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Papua New Guinea Defence Force
Flag of Papua New Guinea.svg
National flag of Papua New Guinea
Founded 1973
Service branches Land Element
Maritime Operations Element
Air Operations Element
Headquarters Murray Barracks, Port Moresby
The Minister for Defence The Honourable Fabian Pok
Commander PNGDF Brigadier General Francis Agwi
Available for
military service
1,264,728 males, age 18–49 (2005 est.),
1,167,188 females, age 18–49 (2005 est.)
Fit for
military service
902,432 males, age 18–49 (2005 est.),
894,759 females, age 18–49 (2005 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
(2005 est.)
Active personnel 2,100 (ranked 151)
Percent of GDP 1.4 (2005 est.)

The Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) is the unified armed forces of Papua New Guinea. It originated from the Australian Army land forces of the territory of Papua New Guinea before independence, coming into being in January 1973 and having its antecedents in the Pacific Islands Regiment. At independence it numbered 3,750 all ranks, while another 465 Australian personnel augmented the force to assist in training and technical support. Today the PNGDF is a small force numbering around 2,100 personnel, and consisting of a Land Element, an Air Operations Element and a Maritime Operations Element. It is a joint force tasked with defending Papua New Guinea and its territories against external attack, as well as having secondary functions including national-building and internal security tasks. Defence accounts for up to 4% of government expenditure, while also receiving significant assistance and training support from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and other nations.

The PNGDF Land Element includes two infantry battalions, an engineer battalion, a signal squadron, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, and a preventive medicine platoon. The Air Operations Element is a small air wing operating several helicopters and light transport aircraft. The Maritime Operations Element consists of four Pacific class patrol boats and two Balikpapan class landing craft. The army is under the direct command of Headquarters PNGDF, while the air force and navy have their own commanding officers. The PNGDF is under the political oversight of the Minister for Defence. Contrary to the convention elsewhere the PNGDF does not have a nominal Commander-in-Chief.[1]


The PNGDF originated from the Australian Army land forces of the Territory of Papua New Guinea before independence, coming into being in January 1973 and having its antecedents in the Pacific Islands Regiment. At independence it numbered 3,750 all ranks, while another 465 Australian personnel augmented the force to assist in training and technical support.[2] Successive attempts to reduce the size of the PNGDF in response to the country's economic problems have provoked fierce resistance; with the army mutinying in March 2001. The government capitulated after 10 days to the mutineers' demands, agreeing not to cut the army's strength. However, in 2002 it was announced that the PNGDF would be reduced from 4,000 to around 2,100 personnel. In early 2004 the government reaffirmed its commitment to implement cuts within the armed forces, with a definitive restructuring expected to take place. Chief of Staff Captain Aloysius Tom Ur told troops in January 2004 that the 2004 strength of 3,000 would be reduced by one-third, and that during 2004, the force's personnel branch would merge with the support branch into a new organisation.[3] Ultimately the reduction-in-size target was reached in 2007.[4]

PNGDF capability is considered modest, with the army facing significant problems including a chronic budget crisis, a lack of experience in conventional operations, limited ability to be deployed independently overseas as well as internal tensions. The air force and navy also suffer major equipment and funding shortfalls—to the point of sometimes almost being grounded—and are both too small and poorly equipped to take part in operations overseas. Indeed the entire PNGDF is badly in need of new equipment.[4] Australia, New Zealand, France and several other nations are assisting in the training and the professionalisation of the PNGDF, while others—including Germany and China—provide budgetary assistance. Australia's aid for the PNGDF is currently worth AUD9.2 million with an additional AUD40 million committed the reform programme. AUD20 million was committed initially, mainly for paying off redundant personnel. A second tranche of AUD20 million is for the refurbishment of barracks over five years (AUD5 million). As of January 2006 29 Australian defence personnel were engaged in training and advising in areas including policy, management, maritime, infantry, engineering, personnel, logistic and finance areas of assistance. Two more Australian personnel were seconded as advisers on logistics and personnel matters in August 2006, while an Australian bureaucrat from the Department of Defence is posted to the PNG defence department. "Australia is particularly interested in supporting Port Moresby in the areas of counter-terrorism, maritime patrols and defence organisation structures and procedures."[4]

During its history the PNGDF has sent 400 troops to assist the Vanuatu government put down a secessionist revolt in 1980 and was called out in aid to the civil power in Port Moresby in 1983. It has also conducted operations against the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka or Free Papua Movement), based in Irian Barat, and which had been involved fighting the Indonesian armed forces. From 1989 to 1997 the PNGDF was involved in fighting the secessionist Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) on Bougainville and Buka. During these operations the PNGDF was criticised for its treatment of civilians, human rights violations and the use of mercenaries.[2] More recently, following the passage of a constitutional amendment allowing the stationing of the PNGDF on foreign soil, 80 personnel joined the Australia-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in July 2003. As of 2008 PNGDF personnel remain in the Solomon Islands as part of the scaled down, rotational Pacific contingent.[4]

