DN - Defence Notes

NZDF hones skills with overseas mates in Southern Katipo

16th November 2017 - 08:11 GMT | by Gordon Arthur in Westport

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Exercise Southern Katipo, the New Zealand Defence Force’s largest exercise in the series, was held over a six-week period in October-November. It put the country’s military through its paces to test its expeditionary capability alongside foreign counterparts in the northern half of the South Island.

The exercise, in its third iteration, involved some 3,000 military personnel, including 900 participants from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Fiji, France, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Timor-Leste, Tonga, the UK and US.

Integrated New Zealand, Australian, Pacific Island and Southeast Asian companies were all created for the duration of the war games.

The involvement of 30 Timor-Leste troops in their first overseas exercise was particularly notable. With Kiwi and Australian troops spending many years performing peacekeeping missions in Timor-Leste, it was a remarkable role reversal for Timorese soldiers to be seen patrolling with New Zealand troops as part of the training scenario.

More than 100 vehicles, seven ships, six helicopters, 17 aircraft and 33 UAVs were involved.

Lt Col Martin Dransfield, the exercise director, said the exercise covered an area three times larger than the previous Southern Katipo in 2015 in order to challenge the logistics tail and communications. Involving government agencies, NGOs and civilian role-players, the exercise last time involved 2,000 troops, so it was some 50% larger this time.

Dransfield said the aim was to deploy a combined, joint and interagency force to support a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade evacuation, provide humanitarian support to the population, protect the population and counter adversaries.

The NZDF was able to train with newly issued equipment as well. Most New Zealand Army soldiers, for example, were using the Lewis Machine & Tool CQB16 assault rifle with 16-inch barrel.

Selected in mid-2015 and locally called the Modular Assault Rifle System - Light (MARS-L), it will take about 18 months to roll 9,040 rifles out to all units in four tranches. ‘Train the trainers’ commenced in March.

Left-handed soldiers appreciate the CQB16’s ambidextrous nature, while the improved optics are also key. Soldiers now have a Trijicon ACOG 4x day sight, red dot sight for close-quarters work and combat torch.

The rifle’s range is 600m, compared to 300m for the old Steyr, while a range of new 5.56mm Mk. 262 Mod. 1 ammunition has also been procured. The 40mm M203 under-barrel grenade launcher once fitted to the Steyr has been migrated onto the MARS-L.

Delivery of 1,177 examples of the Glock 17 Gen4 pistol is fully completed, with the project formally closing in July.

Other projects contributing to the phased In-Service Weapons Replacement and Upgrade Programme (ISWRUP) are sights for 7.62mm machine guns, delivery of 41 7.62mm Barrett MRAD sniper rifles and 40 12.7mm Barrett M107A1 anti-materiel rifles in mid-2018, and future upgrades for the 84mm M3 Carl-Gustaf anti-armour weapon.

Ordered in 2016, Hirtenberger 60mm light mortars will be introduced to service by mid-2018. New Zealand ordered the M6-895 with bipod as well as the handheld M6C-640T.

As part of a soldier systems project, new helmets and body armour will be delivered by December 2018. Ongoing delivery of night vision equipment will take place through to June 2021.

One section of the 2/1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment was trialling a new uniform cutting and webbing during Southern Katipo 2017 too.

During the exercise, the army also used 32 UAVs, mostly the DJI Mavic Pro issued at a rate of two per company and to combat engineers. 

Undeterred by bans on DJI products by both Australian and US militaries, a Kiwi company commander said it was a useful asset and that they would ideally be issued one per platoon. However, they can only fly in daylight hours.

The army is still exploring the use of commercial UAVs after it dropped the Kahu several years ago as it did not meet requirements.

The army is also experimenting with the Aeryon SkyRanger ‘aimed at providing insights into the likely implications for army of operating a military RPAS, while also identifying user requirements to be fed back into the Networked Enabled Army programme’.

Meanwhile, the fleet of 194 MAN trucks – referred to as the Medium and Heavy Operational Vehicle (MHOV) in local parlance after its 2014 introduction – is proving exceptionally reliable. One logistics NCO told Shephard a week before the exercise had ended that there had not been a single breakdown of a truck till that point.

Some MAN trucks have already been fitted with a tablet featuring the TANE battle management system, and one soldier described this capability as a ‘game changer’. 

It will still take time to better utilise the palletised load system, however, which is a new capability for the New Zealand Army.

Protected weapon stations for MAN trucks were first used in Exercise Talisman Saber in Australia in July. Tenders for a series of new trailers were released from June to September.

The army is also looking for a fleet of commercial-specification trucks that will supplement the MAN fleet as a more cost-effective solution for road-bound tasks.

The New Zealand Army is also looking to replace its Pinzgauer 6x6 fleet. Current thinking revolves around a mixed fleet of protected mobility vehicles and commercial pickup-type vehicles. 

The Thales Bushmaster is believed to be a frontrunner given its commonality with the Australian Army and its successful operational track record.

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