Kōrero: Armed forces

Whārangi 2. Contemporary armed forces

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Three forces in one

The armed forces are based on the three military services – the Royal New Zealand Navy, the New Zealand Army and the Royal New Zealand Air Force – and their respective reserve (part-time territorial) forces. Combined, they make up the New Zealand Defence Force. In 2020 the force comprised some 9,350 regular (permanent and full-time) servicemen and women, 2,700 reservists and more than 3,000 civilian staff.

Armed forces’ best friend

Animals have made an important, unarmed contribution to the armed forces’ activities. Horses were the most prized animals during the First World War, though donkeys were also very useful. Their contribution was symbolised in Horace Moore-Jones's well-known watercolours depicting a soldier with his donkey, painted around the time of the First World War. Dogs and pigeons have also been used. Dogs still formed part of the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s team in the 2000s, taking part in security patrols on bases.

Conditions of service

The minimum age for serving in the armed forces is 17. Applicants must have at least eight credits in NCEA level one English and mathematics and be either New Zealand citizens or permanent residents of at least five years standing – or have been citizens of Australia, Canada, the United States or the United Kingdom for at least 10 years. People who do not meet this citizenship test can be enlisted if they satisfy other criteria, but they cannot serve overseas.

War veterans who have a disability related to their service may be eligible for a veteran’s pension.


Regular armed-forces personnel are employed in over 100 trades within each of the three military services. Trades include plumbing, hospitality and engineering. Some personnel become officers and have management responsibilities.

Orderly appearance

Members of the armed forces must conform to rules pertaining to appearance. Men’s hair must be no longer than 15 millimetres above the collar and no shorter than a No. 2 comb. Sideburns must be trimmed and no longer than the middle of the ear. For women, those with short hair must wear it at least 15 millimetres above the collar and long hair must be tied so it sits at the same length. Hair must not be visible on the forehead when a beret or hat is worn.


The Royal New Zealand Navy is tasked with the maritime (sea-based) defence of New Zealand and has peacekeeping and security responsibilities overseas. It is based in Devonport, Auckland. In 2011 the navy had 1,923 regular and 312 reserve personnel.

The navy is divided into different forces:

  • the combat force – two Anzac-class frigates, HMNZ ships Te Kaha and Te Mana
  • the support force – fleet replenishment vessel HMNZS Endeavour and multi-role ship HMNZS Canterbury
  • the patrol force – off-shore patrol vessels HMNZ ships Otago and Wellington, and in-shore patrol vessels HMNZ ships Rotoiti, Hawea, Pukaki and Taupo.
  • the hydrographic survey force – HMNZS Resolution
  • the mine counter-measures force – diving support ship HMNZS Manawanui.

Routine operations occur throughout the South Pacific and South-east Asia. In the 1990s and early 2000s naval personnel served further afield in Bosnia–Herzegovina, Israel, Korea, East Timor and Afghanistan.


The New Zealand Army is an integrated force of regular and reserve (territorial) soldiers and is responsible for the land-based defence of New Zealand. Troops also serve overseas. Army camps are located in Papakura, Waiōuru, Linton, Trentham and Burnham. In 2011 the army had 4,457 regular and 1,859 reserve personnel.

The army has three main components:

  • the New Zealand Land Training and Doctrine Group (Waiōuru)
  • the 2nd Land Force Group (Linton)
  • the 3rd Land Force Group (Burnham).

The Land Training and Doctrine Group is responsible for army schools of instruction and training. The two land force groups act as administrative headquarters for command and control purposes.

In addition there are four force troops:

  • the 1st New Zealand Special Air Service Group (the SAS, based in Papakura)
  • the 1st New Zealand Military Intelligence Company (Trentham)
  • the 1st New Zealand Military Police Company (Trentham)
  • the 1st New Zealand Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron (Trentham).

Top secret

The 1st New Zealand Special Air Service Group – more commonly known by the acronym SAS – is the elite combat unit of the armed forces. Its purpose is to undertake, in the words of the New Zealand Defence Force, ‘unconventional warfare’.1 It was established in 1955. The SAS predominantly carries out missions overseas, though soldiers are trained to support police in the event of a New Zealand-based terrorism incident. The work of the SAS is highly secret so New Zealanders know few details about the missions. Some light was shed on the unit’s activities when member Willie Apiata was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2007, for bravery while serving in Afghanistan.

The army’s major equipment includes light artillery, light armoured vehicles and limited engineering equipment. In 2011 major overseas deployments were to Afghanistan, Solomon Islands and East Timor.

Air force

The Royal New Zealand Air Force engages in air-based patrols and operations in New Zealand and overseas. It is based in Auckland, Ōhakea and Woodbourne. In 2011 the air force had 2,378 regular and 197 reserve personnel.

The air force lacks air combat capability following a decision by the government not to purchase new fighter jets and to disband the Air Combat Force in 2001. Instead, the air force focuses on:

  • maritime patrols: six P3K Orion aircraft, introduced in 1966 and upgraded to P3K2 standard from 2011
  • fixed-wing transport: five C130 Hercules aircraft and two Boeing 757 aircraft
  • rotary-wing transport: eight NH90 and five AgustaWestland A190 helicopters, introduced in stages from 2011.

Other services include air power doctrine (the study of air power and how it can be used), aeronautical standards and safety, and aviation medicine. The air force manages parachuting training for the armed forces.

In the 2000s, the air force’s largest overseas operation was in East Timor.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. http://www.army.mil.nz/our-army/nzsas/default.htm (last accessed 26 January 2012). Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Jim Rolfe, 'Armed forces - Contemporary armed forces', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/armed-forces/page-2 (accessed 13 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Jim Rolfe, i tāngia i te 20 Jun 2012, updated 1 Apr 2020