Your browser version is outdated. We recommend that you update your browser to the latest version.

Chief of Army: The New Zealand Army – Present and Future

Line of Defence Magazine, Autumn 2018

Chief of Army, Major General Peter Kelly.Chief of Army, Major General Peter Kelly.


Last year the New Zealand Army issued its Future Land Operating Concept 2035 – Integrated Land Missions. In this interview with Chief of Army, Major General Peter Kelly, Centre for Strategic Studies (VUW) Senior Fellow Dr Peter Greener asks what are the current and future challenges Army faces out to 2035?


PG: What do you see as the major threats and challenges the New Zealand Army will have to face out to 2035?

MAJGEN Kelly: There are many global challenges that have implications for New Zealand. In the bigger picture, an assertive Russia and a nuclear capable North Korea each pose their own challenge. Can a United States President live with a nuclear-armed ICBM capable North Korea? There are also the ongoing challenges within the South China Sea where many nations have overlapping territorial claims that will require resolution.

More people than ever live in growing urban areas and future conflict will be fought in the cities; we have seen this in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. This presents particular demands for fighting forces, particularly in clearing operations and the precise application of combat power.

The rise of the youth bulge may pose its own threats. The majority of young people live in developing countries, with large numbers in our own region, and they can be ready recruitment targets for violent extremists. Are the jobs and opportunities going to be there for them? Inequality can be a driver of anger and discontent.

The ubiquitous nature of technologies has to be acknowledged; we have to be prepared for a future involving artificial intelligence and fully autonomous systems. We’ve already seen what impact drones have on the battlefield.

Climate change is of course a major issue. We have to be prepared to help respond in our part of the world in times of disaster.


PG: Maintaining an Army prepared to respond is one of your major responsibilities. What is the current situation with regards to recruitment and retention of personnel?

MAJGEN Kelly: In 2011 to 2012 we lost over 700 personnel, but numbers are up now to a total Regular Force of about 4,700. We now hold recruitment levels at a steady state, with four recruit intakes each year varying from 80-110 each, plus a Reserve Force Intake of similar numbers and 60 Officer Cadets.

Retention rates now are really good, with current attrition near historic lows at around 9 percent; in fact, for the last three years attrition has been sitting under 9 percent.  Our soldiers are staying longer and the average length of service has grown; it’s now nine years for men and eight years for women.


Enjoying this article? Consider a subscription to the print edition of Line of Defence.


PG: Previous Defence White Papers and Capability Plans have noted that Army will need to recruit additional personnel for rotation on extended operations where New Zealand has a major commitment. Can you comment on the challenges associated with that?

MAJGEN Kelly: Four years ago, the decision was taken to prioritise trade-training to fill a capability gap and we have been moderately successful with that. We have also been growing our cadre of NCOs so that we have a strong cohort of junior leaders and trainers.

Were we called on for another deployment similar in size and scope to Timor-Leste, we would increase our recruitment of the combat trades, such as infantry, armoured and artillery, at the time of the first deployment. These soldiers would then be available for rotations two and three and so on.  They would undertake a 16-week recruit course followed, for example, by 12 weeks of advanced infantry training. We would be ready.


PG: Linked to this are there are any plans to change the way in which Reserve forces are trained and utilised?

MAJGEN Kelly: You will be aware that in the 1970s and 1980s we had a very large territorial force of about 5,000, but they weren’t employed in any systematic way. We now have about 1,700 and we currently employ 190 full-time within Army. It is crucial for us that we have the ability to call on them for two or three years full-time, and then they return to civilian life.

Whilst we deploy reserves on operations we do have ambitions to deploy more of them. Logisticians, gunners and engineers are integrated into Regular Force units and that’s a model we are considering across Army. Having said that, we still see a place for strong Reserve battalions


PG: With the changing demography of New Zealand’s population, what challenges do you see for building an Army that better reflects contemporary New Zealand? 

MAJGEN Kelly: It is a challenge to better reflect the new demography. Currently Maori comprise 18% of the Army, Pacific Island are about 5 or 6 percent, but it needs to be higher to match 8 percent within NZ. Our Asian soldiers are only 2 percent of the force and we recognise that needs to be addressed.

The Chief of Defence Human Resources has a team exploring how we can improve here, and Army are working to get those who have been recruited back into their communities so there is greater understanding of the opportunities Army offers.


PG: Following on from this, and noting UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, what steps are being taken to recruit more women soldiers and ensure that pathways for promotion to senior ranks are available?

