Towards 2025: An interview with the Chief of Defence Force

Line of Defence Magazine, Summer 2018-19

Embraer KC-390
Air Marshal Kevin Short
Change of Command parade for Chief of Defence Force Air Marshal Kevin Short at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. Image supplied.

The recently published 2018 Strategic Defence Policy Statement painted a picture of a more challenging strategic environment, one which will require more of the NZDF. Dr Peter Greener, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies (VUW), asks the Chief of Defence Force, Air Marshal Kevin Short, about the challenges ahead.

PG: In taking up the role of CDF in July this year you assumed responsibility for an organisation of some 14,500 personnel. The 2018 Strategic Defence Policy Statement highlighted that in the context of an increasingly challenging strategic environment, the Government places high expectations on the Defence Force. Have you any observations about the fitness for purpose of the current Headquarters’ structure and the mix of personnel across the Force to meet the challenges ahead?

Air Marshal Short: As the Strategic Defence Policy Statement 2018 makes clear more will be expected of the NZDF, yet we’ll need to do that with the personnel resources that we’ve got. 

Headquarters delivers everything I want from it, but as new compliance issues arise, more resources are required in those areas; for example, with the Veterans’ Support Act or the Health and Safety at Work Act. We have had growth in our civilian workforce and civilians now comprise more than half of Headquarters’ staff. We are now stepping back and really asking what the staff composition should look like; what do we need to respond to what’s asked of us? 

I want to review this in slow time; the Headquarters is too large in relation to the front-line staff. I’m already in the process of reducing numbers in senior ranks; I started that as soon as we appointed the new Chiefs of Service and Commander, Joint Force Headquarters. 

The number of one-star staff has been reduced and we’re doing the same exercise with Colonel equivalents. I’m hoping that the review process will identify a smaller Headquarters and we will then put more in the front line.

PG: In the current Statement of Intent 2018 it is noted that Strategy 2025 singles out a vision of being an “Integrated Defence Force”. How much progress do you feel is being made towards this? 

Air Marshal Short: We’ve been looking for a couple of years towards Strategy 2025 and we’ve set four areas to focus on. Underpinning everything is the first area – capability; it’s the foundation. Then we have personnel; with a cost of more than one billion dollars a year I want to ensure that the type of people we bring in and their training fits them to maximize the utility of that capability. 

Thirdly is the information area, which encompasses more than Computer Information Systems. How do we store and access data to get information to the war fighter? There is a transformation programme underway to ensure that our systems will allow us to network and use data so that we can push and pull information to the people who need it. 

The fourth focus area is all about the importance of relationships. Relationships are essential enablers in the context of the Strategic Defence Policy Statement and its framework of Community, Nation and World. We must work more closely with other agencies and with communities, whether here that’s through the Cadets or the Reserves. We must tell our story better. 

I think we need to do that here in New Zealand and acknowledging the Pacific Reset we need to do that across the region. On deployments the NZDF never goes alone, there’s always another partner agency and usually another partner country. Our international relationships are so important. 

PG: Linked with this can you comment on your vision for the future of integration between the Reserves and the Regular Force? 

Air Marshal Short: Our Reserves are really important. We have almost 2500 personnel across the three Services and at any one-time ten percent of Reserves will be on call or working in the Regular Force on a fixed-term contract. I want more Reserves who have essential skills that we need but use less often, for example surgeons or information technology specialists who are prepared to be in uniform and be deployed.

PG: The 2018 Strategic Defence Policy Statement noted the importance of developing enhanced Defence cyber capabilities to provide military commanders with a broader set of tools to achieve military objectives. How is this progressing?

Air Marshal Short: The NZDF relies more and more on computer-based systems. We might call it Command and Control, but it is computers on desks. We really must protect our partners and ensure we don’t allow the infecting of someone else’s system. Where and how do you draw the line when it comes to protecting these systems? If you need spare parts in Iraq, you must connect to your suppliers. 

It’s nothing new, it’s protecting our systems as it was in the days of electronic warfare, but it demands that we are even more agile and able to respond more quickly.

PG: Is the NZDF grasping the opportunities posed by emerging technologies, and is it managing the risks?

Air Marshal Short: When it comes to some new technologies we are still in a position of crossover when it comes to costs of piloted versus remotely piloted systems. RPAS can be just as expensive as a piloted aircraft, so we need to ensure the right balance of capabilities. In that regard we need to be able to learn from other defence forces, choose proven technology and get systems up and running quickly.

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PG: In recent years, the NZDF has demonstrated a vision for improved relationships with industry, including the creation of the Chief Joint Defence Services (CJDS) role, the publication of the NZDF Framework for External & Industry Engagement and the establishment of the Auckland Business Hub to name just three. How far has the NZDF come in this regard?

Air Marshal Short: I think we’ve come a long way from transactional contracts where a capability was delivered, and the supplier went on their way, to having support services provided where the interpersonal interaction is so important. If you look at our contracts with some of our largest suppliers – Lockheed Martin, Airbus, Babcock – we are using integrated work teams with integrated computer systems. 

We must work closely together, and we do have better relationships between the NZDF, Ministry of Defence and CEOs in the defence industry. We can’t operate without those relationships working well.

PG: The NZDF ranked 6th in the recently published Colmar Brunton Public Sector Reputation Index 2018. What factors do you attribute this to?

Air Marshal Short: I think this is driven in part by the visibility the force has had in recent times, with New Zealanders seeing us responding to events at home such as the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes, and in our region with Fiji and Cyclone Winston. The immediate helpful response of the NZDF has opened the eyes of New Zealanders to what we do and allowed Kiwis to see what resources we can bring to such situations. 

PG: Whilst the 2018 Strategic Defence Policy Statement makes clear the strategic challenges facing New Zealand, what do you feel are the greatest challenges for the NZDF in the near-term?

Air Marshal Short: Without a doubt being able to deliver what the Government wants within the constraints of policy, capabilities and resources. Just how tight is that? It’s a challenge, particularly with the high cost of maintaining and operating some of the old equipment that we have in our inventory. 

Whilst the P-3s and C-130s have been upgraded they have essentially the same over-50-year old airframes and engines; each year they cost more to run but don’t deliver any more capability. This makes it all the more important that we ensure we have the right people ready for the arrival of the next generation of capability. We need to prepare now for five years’ time.

PG: Given the above, what have you identified as your top priorities?

Air Marshal Short: I want Strategy 2025 to be implemented; that is my top priority. Between now and Christmas we will produce Plan 2025, a blueprint for how we will develop the strategy and implement it over the next three years. I’m not adding any other priorities. Our people need to have a clear message about what is required.

PG: How helpful has it been in taking up the role, that you had previously been VCDF?

Air Marshal Short: Actually, it’s made it such an easy transition. I do wonder about how much harder it might have been if I had come from a different part of the organisation. Over a four-and-a-half year period I was called upon a number of times to be Acting CDF and that experience has been invaluable; it has certainly helped prepare me for the three years ahead.


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