As Papua New Guinea progresses further towards the next decade and beyond, the roles of our defence force in developing and maintaining a credible defence capability will no doubt go through a significant change.
Since independence, the roles of the PNG Defence Force have seen little change in both its structure and character. Today, our military is at a crossroads. Now is the time for the defence organisation to face up to some real issues, make long-term decisions and get on with those decisions.
Defending our national security in the next decade calls for a complete re-appraisal of its outlook – not just the capabilities of the Force now, but on how defence conducts its future business from here on.
In future, the defence organisation must adapt to changes which affects military performance.
Defence leaders must manage changes affecting the attitudes, motivations, “spirit” and moral values of those newly entering the military now to start new life-long careers as professional security practitioners.
The defence environment needs to change and the spectrum of change is both broad and dynamic.
Defence executives must ensure the military can not continue in future by unduly straining old management maxims to new conditions.
It is time our defence organisation must learn to live with rapid change, profit from it, thrive on it and not be absorbed with maintaining the status quo.
The status quo is comfortable but it could get us killed.
A Defence organisation without an inherent built-in means of managing rapid change is without the means of its own preservation.
Experience over the years has revealed that defence is not good at handling change quickly.
We therefore, have some way to go before defence as an integrated Ministry can feel confident in its ability to successfully manage change.
Whilst the PNGDF has come a long way since independence, major events in recent times have now placed the whole professionalism of the force into some doubt.
For the future, the most important change needed in defence is to win.
Winning on the battlefield tomorrow depends on how defence recognises its people and process today.
Some serious cracks have shown up in our defence organisation in terms of way it does its business (processes) and the way it handles its people.
The pulse of endeavour in our military is wavering and things are not so good as we face an undeniably serious personnel wastage problem.
Consequently defence is confronted with the social engineering problem of revamping the whole organisation to meet the changing aspiration and expectations of the people it needs.
Let us not kid ourselves here, the truth is that reduction in experience levels continues because good people now do not feel strongly enough committed to this once proud and professional state security agency.
So unless defence genuinely comes to grips with decentralisation and streamline its process so as to enhance commitment and reduce frustration, people will continue to defect and without stable experience levels defence will become a second rate, a loser in the new corporate environment.
The PNGDF is becoming uncompetitive not because it is doing the wrong things but because it is not doing things right.
It is not placing its people in an environment where they feel like winners.
There seems to be a growing feeling that the PNGDF is becoming a second-rate team.
Today, many service personnel perceive that the military is increasingly misunderstood by an uninterested public and increasingly cowed by a government which fails to recognise the uniqueness of the military, and make allowance for it.
Moreover, the real exciting future challenge now seen by the writer may not be obvious to the government.
It is well overdue now and lies in managing change better in the defence environment.
The first and foremost is therefore that of reshaping and refocusing the whole defence structure and processes to better serve the aspirations of the kind of people we need, the type of people who can save us and pass the test.
But what sort of people are we looking at to make our defence force an efficient organisation? A professional team of men and women – highly educated, trained, motivated elite force and endowed with social prestige, i.e. a professional defence force in every sense of the word.
The only way our defence force is going to ensure professional development of its people is through an increased participation in appropriate levels of education and training programs, both here and abroad. Education for most of us should really start on the day of enlistment, attendance at various training and education courses, by observations, experience, and most importantly and through self-administered education.
It does not stop the day we retire but starts anew in another changed environment: “Civy Street” (or civilian community).
Dividing the learning experience of an officer, or a servicemen and women into either education or training is difficult.
A better course is to consider that every learning experience professional service personnel undergo is part of one’s education as a professional military officer.
Some of it contributes directly to the officer or service personnel’s ability to carry out technical and mechanical tasks such as conning (i.e. driving a ship under certain controlled conditions), piloting an aircraft, or firing a weapon.
Most is not directly related to a professional competency requirement, but is instead, stored in memory through intense continuous training sessions under combat conditions of pressure learning for possible future use.
Professionalism among military officers is much broader.
The defence force officer of the future must manage deep grounding in a chosen warfare specialty including a wide range of professional knowledgeability in other specialist areas as well.
The young officer of today must be increasingly professional in many areas.
In this way, they will be better prepared to perform a multitude of tasks on short notice at any time in their careers, if they have had a broad education, and are widely qualified professionally.
Early advanced education and professional opportunities will produce such smart and competent officers.
In essence, our defence organisation must now need to facilitate a range of enhanced opportunities open to all ranks for increasing their professionalism, and in the case of an officer – there is no limit to the professional broadening he (or she) can achieve.
All that is needed are initiative, aggressiveness and hard work.
This discussion covers several facets of what professional development of service personnel in the defence force of the future means; but how do we go about it?
This calls for an efficient human resource planning program, and good career management strategies to be adopted in future.
While today, we have the basic ingredients of what makes up a defence force, it is far from being complete as an effective fighting force.
The future of our defence force hinges very much on the government and leaders in defence investing heavily now in developing defence professionalism.
Today’s defence human resource needs to take full advantage of these educational opportunities.
The professionalism of today’s servicemen must be improved upon steadily.
What is required is to produce effective servicemen is a combination of wide educational and professional opportunity, not limited by age or rank.
Finally, I specially urge the new defence command to continue to develop military professionalism through integrated and creative programmes of education and training initiatives for its defence personnel
. I am equally confident that this will be a top priority for our defence force as it gears itself under a new revised reform programme within the next decade or so.
The writer is a former defence chief, now a master trainer in a private training school, researcher and writes as a hobby.