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Towards an effective joint force: The Joint Support Component Command

Line of Defence Magazine, Autumn 2018

Personnel arrive by USAF C-17 at Timaru Airport during Ex Southern Katipo 2013.Personnel arrive by USAF C-17 at Timaru Airport during Ex Southern Katipo 2013.

 

Dr Colin D Robinson, Visiting Scholar at Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies, charts the evolution towards an NZDF Joint Support Component Command. It’s an unfolding journey, he writes, requiring both structural and cultural change.

 

During the 1990s, key New Zealand’s allies began to modernise their command and control arrangements to reflect changing post-Cold War circumstances. The UK was first, with Permanent Joint Headquarters being established in 1994.

As opposed to only three single-service operational commands, land, sea, and air, PJHQ took on worldwide responsibilities, but had no raise-train-and-maintain function. It had to receive forces from the single-service operational commands to carry out its missions.

Later, for varying reasons, Australia in 1997 with Headquarters Australian Theatre (COMAST) and New Zealand in 2001 with Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand (HQ JFNZ) were created, to command and manage the operations of the two defence forces.

Logistical support constraints also began to be considered. In 1999-2000, the first mention occurs of a “newly created Joint Force Logistics Component Commander” for the British armed forces. For larger deployments, the UK could deploy forces from the three service commands under PJHQ. To ensure essential logistical services were maintained, the Joint Force Logistics Component Commander would also manage the flow of supplies from the UK to an overseas base and into the theatre of operations.

New Zealand moved forward on joint integration on the garrison logistics side with the creation of the Defence Logistics Command in July 2010, comprising Logistics Commands for Maritime, Land, Air and Common Lines. The Joint Common Systems Group was formed on 30 June 2010, a day before the command was established.

By 2016-17 the Common Systems Group was administering the operational support contracts including hospitality/food, fuel, and freight (including worldwide courier delivery of time-critical items).

The Defence Munitions Management Group was established on 14 December 2010, with the army ammunition area in Waiouru joining DMMG and re-tasked to provide bulk ammunition support to all three services. The opportunity was also taken to reduce the number of ammunition depots, with the closing of the naval ammunition depot at Whangaparoa, which had stored RNZAF heavy munitions, and a “significant change” at the former Naval Armament Depot at Kauri Point.

A year later, GPCAPT Adrian Collins, leading LC (Air) commented in Air Force News, “We have really only dipped a toe in the water of possibilities for future synergies, better relationships and shared work activities. It bodes well for the future.” Taking these opportunities forward was the Defence Transformation Programme, envisaged to a great degree by LTGEN Rhys Jones as Chief of Defence Force.

Further integration of garrison logistics functions took place under what became Defence Shared Services (DSS). But what also became possible, again because of New Zealand’s small scale, was the creation of a joint operational logistics commander. Economies of scale met the diminishing size and resources of the Defence Force in a fashion that led to further rationalisation and reduction of personnel.

 

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A brigadier or colonel’s position was considered for the control various enabling units, such as the Military Police. But what actually eventuated after further staff discussion was an operational logistics command.

The Joint Support Enablers Project sought to integrate single service logistics functions where the opportunity existed and where there was sufficient commonality that would enable efficiencies to be achieved without compromising single-service specialisations. The new Joint Support Component Command was to oversee the Defence Munitions Management Group, the Joint Operational Health Group, the Common Systems Group and the Joint Movements and Joint Fuels projects.

As of early 2016, NZDF thinking envisaged that the Defence Joint Fuels Group, the Joint Movements Group, Joint Supply Group and Joint Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) would probably join the JSCC over the next five years to 2021. Whether or not to incorporate the NZDF Military Police into the JSCC is still being considered. As of late 2016, a delay of at least twelve months had been agreed upon.

COL Ruth Putze was appointed to the new post of Joint Support Component Commander on 5 May 2016, and the organisation was established on 1 July 2016.

 

Recruitment challenges

In what Narcís Serra describes as a change from an institutional to occupational model (ie. perceiving the military as an ‘occupation’ within the broader labour market as opposed to an ‘institution’ providing a higher vocation distinct from non-military jobs), reflecting changes in societal attitudes, the ability of the NZDF to recruit and retain highly qualified medical personnel has slowly yet significantly decreased.

