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Note: This article is written in response to Mr I. Brandon’s article Balancing Tradition and Change in the New Zealand Army.”


Evolution Enabled by Tradition: The Rational Application of Tradition to Enable New Zealand Army Outputs

By Mr J. Kent



In his article, “Balancing Tradition and Change in the New Zealand Army,’ Mr. Brandon argues that New Zealand’s deteriorating security environment creates an imperative to review the New Zealand Army’s force structures in order to align outputs with the strategic intent of the Government of New Zealand. (1) The premise of this argument, that New Zealand faces a more adverse security environment, is consistent with recent direction at the strategic level, including the conclusions of the Defence Assessment 2021 and the post Russo-Ukrainian war direction by former Minister of Defence Peeni Henare to undertake a Defence Policy Review “to ensure that New Zealand’s Defence policy, strategy, and planned capability investments remain fit for purpose.” (2) He further contends that past New Zealand Army attempts to achieve genuine transformation have been hampered by insufficient strategic definition of outputs and the inertia of traditional regimental structures. (3) Together, these two hindrances limit the New Zealand Army’s ability to evolve to disconnected incremental improvements as any fundamental changes to force structures or processes are organisationally impossible to achieve. With this first component of Mr. Brandon’s thesis, I am in complete agreement.

It is the second component of Mr. Brandon’s thesis which I must take issue with. The argument that the deployable Motorised Infantry Battle Group (MIBG) is best force generated by making protected mobility capabilities (both Bushmaster and NZ LAV) organic to 1 st Battalion and 2/1 st Battalion RNZIR is common sense, would provide consistency with all of our defence partner’s approaches to motorized infantry, and has been previously argued for by members of both the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps (RNZAC) and Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (RNZIR). (4) This course of action though would set both QAMR and the RNZAC adrift, a consequence that an organisation constrained by traditionalism finds difficult to accept. Mr. Brandon’s response to QAMRs existential crisis is not to accept that tradition must sometimes give way to strategic imperative, but to misalign tradition and outputs by proposing that QAMR be re tasked as a “recce-strike” headquarters which would provide sub-units to the MIBG delivering “reconnaissance and strike capabilities, including deep(er) fires. (5) Consequently, this course of action would disestablish 16 Field Regiment, a unit whose culture, traditions and specified outputs are already aligned to provide ISTAR and Joint Fires capabilities.

This article will argue that while the proposition for achieving MIBG motorisation by making those capabilities organic to 1 and 2/1 RNZIR at the expense of QAMR are sound and well supported by innovative thought from the combat corps’ themselves, the subsequent proposition to re-task QAMR at the expense of 16 Fd Regt, rather than gracefully accept its redundancy, would severely misaligned both tradition and outputs. Furthermore, it presents grave risks to the New Zealand Army’s ability to generate joint fires in support of the MIBG. This article examines how the New Zealand Army’s preference for vague strategic definition has created an environment where tribalism and tradition hampers change and prevents effective force generation. Subsequently, the New Zealand Army’s previous attempt at motorisation will be reviewed to illustrate how tradition was allowed to prevent the realisation of outputs and how an opportunity is present to avoid repeating these mistakes. The proposal for a new ISR-Fires role for QAMR to will then be examined to demonstrate how this proposition would be kowtowing to tradition, particularly when 16 Fd Regt is already culturally and traditionally aligned to this specific output. Finally, the article will present an alternative whereby 16 Fd Regt is strengthened in order to provide a more robust ISTAR and Joint Fires capability, as well as an alternate and usable joint land combat output to enable New Zealand to meet the challenges of its degrading security environment.

