Unmanned aircraft post-2030: Multi-billion-dollar defence plan revealed

New Zealand is considering launching its own satellite for defence purposes.

The Government has released its Defence Capability Plan which sets out planned spending in defence to 2030, and signals investments following 2030, including plans for unmanned aerial systems.  

The planned investments maintain the $20 billion programme of capital investment out to 2030.

"By 2030 the environment within which the New Zealand Defence Force is expected to respond will have changed considerably," the plan says.

"Driven by climate change and competing national interests, the frequency and diversity of security events are expected to have increased."

New Zealand's space and cyber plans

As Newshub previously revealed, New Zealand's role is growing significantly. The plan says the Defence Force will deliver defensive cyber capabilities to keep up with the growing threat to information security.

The plan says cyber capabilities will be developed to include deployable teams "capable of generating a range of military effects".

"They will offer greater force protection, reduce risks to personnel, and enable military objectives to be met through a greater range of approaches."

Launching New Zealand's very own satellite for maritime surveillance is on the table. Communication systems will also be upgraded to keep pace with the advancement of technology.

The plan also opens the door for unmanned air surveillance to aid the Defence Force's four Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft. The Government announced last year it will buy the Boeing aircraft for $2.3 billion.

The planes are designed for "long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions".

The plan says a commitment will also be made for enhanced air surveillance capability, "potentially utilising long-range unmanned aerial vehicles".

The unmanned aerial systems would be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks in supporting land and maritime military forces.

Manned aircraft remain New Zealand's primary air capability in the future, however, with unmanned aircraft be an option.

"Some operations may see it preferable to use unmanned aircraft over crewed aircraft; these include the ability to maintain sustained surveillance over long missions, provide a range of mission support roles to deployed forces, and reduce the risk to personnel in high-risk situations."

Pacific reset plan


The C-130 Hercules Defence Force aircraft will be replaced within the next five years and has been earmarked as the highest priority of the plan.

The new aircraft will provide immediate responses in the Pacific, from humanitarian and disaster relief to potential conflict or security incidents.

In the mid-2020s, an additional sealift vessel will be acquired to operate alongside HMNZS Canterbury. It will provide a "highly flexible military asset, including hospital facilities, planning spaces, and self-defence capabilities including the deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles".

HMNZS Canterbury will be withdrawn from service post-2030.

The Government is committed to growing the Defence Force by approximately 1500 service personnel. This will help provide sustainable services to New Zealand and the Pacific.

It includes increasing the size of the New Zealand Army to 6000 personnel by 2035.

The plan also includes a dedicated Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel to better support the sustainability of marine resources in the Southern Ocean and in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone.

The lives of the Anzac frigates Te Mana and Te Kaha will be extended past 2030, and the maritime helicopter fleet will be replaced in 2027.

Threat of climate change


The key implications of climate change for the Defence Force will include an increase in the number of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

"With current warming rates, the links between climate change and security are on course to intensify, and without prioritisation, the New Zealand Defence Force, as well as those of our partners, will be stretched with a growing number of tasks in response to climate-induced impacts globally."

The plan says climate change will also demand a larger number of search and rescue missions occurring across a broader geographical area.

"Higher levels of readiness will be required to ensure New Zealand is able to respond to events of decreasing predictability."

The New Zealand Defence force has already issued a stark warning about the effects of climate change and how it will be forced to adapt to increased disasters.

The paper also outlines planned spending across Air, Marine, Land and Information. The investments are subject to Cabinet approval of individual business cases and funding being available.


  • More than $1 billion has been planned to replace the five existing C-130H Hercules with modern aircraft.
  • Improving aviation safety and effectiveness during the early 2020s has been planned at an indicative cost of $100m-$200m, including improvements to navigation systems in civil airspace, and changes to military communication requirements.


  • More than $1 billion has been planned for 2026 to purchase an "enhanced multi-role sealift vessel".
  • A new fleet of maritime helicopters will be acquired in the 2020s at a cost of more than $1 billion, in order to support the naval patrol, sealift and combat capabilities. 


  • An improved Domestic Counter Explosives capability will be refreshed in the late 2020s. It's used to respond to explosive threats across the country. Indicative capital cost: $25-50 million.
  • Replacing the Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) post-2026. Indicative capital cost: $300-600 million.
  • A contemporary replacement or upgrade for the New Zealand Army's anti-armour weapon, the FGM-148 Javelin missile.


  • Tactical Remotely Piloted Aircraft in 2025. Indicative capital cost: $25-50 million.
  • The current Wideband Global Satellite system used by the Defence Force as part of its global defence communications network will require replacement after 2030.