During the Cold War, field hospitals and field ambulances had been for decades an integral part of the army’s structure. But nurses and especially doctors were increasingly attracted by higher civilian salaries, and lower demands than placed upon them by military service. When the Field Surgical Team was deployed to East Timor from 1999-2000, it had to be supplemented by Civilian Health Volunteers.

At that time the chief army deployable health unit was 2 Field Hospital. This unit gained a more infantry orientation with the arrival of Lt Col Evan Williams RNZIR as Commanding Officer in the mid-2000s. He retitled the unit 2 Health Services Battalion (2 HSB), following a similar Australian move that had taken place five years before.

A later Commanding Officer, LTCOL Bill Twiss, was to lead the reorganisation of 2 HSB into the Joint Operational Health Group.

Established in December 2015, the JOHG initially had garrison health, training, and operational sub-units. After considering the preferred options and gaining approval from the three single services, this process has led to medics from one service to fill gaps in another service’s operational deployment.

This successful transfer of personnel across service boundaries filled existing gaps, meeting the intent of the amalgamation. While a Role 2 surgical capability has been maintained within the JOHG, recruiting and retaining medical personnel is “very challenging”.

In relation to movements, the NZ Army has maintained 5 Movements Company within 2 Combat Service Support Battalion (previously 2 Logs Regt) for two decades at least, but personnel shortages, scarce skills, and opportunities for joint economies of scale are driving the case for further integration. The Joint Movements Project was initiated in early 2017, and consideration of alternatives is progressing.

While there was initial agreement to move forward on a Joint Fuels Project, and a Defence Joint Fuels Group was envisaged, this process moved more slowly than most. There was no agreement reached on how to move forward, and then the civilian project manager left the NZDF.

Resources play a part; five staff were allocated to the Joint Movements Project while only a single staff member could be spared for Joint Fuels. As a result, the project has been ‘parked’ – paused with no clear path forward decided at present.

Lessons from the process have been manifold. Some functions, according to COL Putze, simply do not properly ‘sit’ with the Joint Support Command. Neither garrison catering (hospitality) nor, from some angles, garrison health, match the operational focus of the organisation. In the future, the garrison catering contract responsibility (business ownership) may in time be considered for a shift back to Defence Logistics Command, where it would more properly reside.

Much more important has been an enduring challenge: military forces are socially conservative institutions. Simply reshuffling the organisation chart does not make NZDF people fully understand that seizing opportunities to consolidate operational support activities is worthwhile and important to maximise resources for the future.

In some cases, it has taken repeated reminding that the NZDF will not go back to single-service operational support. Personnel have to accept that the evolution is here to stay.

Creating the organisation has been only one part of the process. Creating and embedding the Standard Operating Procedures and other processes is the actual instrument that will make the NZDF carry out these activities in a joint fashion, as opposed to the old processes in offices with new signboards.

The lack of a dedicated project team to implement the JSCC has been particularly hard felt here. With only a single colonel as commander, an Executive Officer (wing commander) and a civilian chief of staff, getting the organisation functioning workably in a reasonable timescale has seen difficulties at times.

This has not been helped by the inevitability of the NZDF’s postings cycle; all of the lieutenant colonel equivalent personnel in the organisation rotated over Christmas-New Year 2017-2018. COL Putze has had to train up an entirely new team.

One clear and unexpected opportunity has been the creation of a Joint Support Task Group to support large-scale NZDF operational deployments and a Joint National Support Element (JNSE).

Since 2011 the NZDF has been slowly building its ability to deliver forces from the sea, towards a Joint Amphibious Task Force goal. As deployed force sizes grow towards brigade level, this demands logistics elements on the scale of a battalion.

Though augmented by other units, the Army’s 2 CSSB was somewhat stretched by the large-scale Exercise Southern Katipo 2013. Consolidating support activities across the services clearly has the potential to ease this kind of strain. As a result, a Joint Support Task Group was identified by COL Putze as a useful potential innovation.

The JSTG concept was successfully tested on the 2017 iteration of Southern Katipo, held in October-November 2017. A permanent JNSE headquarters core has also been put in place with one lieutenant colonel equivalent and three majors-equivalent, which will allow planning, a ready Joint Reconnaissance Team to deploy to evaluate any short-notice contingency and solidify consistency and process.

The Joint Support Component Command represents more progress towards an effective joint force, and NZ’s small size has allowed economies of scale unlikely elsewhere. Consolidating the new organisation and embedding the necessary cultural changes within the minds of NZDF personnel are the most important priorities for the near future.

 

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