A Deficit of Definition

The example of the multi-role battalion group (MRBG) is a clear case of tradition preventing transformation due to a lack of precision in defining outputs. Originally conceived in 2018 to replace the Combined Arms Task Group (CATG) force generation construct, the New Zealand Army intended the MRBG concept to serve as its mechanism for generating “light combat forces” to meet the government’s needs (6). However, the MRBG concept did not clearly define the force structures, the effects it should generate, or how force generation would occur. Subordinate capability brick owners, often unit Commanding Officers, were given latitude to articulate how their bricks would be structured, trained, and what effects would be generated. This was enabled by a strategic centre which was dependent on 1 (NZ) Bde for capability definition. The New Zealand government had its own interpretation of the MRBG, with the structuring of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) contribution to Op Protect indicating that the MRBG was viewed as a collection of 1200 soldiers which could be used in any way needed. In essence, by emphasizing flexibility and avoiding precise definition, the MRBG became everything to everyone, diminishing its utility as a framework for generating a light combat capability. This deficiency, in conjunction with the consequences of COVID on the NZ Army’s capability and resourcing resulted in the army beginning work in 2022 to replace the concept with that of the Motorised Infantry Battle Group (MIBG) (7).

The historical lack of precision in output definition has resulted from the New Zealand Army’s desire to provide flexibility to the government, deliver outputs within a resource constrained environment, and apply mission command to the process of force design and generation. As a small organisation, resource limitations have shaped the NZDF, and hence the Army, to prefer capabilities which contribute to multiple mission sets. Operationally, the New Zealand Army has recently generated outputs able to conduct operations in medium threat environments in the Middle-East while also contributing to humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations in New Zealand and the Southwest Pacific. Additionally, the Army sought to maintain a combined arms combat capability suitable for use as part of coalition operations against a near-peer adversary (8). Furthermore, the New Zealand Army’s subscription to mission command impacts the force design process itself. Unit commanders, representing both their capability bricks and their respective corps, are allowed significant opportunity to shape the force design process and an even greater degree of independence in interpreting and implementing its outcomes. The vagueness of strategic definition has some roots in a rational appreciation of the New Zealand Army’s strategic environment and organisational culture.

Imprecise strategic definition of New Zealand Army outputs has caused well-meaning misalignment at best and organisational disobedience at worst, setting the conditions for tradition and the status quo to trump much needed transformation. Without clear direction and definition of individual capability bricks input into wider outputs, tactical commanders in the New Zealand Army exercise initiative to fill gaps and provide the necessary clarity for unit and sub-unit level training. While the New Zealand Army prizes initiative, in this case it is harmful as the resulting actions are either conservative or not synchronised with the wider organisation, particularly the PRICIE functions of the strategic centre (9). When faced with imprecise direction more cautious commanders, steeped in the traditions of their respective regiments, fall back on historical behaviour, thereby hindering wider organisational attempts at transformation (10). Conversely, innovative tactical commanders too often attempt local transformation without sufficient control from the strategic centre. These efforts often come to naught as tactical efforts are not adequately tied to PRICIE requirements or integrated with other elements of a combined arms team. Whether a commander is conservative or innovative though, their approach to solving the problem presented by fuzzy definitions is underpinned by the traditions and norms of the regimental context they operate within, due to their own acculturalisation and as an outcome of the need to manufacture consent within their command. It is by this process that tradition too either stymies vague attempts at transformation, or drives rogue lines of effort that cause tactical elements to become desynchronised with the strategic centre and other components of New Zealand Army. Worse though, is that under the MRBG concept the risk created by these misalignments could never be well captured, as due to the vagueness of the concept, almost any activity could be seen to be contributing to the output.

The shock imposed upon the New Zealand Army by the Covid-19 Pandemic and the accompanying consequences of Op Protect have led to a refreshing of the New Zealand Army’s capstone documents. In his 2022 Statement, Chief of Army, MAJGEN Gen Boswell articulates the need for the NZ Army to regain its operational readiness and introduces the MIBG, with Land Support capabilities, as the mechanism through which the New Zealand Army will achieve this (11). While not yet published, this intent will be supported by updated orders of battle and doctrine which should detail the structure of the MIBG and how it will fight. This is a step in the right direction, particularly given the document’s realist appreciation of New Zealand’s deteriorating strategic environment, fiscal challenges, and desire to balance economic and security interests. However, it is imperative that the MIBG concept, and the transformation it entails, is defined to a level of precision beyond that which the New Zealand Army has previously been comfortable with. In a resource constrained environment the New Zealand Army must clearly articulate its priorities both internally and to government, as well as transparently presenting to government what it can and cannot do to support national strategy. No favours are done to either the Army, or the country at large, by relenting to the temptation for unrealistic flexibility, particularly when future army outputs may be tested in a strategic environment more adverse than any experienced since the end of the Cold War (12). Meeting these challenges requires precise definitions of how Army outputs will be structured, generated, and how they will conduct operations to ensure tactical alignment and strategic understanding of Army capabilities and associated operational risks.