MAJGEN Kelly: Some four years ago our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence produced a report titled Maximising opportunities for Military Women in the New Zealand Defence Force. It highlighted that retention of women was an issue, but as I have indicated we have seen improvements here.

Whilst women account for only 11 percent of the Army’s soldiers, women officers form over 20 percent of the officer corps. Growing numbers of women are in senior leadership positions, from Brigadier Ferris, Director of Defence Legal Services, through to women Regimental Sergeant Majors, so we are increasing the number of women role models.


PG: When do you think we might see the first woman badged as a member of the SAS?

MAJGEN Kelly: We have been deploying women in conflict zones and they have worked with the NZSAS for some time. In Afghanistan, women were embedded in forward operating bases in Bamiyan and were very active in the patrolling of their AOs. In 1999 in East Timor we had several women working with the NZSAS during their mobile patrols; they were the precursors of our female engagement team with the NZSAS.

In 2015 the US Army’s Ranger School was the first special operations unit to have women meet the standards of its Ranger course. Though our selection process is tough, I don’t think it will be long.


PG: Perhaps linking all of these questions together, there is a Force Design Review underway. When might we see the outcome of that Review?

MAJGEN Kelly: The Force Design project is the theme for the Chief of Army’s seminar in May. The discussions we have there will contribute to the shape of the future force.


PG: How important are exercises such as Southern Katipo to the development of joint operations for the NZDF, and to ensuring interoperability with our partners and allies?

MAJGEN Kelly: Southern Katipo provides a crucial opportunity for the development of joint operations and the Joint Task Force concept. We have the opportunity of working not just with the other services, but with a wide range of other government and non-government organisations. Southern Katipo provides a unique opportunity for testing personnel and systems.

Exercise Southern Katipo 17 (SK17) included the New Zealand Customs Service, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand Police, Ministry for Primary Industries, New Zealand Transport Authority, Immigration New Zealand, Ministry of Health, District Health Boards, Red Cross and St John New Zealand.

In addition, SK17 involved military personnel from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Fiji, New Caledonia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Tonga, Timor Leste, the United Kingdom and the United States, helping significantly to develop interoperability.


PG: Given Army’s recent history of involvement in peace and stability operations, how important is it that New Zealand builds a whole-of-Government approach?

MAJGEN Kelly: That is something we regularly work on. Exercises in the Pacific provide opportunities for us to work for instance with MFAT, NZ Police and NGOs as well as our Pacific brothers and sisters and it makes sense to invest in developing such an approach.


PG: With regards to capability development, how do you envisage the exponential growth of technology impacting on the Army of the future?

MAJGEN Kelly: There are two major areas we are working on to ensure that we can look after our people and take care of the Future Force in the face of technology. These are developing the Network Enabled Army and providing Protected Mobility.

The Network Enabled Army is about providing situational awareness 24/7, about using ISR and getting information when and where it’s needed. You have to have the ability to share and receive situational awareness data to work with coalition partners.

For Protected Mobility we have the Light Armoured Vehicles, the LAVs, and these have proved themselves in combat in Afghanistan, but we have no current capability below that and the current Protected Mobility project will address that gap.  We need PMVs that can carry between 4-10 fully equipped soldiers in a range of configurations for a variety of missions that do not require the full capability that the LAV currently provides.

We have replaced all in-service individual weapon systems and that has already made a big impact across the Defence Force. We have also introduced new and very capable long-range sniper and anti-materiel rifles and this provides the degree of precision necessary on today’s battlefields. We are a light force and we need to be lethal and precise when necessary.


PG: What do you see as the major challenges for capability development for the future Army?

MAJGEN Kelly: Soldier protection is of absolute importance in a light infantry army and reducing the weight a soldier must carry is a serious challenge. With body armour, advanced ballistic helmet systems and battery packs the average soldier can end up carrying over 35-50 kg.

For example, more technology enabling soldiers consumes more power and requires more batteries, which leads to greater weight. How do we multiply the effect of the soldier?

We’d like to be fast followers in concert with our Five Eyes partners and watch where they go in terms of soldier systems capability development. We’ve already seen robotic mules and autonomous vehicles which can travel in support of lightly equipped soldiers, and this is an example of an important area for future development.


Back to Defence

Follow us


Contact us

Phone: 022 366 3691


© 2015. Defsec Media Limited. All Rights Reserved.






Line of Defence     

Fire NZ     

NZ Security