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Enhancing New Zealand’s Cyber Capabilities

Image credits: nzdf.mil.nz

In traditional security paradigms, military personnel were primarily trained to master weapons and matters related to the use of force. Their training focused extensively on physical combat skills, weapon proficiency, and strategic tactics to protect national interests and maintain peace and security. This conventional approach relied heavily on the visible presence of armed forces as a deterrent against potential threats.

However, as the nature of security challenges evolves, so too must the training and capabilities of military forces. Modern security threats encompass a broader spectrum, including cyber warfare, terrorism, asymmetrical conflicts, and non-traditional threats like pandemics and climate change. Consequently, the role of the military has expanded beyond conventional war.

In contemporary security strategies, armed forces are expected to excel in traditional combat and adapt to emerging challenges. It includes mastering cutting-edge technologies, cybersecurity measures, intelligence gathering, and international diplomacy. The military’s role now extends to humanitarian missions, disaster relief efforts, and peacekeeping operations, reflecting a more holistic approach to security.

In this new security landscape, this year, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) participated in Exercise Cyber Flag, held in Suffolk, Virginia, involving personnel selected from various NZ Army components, including the Land Component and Special Operations Component. This group comprised both Regular Force soldiers and part-time Army Reserve Force soldiers, along with a civilian member from the NZDF’s Defence Cyber Security Centre.

The exercise hosted by US Cyber Command was conducted in collaboration with military partners from various nations. It marked a significant occasion as it was the first time in recent years that the NZDF was physically able to participate in the exercise, overcoming Covid-19 restrictions.

Lieutenant Colonel Jay McLeary, the Director of Land Communications and Information Systems, emphasized the significance of New Zealand’s participation in multinational exercises to enhance personnel skills and capabilities.

He highlighted the importance of exercises like Cyber Flag, underscoring how they provide the New Zealand military’s cyber workforce with a valuable platform for collaboration. Additionally, such activities allow them to put their skills to the test alongside their counterparts from allied nations when addressing complex digital threats.

Furthermore, Lieutenant Colonel Jay McLeary pointed out that despite being a capability in development, New Zealand’s cyber operators have gained a commendable reputation through their collaborative efforts with partner nations in recent years. This exercise represents a unique opportunity for New Zealand personnel to challenge themselves in a different operational environment. They must continually refine their skills and remain prepared to respond effectively to evolving digital threats.

Lieutenant Colonel Jay McLeary asserted that the exercises had several primary goals, namely, focusing on enhancing participating nations’ collective capacity and preparedness to safeguard critical networks and infrastructure. Additionally, it aimed to elevate the proficiency in conducting integrated military cyberspace operations.

The exercise’s invaluable role in facilitating the exchange of tactics, techniques, and procedures among partner nations. This exchange, he noted, was instrumental in developing best practices, particularly in specialized cyber skills such as cyber intelligence, monitoring, incident response, and threat-hunting operations.

Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning that the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and the New Zealand Army are actively pursuing the expansion of their cyber capabilities. They are achieving this through developing direct entry trade training programmes and establishing clear career pathways in cybersecurity. This strategic approach demonstrates their commitment to enhancing their cyber workforce’s skills and ensuring they are well-equipped to address emerging challenges in the digital domain.


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