Today, the PNGDF is a small force numbering around 2,100 personnel, and consisting of a Land Element, an Air Operations Element and a Maritime Operations Element. It is a joint force tasked with defending Papua New Guinea and its territories against external attack, as well as having secondary functions including national-building and internal security tasks. Defence accounts for up to 4% of government expenditure, while also receiving significant assistance and training support from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and other nations.[2] The army is under the direct command of Headquarters PNGDF, while the air force and navy have their own commanding officers. The PNGDF is under the political oversight of the Minister for Defence.[4]

On 26 January 2012, military personnel under the command of the retired officer Colonel Yaura Sasa arrested the commander of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, Brigadier General Francis Agwi. It was reported that former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare had ordered the operation in relation to his attempts to regain the leadership of the country and had appointed Sasa the commander of the PNGDF.[5]

Land Element

Brigadier General Francis Agwi, the current commander of the PNGDF

The Land Element is the PNGDFs army land force, being primarily a light infantry force capable of conducting low-tempo operations only; it is the senior of the three services. The army has its origins in the Pacific Islands Regiment, which was formed in 1951 as a component of the Australian Army. Since independence, the army has become an indigenous organisation with its own traditions and culture. Nonetheless, the force has adopted foreign ideas on the roles and needs of an armed force, leading to proposals for armour, artillery and attack helicopters. Regardless the army faces severe budgetary problems and has therefore been virtually no money for operations, training, and maintenance or capital equipment upgrades. In this context, proposals to develop the army into a well equipped, mobile conventional land force, are unlikely in the near to medium term.[4] The army's role is to protect against external aggression, provide for internal security in support of the police, and to carry out civic action and relief operations when required. The engineer battalion is used for civic action with construction and reticulation capabilities, while the two infantry battalions also constructs roads, bridges and other infrastructure in regions where commercial companies are unwilling to work for security reasons.[4]

The army has no significant experience in conventional operations and according to Janes it has limited ability to deploy overseas independently; "it is not effective in internal security operations and has often shown scant regard for political authority. This was illustrated in August 2006 when the PNG government declared a state of emergency in the Southern Highlands province where a proposed gas pipeline has been planned. Troops were being deployed to restore law, order and good governance in the province. In these latter circumstances it has proven to be more of a threat to the state than an asset. For reasons of cultural diversity and rivalry, terrain and transport difficulties and the reduction and retaining of the smaller army—a successful army coup would be extremely unlikely."[4]

During the 1990s the army’s main role was internal security and counter-insurgency operations in Bougainville, where a secessionist movement was attempting to bring independence. This operation—which lasted at varying levels of intensity until 1997—revealed the army's ineffectiveness, lack of training and indiscipline. The army was accused of significant human rights violations and there were indications it was operating independently of the government. Indeed in June 1991 Colonel L. Nuia was dismissed for killing civilians and using Australian-donated helicopters to dump their bodies at sea, while in September 1993 the PNG government offered to pay compensation for Solomon Island civilians killed by PNGDF forces who had pursued BRA members across the border. The fighting in Bougainville also exposed weaknesses in command, training, discipline and force structure.[2] Later the army was also involved in the controversial Sandline affair of 1997, when the PNGDF Commander—Jerry Singirok—blocked the use of mercenaries to destroy the revolt on Bougainville. The current restructure has focused on the removal of men of a quality now judged to have been unsuitable for the Bougainville campaign and since the end of operations there the army has, with Australian assistance, attempted to reform all aspects of its training and administration.[4]

In the early 21st century terrorism has become increasingly a concern for Papua New Guinea policy-makers and one of the major objectives of the army for 2008 is to prepare itself to deter any attack on its sovereignty but more particularly to terrorist attacks. Equally, although the army has no history of peace support contributions, its involvement in RAMSI has proven a catalyst to determine how it could train for and be used in UN operations. Despite these efforts the army is still not in a position to provide forces with the appropriate "level of training and discipline" without significant risk, according to Janes. To be sure, however, "the army command views such deployment as their contribution to the 'economic well-being of PNG' and a way of maintaining any semblance of a proficient armed force."[4]

Current organisation

The Land Element is directly commanded by the Commander PNGDF, Brigadier General (Commodore) Peter Ilau, and has been significantly reduced in size due to restructuring (from 3,500 to 1,800 as of late 2007) and currently comprises the following:[4]

  • Command HQ (Port Moresby);
  • two light Infantry battalions of the Royal Pacific Islands Regiment (1 RPIR at Port Moresby and 2 RPIR at Wewak);
  • one Engineer battalion (Lae);
  • PNGDF Signals Squadron (Port Moresby);
  • EOD unit;
  • Preventative Health Platoon; and
  • Military Cadet School.

