zealand Special Air Service is the NZDF's special forces capability, which operates in both conventional warfare and counter-terrorist roles. The Corps and Regiments of the New Zealand Army include:

Air Force

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) has 2,403 full-time and 212 part-time airmen and airwomen.[78] The RNZAF consists of 51 aircraft, consisting of P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and Lockheed C-130 Hercules and other transport aircraft. The NHIndustries NH90 operates in a medium-utility role, and the AgustaWestland A109 operates the light utility helicopter role, in addition to the main training platform. RNZAF primary flight training occurs in Beechcraft T-6 Texan IIs, before moving onto the Beechcraft King Air.

The RNZAF does not have air combat capabilities following the retirement without replacement of its Air Combat Force of A-4 Skyhawks in December 2001.[79][80]

Foreign defence relations

New Zealand states it maintains a "credible minimum force", although critics (including the New Zealand National Party while in opposition) maintain that the country's defence forces have fallen below this standard.[81] With a claimed area of direct strategic concern that extends from Australia to Southeast Asia to the South Pacific, and with defence expenditures that total around 1% of GDP, New Zealand necessarily places substantial reliance on co-operating with other countries, particularly Australia.

Acknowledging the need to improve its defence capabilities, the government in 2005 announced the Defence Sustainability Initiative allocating an additional NZ$4.6 billion over 10 years to modernise the country's defence equipment and infrastructure and increase its military personnel. The funding represented a 51% increase in defence spending since the Labour government took office in 1999.

New Zealand is an active participant in multilateral peacekeeping. It has taken a leading role in peace-keeping in the Solomon Islands and the neighbouring island of Bougainville. New Zealand has contributed to United Nations and other peacekeeping operations in Angola, Cambodia, Somalia, Lebanon and the former Yugoslavia. It also participated in the Multilateral Interception Force in the Persian Gulf. New Zealand has an ongoing peacekeeping commitment to East Timor, where it participated in the INTERFET, UNTAET and UMAMET missions from 1999–2002. At one point over 1,000 NZDF personnel were in East Timor. The deployment included the vessels HMNZS Canturbury, Te Kaha and Endeavour, six Iroquois helicopters, two C-130 Hercules and an infantry battalion. In response to renewed conflict in 2006 more troops were deployed as part of an international force. New Zealand has participated in 2 NATO-led coalitions; SFOR in the Former Yugoslavia (until December 2004) and an ongoing one in Afghanistan (which took over from a US-led coalition in 2006). New Zealand also participated in the European Union EUFOR operation in the former Yugoslavia from December 2004 until New Zealand ended its 15-year continuous contribution there on 30 June 2007.

As of December 2015, New Zealand has 167 personnel deployed across the globe. These deployments are to Afghanistan(8), Antarctica(8), South Korea(5), Iraq(106), Middle East(8), Sinai(26), South Sudan(3) and the United Arab Emirates(11). 209 NZDF personnel are on other deployments and exercises.

New Zealand shares training facilities, personnel exchanges, and joint exercises with the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Brunei, Tonga, and South Pacific states. It exercises with its Five Power Defence Arrangements partners, Australia, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and Singapore. New Zealand military personnel participate in training exercises, conferences and visits as part of military diplomacy.

New Zealand is a signatory of the ANZUS treaty, a defence pact between New Zealand, Australia and the United States dating from 1951. After the 1986 anti-nuclear legislation that refused access of nuclear-powered or armed vessels to ports, the USA withdrew its obligations to New Zealand under ANZUS, and ANZUS exercises are now bilateral between Australia and the United States. Under anti-nuclear legislation, any ship must declare whether it is nuclear-propelled or carrying nuclear weapons before entering New Zealand waters. Due to the US policy at that time of "neither confirm nor deny", ship visits ceased although NZ and the USA remained "good friends".[82] Despite the Presidential Directive of 27 September 1991 that removed tactical nuclear weapons from U.S. surface ships, attack submarines, and naval aircraft,[83] ship visits have not resumed. Despite signs of rapprochement in recent years, military relationships with the US remain limited.

The NZDF served alongside NATO-led forces in Afghanistan in the first decade of the twenty-first century, and in 2004 the NZSAS was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation by US President George W Bush for "extraordinary heroism" in action. In 2008 US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a visit to New Zealand said "New Zealand is now a friend and an ally".[84]

New Zealand is a member of the ABCA Armies standardisation programme, the naval AUSCANNZUKUS forum, the Air and Space Interoperability Council (ASIC, the former ASCC, which, among other tasks, allocates NATO reporting names) and other Western 'Five Eyes' fora for sharing signals intelligence information and achieving interoperability with like-minded armed forces, such as The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP).

See also


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