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Te rangamaro

The government requires us to be ready to conduct military operations. It provides the resources that enable us to do our job, and tasks us to undertake operations when required. It’s what we train to do.

If we want to keep New Zealand safe and secure, and also help with the safety and security of those who depend on us, the Air Force has to have the equipment, people and skills necessary to go into combat if required.

An Air Force operation can come in different forms. It can be defending New Zealand’s territory - our highest priority. It can be delivering a combat capability in our Exclusive Economic Zone, and in New Zealand’s neighbourhood  - anywhere from the South Pole to the Equator. Or, it can be part of a combined operation in New Zealand or another part of the world.

New Zealand’s security depends on being in partnership with other countries, working together to promote security and peace. That means from time to time the NZDF shares the military duties that help create stability not only in New Zealand’s territory, but across the globe. While we don’t have the resources of larger countries, the NZDF has to be combat-capable in order to do our share. If our personnel go somewhere with our partner countries, we support them and they support us. That means our military needs to be as good as they are, and bring the right skills to the job.

The Defence Force is subject to civilian control, through the Minister of Defence and the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, and is open and honest with the New Zealand public about our activities, within the security constraints essential to our role. We represent New Zealand’s foreign policy and are bound by international laws, such as the law of armed conflict and international human rights law.

This means that when the Air Force embarks on operations, we’re not only a good international citizen, we’re ready to stand alongside partner countries and be counted on to be effective.

What would happen if an island nation in our region suffered civil unrest and a humanitarian crisis? That's the premise of New Zealand’s largest military exercise, Southern Katipo. We train alongside other nations to become a coalition combat force, helping to restore law and order in the fictional nation of Becara.

The five-week exercise, hosted by New Zealand, can involve up to 13 Pacific countries coming together as a Combined Joint Task Force. The scenario they face is civil unrest among ethnic rivalries, which has degenerated into violence. 

In October 2017, the top of the South Island is used to portray the fictional nation of ‘Becara’. With the Government of ‘Becara’ unable to cope, the Combined Joint Task Force has to evacuate non-combatants from the Marlborough region, counter the militia and intercept shipments of drugs and arms, before re-taking towns on the West Coast that have fallen under militia control.

Two NH90 helicopters of the Royal New Zealand Air Force touch down and release New Zealand Army soldiers to secure an area in the town of Ward, as part of the exercise Southern Katipo.

C-130H(NZ) Hercules are tasked to evacuate people from the region and move troops around the districts. NH90 helicopters move troops to forward operating bases where fixed-wing aircraft are unable to land. Local volunteers step forward to act as refugees in need of transport from areas of fighting. Aid agencies, non-governmental organisations, NZ Police, and government departments process the displaced persons, adding to the realism of the exercise.

The exercise tests the Air Force’s resilience in every area from communications to logistics, giving confidence the Air Force could credibly contribute to a joint task force in a similar situation in the South West Pacific if it were to arise. It also has the long-term benefit of creating and strengthening relationships with defence forces from other countries. 

New Zealand is one of the founding nations of Exercise Rim of the Pacific - RIMPAC - the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise.

Hosted by the United States – in particular, the US Third Fleet - and lately based every even-numbered year in Hawaii and San Diego, Exercise RIMPAC has been running since 1971 and can involve up to 30 countries, 50 ships and 25,000 personnel on land, sea and in the air.

The purpose of RIMPAC is to engage in mutual, large-scale military exercises to foster familiarity, trust, inter-operability, and collective strength among Pacific nations. It means the military forces of friendly nations get used to working together.

In 2018 New Zealand’s contingent included an air surveillance and reconnaissance force including two P-3K2 Orion aircraft, the frigate HMNZS Te Mana, specialist divers, and hydrographers from HMNZS Matataua,  logistics, and support elements, and personnel from the Navy, Army, and Air Force.

Orion deploys a sonar bouy during Exercise Rimpac

In this environment, New Zealand assets and personnel test themselves alongside some of the best in the world, conducting missions that engage in a combination of warfare scenarios, hunting and tracking submarines, and working with the maritime patrol community.

The scale of the activity means live-firing of guns, torpedoes, and missiles can be carried out in a controlled environment, providing valuable insight into our capability. The exercise is also a sharing of cultures. All ships host open days and functions for the participating nations, and there is a hotly contested sports competition among nations.

Evading surface-to-air missiles, flying low over unfamiliar terrain, dropping pallets onto drop zones and flying in formation are all part of No. 40 Squadron’s regular tactical exercises with the C-130 Hercules.

No. 40 Squadron exercises involves a range of flight training over unfamiliar and challenging terrain, co-ordinating pallet drops, testing the crew’s proficiency in tactical flying and dropping loads so they can be ready to assist in resupply, humanitarian aid and disaster relief or search and rescue operations whenever required by the New Zealand Government.

The crew have to compute the release point for the loads that are dropped and direct the pilots to put the aircraft in the right position to make sure they are in the right place for the drop.


TACEX 2021

They also have to contend with a Smoky SAM (surface-to-air missile), which simulates a surface-to-air threat and puts the crew in a position where they have to react to that threat and manoeuvre the aircraft away from it.

The skills practised in the training have been used in real-life scenarios, including a deployment in December 2019 on a US Air Force-led Operation Christmas Drop out of Guam where a C-130 crew delivered pallet loads of goods via airdrops to people living on remote islands and atolls in the Pacific.

Considering a career in the air force?

A big part of our work in the Air Force involves assisting communities affected by conflict or natural disasters. The fact that we work to protect and help people is one very good reason why we're so passionate about what we do. It gives our lives real meaning and purpose.

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