The army's main bases include Port Moresby, Wewak and Lae, while company strength outstations are located at Kiunga and Vanimo. Communications centres are found at all of these locations and also on Manus island. Papua New Guinea has large areas of uninhabited jungle suitable for training. A training depot is maintained at Goldie River near Port Moresby and at Lae.[4]

Historically the army has been poorly trained; however Australia has recently made this the focus of the Enhanced Defence Partnership programme, supplying training, advisors and equipment. New Zealand is also contributing training assistance under its Mutual Assistance Programme. Equally army personnel have in the past trained with the French in New Caledonia, while US Special Forces have occasionally undertaken joint exercises in PNG. At present, however, over 90 per cent of the budget is dedicated to pay and retrenchments, and as a consequence there is little left to fund training exercises. While most soldiers are not currently formally qualified for their rank, there are determined moves to professionalise the army after the restructure is complete. Indeed the army has an officer training academy and a small trade training capacity, which is being boosted by Australian personnel. A small number of officer candidates also undertake training at the Royal Military College – Duntroon, in Canberra. Australian procedures are followed as a matter of course, and their influence is increasing as more joint training exercises are held.[4]


The army is only lightly equipped—possessing no armour, artillery, heavy weapons, anti-armour or anti-aircraft weapons. It is chronically short of equipment, maintaining just a few mortars, small arms and limited communications equipment. Because mobility is severely impaired due to PNG's mountainous geography, heavy rain-forest and the nation's under-developed transport infrastructure, artillery is not used by the New Guinea Defence Force.[4]

Regardless, while the army's equipment remains largely outdated and inadequate, some new equipment was procured in late 2003 was commissioned during 2004. PNGDF has fielded a new digital satellite communications network, enabling it to communicate with its personnel on the Solomon Islands, stationed there as part of PNG's commitment to the international intervention force. The army can also now communicate securely with its personnel located at seven fixed ground stations—the barracks at Murray, Taurama, Goldie, Lombrum, Igam, Vanimo and Moem. The system also includes mobile units installed on small trucks which communicate from remote locations via the fixed ground stations. Equally in June 2007, the army received 32 new HF Barrett communication radios, at a cost of PGK800,000, in order to assist with providing security for the 2007 election.[4]

The security of the PNGDF's weapons is also an issue, and it is alleged that various mortars, guns and small arms have been used in tribal conflicts and robberies. In response more secure armouries have been provided by Australia, however weapon security remains elusive. Further attempts to improve weapons security were implemented during 2005 with fortnightly weapon checks and making unit commanders accountable for the return of weapons, with serious action threatened for any defaults. Also, soldiers are now forbidden to carry weapons in public without specific permission.[4]

Pistols Sub-machine Guns Rifles Machine Guns Mortars Anti-Tank Artillery Armour Anti-Air[6]
Belgium 9mm FN 35 United Kingdom 9mm Sterling United States 5.56mm M16A2 Belgium 7.62mm FN MAG 58 3+ x 81 mm[7] Nil Nil Nil Nil
Belgium 7.62mm FN FAL Belgium 5.56mm Minimi (F89) 3 x 120 mm[7]

Air Operations Element

PNG roundel

The Air Operations Element is the air force branch of the PNGDF, operating a small number of light aircraft and rotary wing assets in support of army operations. Like the PNGDF in general the air force suffers from chronic equipment shortages and underfunding, but probably even more so than the other two branches.[8] The role of the air force is to support army operations with transport, air re-supply and medical evacuation capabilities. In future it may also be used to bolster border security and conduct maritime surveillance missions.[8]

Current organisation

The air force is commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Peter Amos. It consists of the Air Transport Wing and has only one squadron—the Air Transport Squadron—with a strength of about 100 personnel, being based at Jackson Airport in Port Moresby. In recent years it has suffered from significant serviceability issues. Indeed it only became airborne again in 2005 for the first time in five years, as funding shortages resulted in the small transport aircraft fleet being grounded for an extended period of time. By January 2006, one CN-235, one Arava and one UH-1H Iroquois helicopter had been made operational, with single examples of each of those three types also being returned to service by 2007.[8]

A 2003 review recommended the air force’s strength be reduced to 65 personnel, a figure which the PNGDF is working towards as part of its current restructuring programme. By the end of 2004, the air force was suffering from an acute shortage of pilots, but recruitment in 2005 succeeded in raising the pilot pool to 10 by January 2006.[8] After several years when no training was undertaken pilots are now sent to Singapore and Indonesia for instruction on simulators. Given its limited operational activity and the lack of combat equipment, little thought has been given to tactical doctrine however.[8]

