Next-Gen Navy

Next-Gen Navy

New Zealand’s Rear Adm. John Martin builds multilateral foundation for coming decades of defense


Rear Adm. John Martin assumed the role of chief of the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) on November 30, 2015. In 2016, the Navy celebrated its 75th anniversary. During his three-year tenure, the Navy is promoting enhanced combat capability and preparing itself for the delivery of new vessels that will aid in conducting maritime tasks in the 2020s and beyond. Martin also sits on the boards of the Whole of Government Radio Network and the Customs Investment Board. He became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2003, after becoming a member in 1996.

Prior to becoming chief of the Navy, Martin was the assistant chief capability on the staff of the Chief of Defence Force. In this role, he served as the capability sponsor for the Defence Force, managing the capability life cycle from definition to disposal. Additionally, he acted as the deputy director for the 2014 Defence Assessment, a strategic review of the security environment, and the deputy director of the Defence White Paper 2015, a document that will set the Defence Force tasks, capability and fiscal requirements out to 2035.

Please tell FORUM more about your career path. You started out as a radar plotter and impressively ascended the ranks to the senior executive level.

I joined as a radar plotter in 1979, but commissioned from the ranks in 1980 after identifying that I wanted the opportunity to command a warship.

Since completing my officer training, I have served in ships of the RNZN, Royal Navy and U.S. Navy, fulfilling the functions of bridge watchkeeper, maritime air traffic controller instructor, frigate navigator, principal warfare officer and finally as the commanding officer.

After I finished my final sea posting as commanding officer of HMNZS Te Kaha, I held a number of operational staff appointments, as well as positions responsible for leadership development, portfolio management, operational planning and capability development.

As a senior leader in the RNZN, I have also had roles as the maritime component commander, commanding the fleet and have also been responsible for capability development across the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).

Overall, my career reflects the varied opportunities available within the RNZN and NZDF, working in a number of areas and gaining valuable experience in each position, which has all helped me in my current rank.

What do you think enabled you to succeed?

Throughout my career, I have enjoyed working with great people, in a wonderful environment all working together for a worthy cause. To be successful in any military career, you need to be motivated, resilient and determined.

A major enabler for success is my family, who have supported my career and the different demands of the postings I have had.

What are some of the highlights of your career before you assumed the role of chief of Navy?

A significant highlight was the opportunity to command HMNZS Te Kaha, and the range of deployments the ship undertook during my time in command.

But I’ve also had the honor of leading our officer training school, shaping the next generation of officers and leaders for the organization, many of whom are still serving today and enjoying successful careers of their own.

As the maritime component commander, I led our fleet during a busy period for our Navy, including the first New Zealand ship to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise after the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty changes in the late 1980s. We were also developing and embedding the ability to conduct routine Southern Ocean patrols with our offshore patrol vessels, as well as conducting routine deployments to the Southeast Asian region.

In terms of influence, scope and challenge, the role of assistant chief of capability — working with government agencies, across defense, and with industry to map out the future Defence Force was a key role.

Of course, my current role is also a highlight and represents a significant achievement in my career. It is my honor to lead the RNZN.

For a time (from 2001 until August 2003), you commanded the HMNZS Te Kaha? 

As I have already mentioned, this was a major career highlight and something most young bridge watchkeepers work toward but not many achieve. While I was in command, the ship undertook a number of deployments to Australia, Southeast Asia, China, Korea and Japan. We also did a mission to the Gulf of Oman to conduct maritime interception operations, which was a satisfying personal contribution to global maritime security.

We worked with a large number of navies to achieve a common aim, and it was in that context that I came to the conclusion that our Navy is as professional and well-performing as our large cousins.

Why is the Defence Capability Plan instrumental to the White Paper?

The White Paper describes New Zealand’s view of the international strategic environment, our national security interests and how defense contributes to these, and the roles and tasks the government expects the Defence Force to undertake.

The Royal New Zealand Navy’s HMNZS Te Kaha, an Anzac-class frigate, forefront, and HMNZS Endeavor, a replenishment oiler, cruise together. [ROYAL NEW ZEALAND NAVY]

The Defence Capability Plan is a companion document to the White Paper. It lays out in detail the range of capabilities the Defence Force requires to give effect to the government’s defense policy intentions. It also assists industry to prepare for potential defense acquisitions and provision of services.

By defining how we will develop and generate the effects that the government wants, the Defence Capability Plan is instrumental in shaping our capability development and major asset acquisition program.

What does the RNZN need to do to be prepared for 2020? 2035?

The 2016 White Paper demanded new tasks of us. It also reinforced the importance of New Zealand’s defense and security relationships with allies, key partners, industry and friends.

The government’s intent to deliver maritime effects in the local region, as well as farther afield, has set the NZDF on a growth path that will see significant capability investment between now and the early 2020s.

For the Navy, this includes an upgrade to our frigates, a new tanker, and a single ship replacement for the Navy’s diving support ship and previously decommissioned survey and oceanographic research vessels. The government has also signaled a commitment to an ice-strengthened ocean patrol vessel (OPV) to join the current two OPVs. All of these capabilities will need to be operational by the early 2020s, and so the RNZN’s preparations for this horizon are focused on ensuring that we will have the necessary people, support arrangements and operational processes in place to exploit the new capabilities. This Navy is what I like to call the “Next Navy” — the die has been largely cast, and we just need to implement.

Initial preparations for 2030-2035 involve a large amount of work now to define what I refer to as the “Navy-after-next.” In the 2035 time frame, we can expect the current Anzac-class frigates to have been replaced with some sort of combat capability, but in what form is unknown, which opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities. Technology, ways of learning and training, support mechanisms, expectations of new generations of Sailors, concepts of operations, our future culture, where we will base our ships … all of these areas will need to be explored over the next year as we define what that Navy might look like. Once that is done, we will quickly move to planning and implementing the necessary transformation.