Death before Dismount – Transformation Prevented by Tradition

The implementation of the MIBG as the core output of the New Zealand Army requires motorisation of its combat arms, a task previously failed due to the influence of tradition. The New Zealand Army’s 2004 purchase of NZLAV, replacing the Scorpion Light Tank and M113 APC, intended to motorise the Army’s combat outputs by equipping two motorised battle groups with NZLAV (13). This undertaking was the most ambitious attempt at peacetime transformation undertaken by the New Zealand Army and would have seen its focus shift from an operational output contextualised by first hand experiences of the Vietnam War and second-hand lessons from the Falklands War to a modern combined arms group. This potential was never realised, and after a promising start, tradition overcame the need for transformation, leading to a decline in the New Zealand Army’s ability to generate motorised combined arms outputs to its current nadir (14). By reviewing how this was allowed to occur, this section will show how, in accordance with Mr. Brandon’s recommendations, a repeat of these mistakes may be avoided and motorisation achieved.

The NZLAV procurement project suffered from a lack of definition from the outset. When, in 2004 the Office of the Attorney General produced a report into the acquisition of the vehicles it concluded that it could not determine whether 105 NZLAVs were needed to meet government requirements due to “the large degree of flexibility built into these requirements ” (15). Almost immediately, the NZ Army departed from its original plan for two 51 NZ LAV battalions in favour of motorising 1 RNZIR, and retaining QAMR as a reconnaissance squadron with a secondary task to provide support to 2/1 RNZIR. (16) This shift, which earned the ire of the government, begs the question of why such a change was made. The author of this article suggests there are two factors which enabled this to occur. First, strategic definition was vague, perhaps deliberately so, with the New Zealand Government Defence Statement 2001 making it clear that the NZ Army’s motorised light infantry battalion group was highly fluid in terms of size and composition. The same document though articulates the backbone of the army’s structure being its two infantry battalions, which makes the decision not to equip each with NZLAV more puzzling. This article’s author further argues the effects of tradition are able to explain the eventual decision for use of NZLAV on two counts. First, the motorisation of both battalions would have made QAMR, and by extension the RNZAC, redundant. While the skillsets of the RNZAC were critical to motorisation (as they are today), there would be no logic for its separate existence within the New Zealand Army. Conversely, the RNZIR, with its cognitive anchor for understanding combat operations being jungle operations in Vietnam and Timor Leste, would have been concerned about a loss of capability as light infantry, particularly in the context of ongoing light infantry deployments in Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands. Accordingly, it is easy to imagine that the outcome was a method of accommodating traditionalists on both sides while leaving some space for the achievement of transformation. QAMR was retained as a sub-unit, enabling the retention of the RNZAC as an independent entity while 2/1 st RNZIR maintained its light infantry capability and also took up much of the burden of contemporary operations which did not require NZLAV. This left the burden of transformation to 1 RNZIR, a chimera of RNZIR and RNZAC personnel tasked to generate the New Zealand Army’s motorised combined arms combat capability. Initially, 1 RNZIR delivered on its promise despite the demands of operational deployments and the friction of managing RNZIR and RNZAC interests, but in the end succumbed to the pressures of traditionalism. In 2012, QAMR was re-established as a unit level headquarters by then Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, himself a member of the RNZAC, while 1 st and 2/1 st RNZIR reverted to light infantry battalions. (17)Initially QAMR was structured with an organic infantry company (taken from 1 RNZIR) to continue combined arms training, but in 2014 this was discontinued. (18)For all intents and purposes the combat arms of the NZ Army reverted to a force structure recognisable to those who had served in the 1990s. This restructuring was not intended to be the end of combined arms training in the NZ Army, but inevitably the additional friction caused by divorcing the infantry from their primary combat vehicle has led to a marked decline in the Army’s ability to conduct combined arms warfare. (19) The intent remained to continue conducting high quality combined arms training, but the primary effect of 2012’s decision was to enable RNZIR and RNZAC to indulge traditionalist inclinations to supporting NZ Army outputs. Throughout this period, at least until COVID, the NZ Army consistently indicated its ability to government to provide combined arms outputs under the guise of a range of vaguely defined operating concepts. Thus, poor strategic definition enabled tradition to prevent transformation, without any genuine prospect of accountability due to the vagueness of the concept. The development of the MIBG concept and procurement of Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles (PMV) provides an opportunity for the New Zealand Army to attempt transformation again. The need to successfully transform is greater than ever. In hindsight we can see that the 2000 and 2010s were relatively strategically benign. (20) We are no longer so fortunate, it is now more likely than ever that our ability to conduct combined arms warfare will be tested, and that due to our lack of progression in lethality and protection, that we will be more sorely tested by more capable adversaries. If we do not change soon, we will no longer be able to offer the government a credible combined arms combat capability at any scale. Mr. Brandon argues that doing so requires taking the bold step to reunite the infantry with their primary combat vehicles to give them the firepower and protection necessary to conduct joint land combat. The practical realisation of this would be placing PMV and NZLAV back into 1 st and 2/1 st RNZIR as organic assets. Doing so would align garrison structures with the proposed MIBG and align with coalition partners’ approach to motorised infantry. (21) These motorised battalions would have no use for arbitrary separations by corps, making the creation of a new combat corps incorporating RNZIR and RNZAC as argued by Baker and Schmidt, a logical and necessary step to ensure transformation is achieved without obstruction by tradition.