In 2012 the Australian government facilitated the lease of three helicopters from Hevilift PNG to provide an airworthy rotary wing capability.[9]


Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service[10] Notes
Beechcraft Super King Air United States VIP transport Model 350 1 No longer in service.
CASA CN-235  Indonesia Transport CN-235 2 One serviceable
Douglas Dakotas United States Transport C-47B 6 Six ex-RAAF Dakotas were donated by Australia in 1975. No longer in service.
GAF Nomad  Australia STOL utility N-22 4 None serviceable
IAI Arava  Israel STOL utility IAI-101 3 None serviceable
MBB Bo 105  Germany Utility NBO-105 1 None serviceable
Bell UH-1H Iroquois United States Utility helicopter UH-1H 4 Six ex-RAAF UH-1Hs were donated by Australia in 1989. Two serviceable as at November 2012. One with winching capability for aeromedical evacuation.

Maritime Operations Element

The Maritime Operations Element is the naval branch of the PNGDF, being mainly a light patrol force and is responsible for defending local waters only. It too suffers from chronic equipment shortages and underfunding.[11] The navy has three primary roles: support for military operations, EEZ protection, and heavy logistic support for the army and civil society.[11]

Current organisation

Naval Ensign

The navy is commanded by Captain Max Aleale and consists of approximately 200 personnel and is based in Port Moresby, Manus Island and Milne Bay—and currently comprises the following:[11]

  • Four Pacific class patrol boats (supplied by Australia under the Pacific Patrol Boat Program); and
  • Two Balikpapan class landing craft (transferred from Royal Australian Navy)

According to Janes the navy is badly underfunded and much of its equipment is in need of maintenance; as a consequence it is scarcely able to carry out its tasks, with operations often delayed or cancelled. The navy's patrol craft are barely effective; fuel costs and maintenance problems mean that often only one boat is available for sea duty at any time, while the heavy landing craft have high upkeep costs and are nearing the end of their service life. Although the patrol boats may be at times serviceable, the task of patrolling such a large Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is too great and they are heavily reliant for information about the presence of foreign ships on daily reports supplied by US satellite surveillance. The main concern is illegal tuna fishing by Japanese vessels. The navy would like larger vessels as the Pacific class experiences difficulties in deep ocean conditions and is exploring the possibility of procuring a 2,000 tonne multipurpose vessel, or the conversion of a merchant vessel, for patrol duties.[11]

Australia continues to assist the navy patrol its waters and in the training of personnel. A Royal Australian Navy Officer has been seconded to PNG's National Co-ordination Centre and joint exercises are held regularly to review and strengthen current maritime border surveillance. The Australian Customs service also takes part in cross-border patrols. As a matter of course, Australian doctrine and procedures are used.[11]


HMPNGS Seeadler in 2004

Ship No. Name Type Class Handover Date Notes
1 HMPNGS Salamaua (L 31) Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) Balikpapan class November 1974 Currently active
2 HMPNGS Buna (L 32) Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) Balikpapan class November 1974 Currently active
6 HMPNGS Rabaul (P 01) Patrol boat Pacific class May 1987 Ex HMPNGS Tarangau. Currently active
7 HMPNGS Dreger (P 02) Patrol boat Pacific class October 1987 Currently active.
8 HMPNGS Seeadler (P 03) Patrol boat Pacific class October 1988 Currently active.
9 HMPNGS Moresby (P 04) Patrol boat Pacific class July 1989 Ex HMPNGS Basilisk. Currently active.


  1. "Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (s 201(1))". Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Dennis et al 1995, p. 455.
  3. Robert Keith-Reid, 'Papua New Guinea continues force streamlining,' Jane's Defence Weekly, 14 January 2004, p.16
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 "Janes Worlds Armies – Papua New Guinea". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  5. "Dumped prime minister Sir Michael Somare ordered army mutiny". 26 January 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  6. "Janes Infantry Weapons – Papua New Guinea". Retrieved 2009-01-06. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 IISS (2012), p. 275
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "Janes Worlds Airforces – Papua New Guinea". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  9. "PNGDF helicopter leasing project – contract signed". Retrieved 2012-01-08. 
  10. "World Military Aircraft Inventory", Aerospace Source Book 2007, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 15 January 2007.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 "Janes Worlds Navies – Papua New Guinea". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 


Further reading

  • Robie, David (29 November 1988). "The Silent Border Struggle". Wellington. 
  • Dibb, Paul; Nicholas, Rhondda (1996). Restructuring the Papua New Guinea Defence Force: Strategic Analysis and Force Structure Principles for a Small State. Canberra: Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University. ISBN 073152490X. 

External links

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