On becoming chief of the Navy in 2015, what were the top goals that you hoped to achieve during your tenure?  

I have three goals: First, to invest in our leadership. I need to guide and mentor our future leaders at the senior level and to enable the Navy to lead and shape the debate around naval capability, sea worthiness and force generation.

Second, to celebrate the Navy’s 75th anniversary by leading it to acknowledge those who have gone before, celebrate and recognize those serving, and look forward to our exciting future.

My third goal is to lay the foundation for the Navy-after-next. We need to start the transformation that will allow us to adopt and master new technologies that will be delivered in 2030. This means reviewing the nature of work, career structures and competencies. We also need to look at new ways of accomplishing our tasks.

What advice do you have for individuals who think they would like to pursue a military career?

Do it! The military offers a range of career options and opportunities that will suit a number of people. It does not resemble the Hollywood stereotype that is seen in movies and is instead a dynamic organization, which will grow the development of our people while also meeting the higher purpose of providing security for our nation.

A military career is a foundation for success in a lot of different areas, whether in private industry, the wider defense and security sector, or public service.

What are the biggest challenges the RNZN and NZDF face today?

On a strategic level, maintaining maritime domain awareness is a critical security issue for New Zealand. This has always been a challenge, given the sheer size of that domain. In population and economic terms, New Zealand is a relatively small nation; however, it is a large maritime nation, and we have the world’s fourth-largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In 2016, at our maritime security forum, we developed the view that we may be a small nation but are also an “oceanic superpower.” We also have responsibilities beyond our immediate area, for example in supporting Pacific states to patrol their EEZs and contributing to international operations farther afield.

For the NZDF as an organization, we need to meet government expectations and deliver NZDF outputs within tight fiscal parameters.

In particular, for the RNZN we need to meet the operational demands of government’s expanding calls for our services, while building an organization capable of providing future maritime options to our country. Both require the careful balancing of resources, often the same resources, in a competitive time frame, and therefore, the careful management of expectations.

Specifically, we need to maintain the ongoing development of deployable combat capability (ships, aircraft, mine countermeasures teams), the development of command teams for coalition maritime operations, and the concurrent preparation of forces that can deploy as a task group. We also need to manage the capability gaps brought about by replacements and upgrades. Over the next five years, we will be generating and integrating new capabilities because we will have a 20 percent turnover of ships, with an associated increase in size, sophistication and complexity of our fleet.

Ensuring that we have the right number of suitably qualified and experienced people is a perennial challenge, not unique to the RNZN, but one that has exaggerated impacts due to our small size. It is our people, as much as the number of ships that we have, that make or break our operational capabilities and options.

But with these challenges also come opportunities to exploit technology, operate more smartly, to innovate and to transform quickly. This is why exploring and defining the Navy-after-next is so important.

Why do you believe multilateral approaches are important for security in the region?

Security is a common goal to all countries, although each state will maintain its own perspectives on the best way to address the common security challenges it faces. But it makes sense to work together to address these.

To do this, though, we need a common language, common laws and a framework to help us effectively communicate and achieve these shared goals. Multilateral institutions provide mechanisms for transparency and predictability. They allow states to share a broader range of perspectives, intelligence and expertise than if we operated on a bilateral basis. They support a better understanding of the international strategic environment, and of each other.

It’s important that we remember that for the RNZN, our region includes the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean — an area of increased focus for the government and for the Navy, too. The Antarctic Treaty System stands as an excellent example of what multilateral approaches can achieve, in this case over a large part of the globe that has multiple and often overlapping territorial claims. The continent has been successfully and peacefully managed for many decades due to the articulation of common interests and a strong multilateral commitment to protecting those.

What do you think are the top security concerns for the Indo-Asia-Pacific in the coming years?

There are a number of challenges to the international rules-based order. These may be wider than the Indo-Asia-Pacific but clearly manifest in the region:

Maritime disputes involving multiple states have the potential to escalate quickly.

Closer to home, transnational crime and illegal access to resources by fishing vessels is undermining the ability of many small Pacific Island states to control their borders.

Population growth is increasing pressure on international fisheries and other resources.

There are also a number of nongeographic security issues such as violent extremism (whose impact is exacerbated by increasing access to technology) and an accelerating cyber threat.

Why is maintaining a rules-based international order especially important to New Zealand?

New Zealand is a small country, so we rely on a stable international rules-based order to provide a level playing field. For us, this means a system that accords the same rights to all states regardless of their size, economic power or strategic weight.

How will the RNZN contribute to help allies address these challenges in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region?

As a defence force, we regularly deploy throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to engage with and support like-minded nations in a collective effort to maintain regional and global security. Every year, the NZDF participates in more than 100 plus joint, combined and single-service exercises or activities in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

We conduct maritime operations with our allies in support of a shared situational awareness for the region. We commit naval capabilities to multinational maritime security exercises and operations, including hosting multinational exercises in New Zealand waters such as the recent ADMM-+ (Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus) Maritime Security Field Training Exercise off Auckland in November 2016.

We are also active members of the Five Power Defence Arrangements and organizations such as the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS), and contribute to security mechanisms such as the development and eventual implementation of the WPNS Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea.

The Navy is just one part of the NZDF, and we work with the wider defense organization, including the Ministry of Defence, to evaluate the strategic environment and develop and introduce naval capabilities. We also contribute our views and expertise to conversations about maritime security through bilateral and multilateral channels such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting.

Overall, New Zealand’s strength has been our ability to work multilaterally and develop strong international relationships to maintain both our government’s economic and security objectives and those of our partners and allies.