For years, the PNGDF has been a misunderstood element of national power. After numerous false starts and countless defence ministers, PNG needs a new defence White Paper. The last key policy document is some 10 years old.
Despite important strategic changes within the region, the past three PNG governments have not had any defence reviews done and producing its own defence white paper. It is important for PNG to have a good strategic plan and to be reviewed annually. Without complicating matters, some blend of corporate reorganisation, realignment and renewal of a new nationally-sustainable defence policy is needed.
PNG's first challenge is to enhance its sovereignty and security. We do this by bridging the gap between declared defence commitments and actual military capabilities. Integral to our vision of a more credible defence posture are the realignment and consolidation of existing commitments, a vigorous modernisation program for the next 15 years and beyond. This must include a broad sweeping reorganisation, especially of our higher defence command.
The second challenge is to improve defence management in all core competence areas. That is, the way defence manages its equipment acquisition; its people's careers, planning in every area from how we fight to how we feed our people. All these processes need to be revised due to military technological and management changes in the world this past decade.
Defence cannot allow itself to become complacent in the face of great changes sweeping through our society and region. The national priority task whether in defence or the whole country is to become the master of change rather than its servant.
Change, be it technology or in the way we manage and organise ourselves, is something which the PNGDF needs to drive. Any development challenges must be well managed at a time of budget constraints and during an extended time of peace.
Defence has several functions. The defence department as apart from being a self-accounting agency provides defence policy advice to government. Its military arm - the PNGDF; carry out various security roles with specific tasks relating to: surveillance and response, monitoring, enforcement and interdiction missions, maritime law enforcement/coastguard tasks, border patrols, intelligence collation and dissemination, aid to the civil community, civic action tasks/nation building, remote area medical patrols, coast-watch duties, search and rescue, "mercy missions", showing the flag in remote maritime localities, ambassadorial good-will visits by ships, peace support operations with neighbours, etc).
Its span of diversified responsibilities simultaneously overlap into agencies like: police, fisheries, customs, health, environment and conservation, foreign and provincial affairs, works and transport departments, provincial and community governments, and so on.
Since 2001, no manpower review eventuated to have credible minimum levels of manning. PNG can have an affordable military if the defence Ministry plans well to first, get a realistic budget, and secondly, properly prioritise operations better.
Presently the PNGDF lacks a surge capacity as it is already cut to the bone. It can not mobilise quickly, if it has to respond to any defence emergency of a low-level contingency. Present defence manpower system is grossly inappropriate for our new strategic circumstances.
Consequently, despite the PNGDF's significance to our country's development and stability; defence issues and national security is unfortunately not given the priority attention by the government. Additionally, defence's constitutional roles are highly specialised responsibilities that cannot simply be transferred to other government departments.
The PNGDF is a useful strategic management tool but governments have failed to fully understand its capability. The government must be more creative in how far it wants to put defence to work towards future development aims.
For instance, if our defence force was well resourced, it would very well complement the works department’s programme of improving remote district infrastructures\ - without the government unduely spending millions on civil contractors.
Finally, there are broader social challenges taking place in our society. These are important because the PNGDF remains part of our society. It draws people and skills from our wider community, and relies on community support to function effectively. Here, the public must urge their MPs on the best ways available to defend our national interests, which defence and national security are an integral part of.
Last, but not the least; I further encourage citizens whether they be academics, diplomats, public servants, retired servicemen, journalists, students, politicians, representatives of industry, or a common villager to all participate as concerned citizens in an informed; and balanced public debate on matters of defence and national security.
The writer is a former defence chief, now a private sea training school executive and freelance writer.