The motorisation of the infantry battalions would leave QAMR, and by extension the RNZAC, dependent upon additional outcomes of the development of the Army Capstone documents for a rationale for existence. It is difficult to discern a separate role for armour from close support to the MIBG, given the Chief of Army’s stated intent. (22) Armoured shock action beyond that provided by NZLAV and PMV is not feasible, with tanks being beyond NZ’s means to operate. Fire support and mobility for the infantry will be provided by PMV and NZ LAV organic to the infantry battalions. The only remaining doctrinal role for armour would be in a cavalry or reconnaissance function, which mirrors the rationale for retaining QAMR as a Brigade reconnaissance squadron when NZ LAV was purchased. (23) However, this should only be done if the NZ Army’s force design determines that a reconnaissance output is required to provide ISR beyond that which the MIBG ISR platoon will organically provide. That is not to say the skillsets possessed by the RNZAC are not needed, in fact they will be critical to the successful motorisation of the NZ Army’s combat capability. An amalgamation of the two corps must therefore be conducted carefully, and in this case Baker’s 2018 recommendations for the establishment of a New Zealand Combat Corps would be a logical stating place. (24) However, maintaining QAMR as a separate entity unlinked to MIBG outputs would allow tradition to trump transformation again. In these turbulent times, Army leaders need to make bold choices, supported by precise strategic definition to enable transformation.

A Field Artillery Regiment with Extra Steps

Mr. Brandon’s proposal to find a new role for QAMR post motorisation of the infantry battalions, by absorbing 16 Fd Regt’s joint fires capabilities to become a new ISR-Strike unit, is a flawed concept which allows tradition to obstruct transformation. The problem this proposal is trying to solve through this proposal is twofold. First, events in Ukraine have caused New Zealand Army officers, whose thinking was previously constrained by the paradigm of New Zealand’s involvement in the global war on terror, to rediscover the utility of fires enabled by modern ISTAR. (25) While 16 Fd Regt has worked steadily in this space over the past decade, the wider army’s focus has been myopically on manoeuvre. Therefore, the gap between the New Zealand Army’s ISTAR and Joint Fires capabilities and near-peer (and in some cases sub-peer) threats have become too large to ignore if we are to possess a credible joint land combat capability. This problem is real, has long been realised in some parts of the Army, and is worth transforming for to solve. The second problem being addressed, that QAMR and the RNZAC would lack a role should the infantry battalions be motorised, is less valid. Regiments and Corps exist to support Army outputs, not the other way around. Reorganising the New Zealand Army and its outputs for the sake of enabling the continued existence of any specific corps or unit would be preventing transformation for the sake of tradition.

