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Interview with New Zealand's Deputy Chief of Army, Brig Matthew Weston

Published 2 March 2021


One of the major projects for improving the connectivity of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is the Network Enabled Army (NEA) programme.  

One of the major projects for improving the connectivity of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is the Network Enabled Army (NEA) programme.  

Deputy Chief of Army Brigadier Matthew Weston told Studio that NEA 'represents a transformational change for the New Zealand Army.' He said that it facilitates the evolution of the NZ Army 'from an analogue to a digitised force through the delivery of a networked land combat capability.


He added: 'This progression is essential for Army to be effective as part of an Integrated Defence Force. It enables greater operational efficiencies with the same number of personnel. The Army's in-service tactical communications fleet is almost obsolete, and the NEA project adds significantly to its command and control, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability.' 

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Photos: NZDF

Weston explained that, traditionally, operations at the tactical level had relied primarily on voice communications to maintain situational awareness. But now, the NZ Army requires the ability to pass increasing amounts of information between command and control nodes and to the 'tactical edge' of the deployed force.  

'The ability to transfer data across a deployed network enables commanders at all levels within the force to access the right information at the right time so they can make the best decision to ensure mission success. In essence, commanders now require situational understanding, not simply situational awareness,' he said.

Ever-increasing amounts of information and data collected by more effective ISR systems require an intelligence information management system to ensure that the commanders get this improved situational understanding.  

'The NEA programme will provide a C2 system that supports the deployed tactical headquarters to manage and disseminate information to support the commander. This includes power generation and a physical headquarters infrastructure to house the deployed IT systems,' Weston said.  

'This will be enabled by a network bearer system that supports the connectivity of each headquarters within the deployed force. This means a higher tactical commander's plan can be communicated to junior commanders and individual soldiers through a mobile tactical command system.'

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The digital communications system hosts a battlefield management system that enables junior commanders to see friendly forces and known enemy force dispositions, as well as non-combatants.   

Vitally, the New Zealand Army will also acquire ISR sensors and an intelligence fusion capability. These will markedly enhance the NZ Army's ability to understand its operating environment by detecting and identifying threats, thereby contributing to both mission success and a reduced operational risk to the force.

'Multi-national connectivity is essential to joint coalition operations in the contemporary operating environment. The ability to conduct effective combined operations whilst reducing the operational risk to friendly forces is dependent on situational understanding and battlespace de-confliction in what, in the future, will be an increasingly congested operating space,' Weston said.  

'Therefore, NEA capability is routinely tested and evaluated to maintain interoperability with partner armies to ensure we remain a valued and credible partner within a coalition structure.'  

He added: 'An important element of the contemporary operating environment is how the NZ Army operates as part of the NZDF's networked force within both a multi-national and All-of-Government framework. Accordingly, the NEA programme will deliver capability that interfaces with both the RNZN and RNZAF, partnered armies, and other government agencies.'  

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To achieve this, the NEA programme maintains relationships across the NZDF to ensure interoperability with related capability projects.  

In addition, the NZ Army's standing international partnerships enable ongoing compatibility training and testing through joint exercises that will allow connectivity with partnered forces.  

'This represents the opportunity to develop a persistent tactical network and distributed training environment to build a closer command and control relationship. This will result in a significantly increased level of interoperability with our partners, which in turn, enhances the NZ Army's ability to achieve mission success,' Weston said.

According to the NZ MoD, Tranche One of the NEA programme is scheduled for initial operating release in mid-2021.  

'When this stage of the programme is complete, the Army will have connectivity in the field across its ranks - from the soldier in a Light Infantry Company to the command personnel at a Task Group Headquarters, and the superior headquarters,' the MoD stated.

One of the NEA programme's key enabling elements is the Common Command Post Operating Environment (CCPOE) and the Common Universal Bearer System for the Army's task group headquarters.  

The MoD described the CCPOE as a deployable and modular command post system, enabling headquarters staff to plan and manage military operations in the field.  

'The system provides a range of mobile infrastructure, including shelters, power supply, lighting, audio-visual systems and trailers to ensure personnel can successfully transport all equipment,' it said.

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Meanwhile, the bearer system provides an integrated system of long-range communications devices and computer systems, including satellite connectivity.  

'The system is critical to the tactical command and control network, supporting commanders and staff in the planning, communication and execution of tasks,' the MoD said.

Further down the hierarchy, NEA provides a Mobile Tactical Command System (MTCS) for Rifle Company level. This is an integrated system of tactical radios, viewing devices and software, which connects commanders within a Light Infantry Company by voice and data.  

The MoD said that the system uses Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to provide an automated Position Location Information (PLI) to command personnel and the Battle Management System (BMS).  

'This technology enhances situational awareness, and combined with other tools, supports faster decision-making and distribution of plans and orders.'

Tranche Two will build upon the communications systems introduced in Tranche One, providing enhanced logistics support, Health Service Support, and reconnaissance and surveillance technologies. It will also provide communications systems for troops mounted in Protected Mobility Vehicles.

The MoD said that Tranche Two is currently 'rolling out a range of sensor suites, to enhance the capability of the Army's electronic warfare, reconnaissance and surveillance units to collect and analyse information.  

It has, to date, built on Tranche One with the acquisition of more Command Post systems, tactical networks and mobile satellite communications. It is also trialling new technologies to process and analyse information and reduce risk to personnel in the field.

Further Tranches – Three and Four – are expected to build on the first two and replace or upgrade Tranche One systems if they become out of date due to new technological advances.

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