April 1, 2011:
For the first time since 1970, the New Zealand Air Force is receiving some new aircraft. Not warplanes, the new arrivals are a pair of A109LUHs (Light Utility Helicopter). Four years ago, the air force ordered five of these, and one simulator. This equipment will be used as pilot trainers, to provide crews for the eight larger, ten ton, NH90 choppers. The smaller A109 is a 3.1 ton helicopter that can operate with one or two pilots, and carry up to eight passengers. Maximum endurance is 3.5 hours and it is equipped with a rescue lift that can bring up two people at a time, or 270 kg (594 pounds). In addition to its training duties, the A109s will also be used as a light transport. The A109 is similar to the U.S. UH-1, but is of more modern (ten years after the UH-1) design.
Note that the New Zealand Navy received some new helicopters six years ago, and naval aviation is controlled by the air force. But no new aircraft for use by the air force portion of the air force have been received since 1970.
The New Zealand Air Force has, over the last decade, retired all its warplanes. Being a nation far from anyone who might be considered a military threat, combat aircraft were considered not worth the expense. The defense budget has also been reduced over the years. However, this year the defense budget actually went up (by about one percent), to $1.89 billion (about one percent of GDP.)
New Zealand is reorganizing and reequipping its armed forces to better deal with different kinds of operations. Sort of along the lines of more peacekeeping and less war. The army received the largest share of the new budget, receiving 6.6 percent more than the previous year. The biggest winner was the tiny, but world-class, Special Forces, who got an additional $2.7 million. These troops have proved particularly effective against Islamic terrorists.
New Zealand has good reason to take care of their military and take it seriously. The country has never faced invasion, but has engaged in peacekeeping and overseas wars for a century.
Despite its tiny size (4.4 million population, 9,000 active duty troops, plus 2,200 reservists), New Zealand ("the Kiwis") have consistently produced some of the best-trained, equipped, and disciplined ground forces in the world. The Kiwis have a century of experience in all kinds of warfare. During World War II and the Vietnam War, the tiny New Zealand force, alongside the Australians, were considered by many as the masters of tropical warfare, consistently demonstrating high skills in ambushes, patrolling, and small unit tactics at squad and platoon level.
New Zealand wants to maintain their military skills, and reputation. Thus the recent government attention to seeing that the troops get the gear they need to continue being the best.