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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.

New Zealand is surrounded by ocean, so the natural defence of our country starts at sea. To keep the country safe and secure, and help with the safety and security of those who depend on us, the Navy has to have the equipment, people and skills necessary to go into combat if required.

A naval operation can come in different forms. We could be defending New Zealand’s territory - our highest priority. We could be delivering a combat capability in our Exclusive Economic Zone, or in our neighbourhood - anywhere from the South Pole to the Equator. We could be part of a combined operation in New Zealand or another part of the world.

Our security depends on being in partnership with other navies, working together to promote security and peace. That means from time to time we share the naval 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 Navy has to be combat-capable in order to do our share. If we go somewhere to conduct maritime operations with our partner countries, we support them and they support us. That means we need to be as good as they are, and bring the right maritime 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 Navy 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 where 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 2017’s exercise, the Royal New Zealand Navy ranged from Kaikoura to the Marlborough Sounds and Nelson, patrolling the fictional nation of ‘Becara’, which had became the on-the-ground hotspot for soldiers from Fiji, Chile, Brunei, Malaysia, Timor Leste, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, as well as small groups from Australia, Canada, the United States, France and Britain.

With the Government of ‘Becara’ unable to cope, the Combined Joint Task Force has to evacuate non-combatants in the Marlborough region, counter the militia, and intercept shipments of drugs and arms, before retaking towns on the West Coast that have fallen under militia control. The Navy’s role is to transport evacuees to a safe location, and intercept drug and gunrunners attempting to supply the enemy forces.

For this exercise, 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 long duration of the exercise tests the Navy's resilience in every area from communications to logistics, giving confidence the Navy can operate effectively as part of a joint task force in a similar situation in the South West Pacific.

The exercise also has the long-term benefit of creating and strengthening of relationships with militaries from other countries. In 2017 Timor Leste and Chile participated for the first time. 

There is also substantial participation from agencies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Health joining Customs, the Ministry for Primary Industries, the NZ Transport Authority, Immigration New Zealand, district health boards, the Red Cross and St John New Zealand.

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, RIMPAC has been running since 1971 and can involve up to 30 countries, 50 ships and 25,000 personnel on land and sea.

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

New Zealand typically sends a warship to Hawaii to participate in maritime warfighting exercises, while junior and senior officers get the opportunity to command or be part of the workings of a military task force engaging an ‘enemy’. Alongside this, our divers and hydrographers from Littoral Warfare Unit HMNZS Matataua travel to California for a subset exercise involving mine detection and clearance.

In this environment, New Zealand assets and personnel can test themselves alongside some of the best in the world. The scale of the organisation means live-firing of guns, torpedoes and missiles can be carried out in a controlled environment, providing valuable insight into our capability. The crews will be pitted against aircraft, and will witness large-scale amphibious operations.

In 2018 New Zealand made history when frigate HMNZS Te Mana was crowned the winner of RIMPAC’s Naval Surface Fire Support Rodeo competition, with the ship landing her shells closer to the target than any other ship – from over 6km away.

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.

The Royal New Zealand Navy’s newest vessel, HMNZS Aotearoa, recently proved her capability to refuel ships at sea in an exercise with the Royal Australian Navy.


The Royal New Zealand Navy’s newest vessel, HMNZS Aotearoa, recently proved her capability to refuel ships at sea in an exercise with the Royal Australian Navy.

In 2021, within the East Australian Exercise Area, HMNZS Aotearoa practised refuelling HMA Ships Stuart, Paramatta and Hobart, starting with ‘dry’ hook-ups and evolving to actual pumping of fuel from ship to ship.

The ability to carry out Replenishment at Sea is a vital capability for a combat-capable Navy. It is a difficult and dangerous evolution that requires a well-trained crew on both HMNZS Aotearoa and the ship receiving the fuel.

Aotearoa is capable of global operations and is able to support a task force of New Zealand ships and partner navies during exercises and operations in the Pacific and beyond.

Considering a career in our Navy?

Together we protect New Zealand’s interests at sea. Our Navy carries out a range of tasks including combat operations, search and rescue, underwater recovery, trade protection and peacekeeping. Whatever the mission, you’ll find that there’s a real tight-knit camaraderie whether you’re at sea, at home or abroad.

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