The proposition for a sub-unit output able to integrate ISTAR and strike capabilities in support of the MIBG is clearly inspired by the UK’s establishment of the 1 st Deep Reconnaissance Strike Brigade Combat Team. This new formation, established in 2022 by merging cavalry, field artillery, and surveillance target acquisition units is the UK’s response to the need to employ more effective deep fires against near-peer threats. (26) This construct aligns the UK’s long range fires capabilities, including MLRS, Self-Propelled 155mm howitzers, and EXACTOR 2 missiles, with RA (Royal Artillery) operated STA systems (UAS and Radar) and reconnaissance elements able to operate en masse to cue those long range fires. (27) Conceptually, it is important to note that the UK defines the purpose of the brigade s the conduct of deep fires, meaning the two assigned cavalry units are acting in a supporting role to the artillery, rather than vice versa. This is further borne out by the manner in which the Brigade has been created. To create the brigade, the 1 st Armoured Infantry Brigade (Cavalry) was disbanded as a formation, and two of its units absorbed into the 1 st Artillery Brigade, with the result being the renamed Deep Reconnaissance Strike Brigade (28). Notably, the formation is also commanded by an officer of the RA with its headquarters remaining in the 1 st Artillery Brigade’s infrastructure. (29) The reason for this approach is clear, the purpose of the formation is to deliver fires, traditionally the role of the RA, and therefore the new formation leverages that tradition to support the transformation by subsuming the cavalry elements into 1 st Artillery Brigade. It would be nonsensical to think that transformation in the New Zealand context would be structured any differently.

Within the New Zealand Army, 16 Fd Regt already provides the outputs which Mr. Brandon envisions a reimagined QAMR delivering. 16 Fd Regt is tasked with providing an OS Battery sub output to integrate and coordinate ISR and Joint Fires and Effects in support of the MIBG. Fires well beyond the range and capability of the MIBG, including precision fires, are delivered either by organic weapons or by coordinating partner nation capabilities such as Close Air Support or Naval Surface Fire Support through its JFECCs and Joint Fires Teams. While the Deep Strike Brigade relies on battalion level formations to cue fires, the OS battery provides a troop of four JFTs able to provide close support to manoeuvre elements or operate as independent ISTAR elements, either dismounted or mounted. This level of support is comparable to what the Deep Strike Brigade provides, but scaled to the MIBG level. The OS Battery will provide further ISTAR capability to the MIBG through operation of fixed wing UAS to support target acquisition and support the MIBG ISR platoon. While Mr. Brandon is correct that UAS capabilities must move out of battlelab status, it should be noted that 16 Fd Regt is already the Army SME in UAS operations, with the School of Artillery being identified as the New Zealand Army’s Centre of Excellence for UAS operations. (30) Therefore, the New Zealand Army, through 16 Fd Regt, is already correctly structured to provide the outputs which Mr. Brandon argues should be developed and provided by QAMR.

Mr Brandon’s proposal contradicts his own assertion that we must make bold changes while preserving those areas of tradition which provide utility. Tradition can both enable and disable change depending on how it is aligned with the desired outcomes. Transformation is more likely to succeed when its direction and purpose aligns with the traditional inclinations and experiences of the organisation seeking change. The author agrees wholeheartedly that the New Zealand Army requires an enhanced recce-strike capability to meet the demands of the future operating environment, but this is more likely to be achieved by resourcing the units already working in this space. 16 Fd Regt has the pre-existing traditions, experiences, and culture upon which to build an enhanced joint fires capability, QAMR does not. While it has expertise in mounted reconnaissance, this is a supporting effort to the conduct of fires and manoeuvre, as evidenced by the structure of the 1 st Deep Strike Brigade. If Mr. Brandon’s proposal were adopted, the New Zealand Army would be tasking a manoeuvre headquarters to conduct a joint fires task, thus expecting it to work beyond its experience and tradition, and consequently risking the success of transformation. This would be an unnecessary change, presenting an unacceptable risk to the MIBGs capability, with the action only being taken to preserve the traditions of QAMR and the RNZAC.

