Ongoing reform in the Papua New Guinea Defense force is being aimed at rebuilding the PNGDF with a greater focus on regional security.
Some of the objectives include the development of the recently opened Joint Services College (JSC) into a regional security training center that caters to the security training needs of other countries within the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Countries as well as the relocation of the Lae based Engineering Battalion.
“Under MSG arrangements we have an obligations to support our neighbors,” says PNGDF Commander, Maj. Gen. Gilbert Toropo.
As in the case of the crisis Solomon Islands, there was a heavy dependence on Australia as the main regional partner.
Australia funded the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) which included members of the PNGDF.
The PNGDF Commander indicates the Pacific Island Countries cannot always rely on Australia for regional security.
“You will note that regional security has always been approached on an adhoc basis and we don’t want to continue doing that.
“Our aim is to train for our priorities during peacetime so that when emergencies happen, Pacific countries can respond easily because officers have been trained together.”
As a older member of the PNGDF who served on Bougainville, Toropo, saw the deterioration of the PNGDF during the 10 years of the Bougainville Crisis. Resources were depleted and, over time, the number of personnel who had aged were not replaced as quickly as was needed.
“When we returned from the Bougainville war, we found that infrastructure had deteriorated.
“Then the government decided to downsize the Defence Force. But that didn’t affect our constitutional priorities.”
After 30 years, the reopening of the Joint Services College at the Igam Barracks in Lae, has brought renewed youthful vigor to the fatigued PNGDF. For the first time in three decades, the Igam barracks received new recruits from all over Papua New Guinea and from the three disciplinary services.
Toropo sees the PNGDF playing a greater role in nation building through the engineering battalion.
“Ideally, we want to establish four regional battalions with a priority in the Highlands,” Toropo says. “It will also mean relocating the engineering battalion in Lae to another province.
In recent years, there has been increased focus on internal security within resource rich areas of Papua New Guinea.
The military presence is also part of a greater effort to place pockets of security personnel in hotspots around the country like mine sites and LNG projects which, according to government commissioned investigations, has seen an increase in the number of small arms in tribal warfare.
The heads of departments meeting that ended today is key for the PNGDF as is express its long term funding requirements that is spread out over the next 20 years.
“Our needs are unique and most times we are treated like another government department. A lot of times, the government doesn’t understand that we need to plan for a longer period.”