Evolution Enabled by Tradition

An alternative to the subsuming of 16 Fd Regt by QAMR in order to generate an enhanced “ISTAR-Strike” capability, would be to build on the tradition and experience of 16 Fd Regt to evolve the OS Battery to meet the demands of the New Zealand Army’s contemporary strategic environment and provide additional options to support government policy. The NZ Army’s ability to integrate, coordinate, and deliver ISTAR and Joint Fires is in need of improvement, but 16 Fd Regt is already working to address these issues. Be it the continued development of JFECC and JFT capabilities to coordinate and employ partner nation ISTAR and Fires capabilities or experimentation with Fixed Wing UAS and LCMR to provide ISTAR effects at the battlegroup level, progress is being made to provide a joint fires capability that delivers lethality, information dominance, and coalition interoperability to the MIBG. The structure of 16 Fd Regt is appropriate for this challenge, but resourcing and strategic definition represent limiting factors to successful evolution. These issues could be partially rectified by formally adopting the OS Battery as an NZ Army output in its own right, able to operate within a coalition against near and sub-peer threats.

The New Zealand government has an established history of providing fires force elements in preference to manoeuvre elements when contributing to coalition warfighting operations. K- Force, New Zealand’s contribution to United Nation Operations during the Korean War, was based primarily on the newly raised 16 Field Regiment which served with distinction as part of the 27th Commonwealth Brigade. (31) While New Zealand Infantry eventually served in the Vietnam War, 161 Battery had operated in support of the Australian Task Force for two years before their arrival. (32) The reasons for this preference are sound and contemporarily relevant. First, artillery units, with their traditional focus on interoperability are easily plugged into coalition operations against both near and sub-peer threats. Second, the risk of casualties to a deployed artillery element is lower than that that posed to manoeuvre elements. (33) Lowering the risk to personnel increases the political feasibility of combat deployments therefore providing greater options to government for advancing New Zealand’s interests. That is no to say that artillery outputs should replace manoeuvre based outputs. Indeed, manoeuvre outputs should remain central to our force design. However history shows there is a clear rationale and place for consideration of independent artillery outputs in support of New Zealand’s interests.

Adopting the OS battery as an independent output would enhance the warfighting capability of the MIBG and provide flexibility to the government at minimal cost. First, specification of the battery as an independent output, with well-defined structures and required effects, would provide the basis of a focussed capability procurement plan to enable replacement of the light gun with a system of systems providing needed area and precision fires supported by modern ISTAR capabilities. Furthermore, greater definition of the output would enable a more robust approach to capability generation and certification. This support would enable the evolution of an OS Battery capable of operating effectively in New Zealand’s degrading strategic environment. Importantly, emphasizing the OS Battery as an output in its own right only serves to enhance the lethality and information dominance of the MIBG, making it more effective and thus more usable by the government. Finally, by breaking the solely manoeuvre focused paradigm of conventional New Zealand Army outputs, the Army will better position itself to support the Government of New Zealand through maintenance of a more robust joint land combat capability.


Mr. Brandon’s assertion that the New Zealand Army has previously allowed transformation to obstruct transformation is correct, and his proposed course of action for the motorisation of the New Zealand Army’s infantry sound. This article though, argues that the proposition of rescuing QAMR from obsolescence by rerolling it into a joint fires role would itself be an example of tradition negatively impacting capability, with grave consequences for the New Zealand Army’s outputs. Instead, the article argues that by leveraging 16 Fd Regt’s traditions, an opportunity exists to transform how the New Zealand Army approaches force design in a way that would enhance its ability to provide military options to the government in response to the deteriorating strategic environment. All of this though is contingent on bold, precise and realistic definitions of Army outputs to ensure that much needed transformation is enhanced, rather than hampered by, the myriad of traditions and subcultures within the New Zealand Army.



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