Investment in new equipment and the upgrading of existing equipment for the Defence Forces is provided for under various subheads of the Defence Vote relating to defensive equipment, transport, aircraft, Naval Service ships and stores, and information and communications technology. I am advised that the 2012 provision for the purchase of defensive equipment and ammunition is €27.5 million. This allows for the acquisition of a range of priority defensive equipment and munitions, such as force protection equipment, chemical agent detection equipment, protective visors, body armour and the implementation of the rifle enhancement programme for the Steyr rifle, which has been in service for nearly 25 years. The rifle upgrade programme is a multi-annual programme and represents one of the most significant investments the Government is making in terms of the impact it will have on Defence Forces personnel at the coal face. The project is the subject of a number of tender competitions, the results of which will dictate the value of the programme.
The provision also allows for the commencement of an upgrade and refurbishment programme of the explosive ordnance disposal HOBO robots. Given the increased levels of call-outs for these services in recent years, the Minister is of the view that this will be one of the most important programmes to be carried out in the defence organisation in the coming years.
The 2012 provision also allows for the acquisition of the ammunition types necessary to maintain stocks in light of training and overseas requirements throughout the year. The 2012 allocation stands at €16 million for the placement of new and existing contracts. A focus is maintained on ensuring that modern and effective equipment is available for overseas peace support operations. In this regard, the personal equipment that the individual soldier has at his or her disposal in Lebanon is second to none and compares favourably with the equipment in use by other countries.
As many Deputies will be aware, the Department, with the Naval Service, is overseeing the acquisition of two new offshore patrol vessels. The contract price for their provision to the Naval Service is €99 million exclusive of VAT and subject to contract terms and final agreed costs. In addition, the cost of providing a weapons system for the ships, similar to the systems on LE Róisín and LE Niamh, will be €7.8 million exclusive of VAT. The contract for the two new ships was placed with Babcock Marine Services, UK, in October 2010. Payments on the contract are scheduled over a period of eight years - 2010 to 2017 - and are being funded from within the annual defence budget. The first ship is scheduled for delivery in early 2014 and the second will follow one year later.
Regarding the Air Corps, there are no plans for the acquisition of new aircraft, but this situation must be seen in the context of significant expenditure on the Air Corps in recent years.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The acquisition of new equipment for the Defence Forces remains a focus for the Minister for Defence. However, it is imperative that the Department and the Defence Forces, similar to all Departments, look to whatever efficiencies we can make. The Department must take into account the current difficult economic environment. This will determine the overall financial envelope available to the Department for the acquisition of new military equipment and for upgrade and refurbishment programmes during the coming years. The budgetary situation will continue to dictate the level of funding available for new equipment and upgrades in that period. Decisions will be made on a strictly prioritised basis with a view to maintaining the capability of all roles assigned by the Government to the Defence Forces.
I understand that the Minister is satisfied that the equipment, Naval Service assets, aircraft and technologies available to the Defence Forces are of the highest standards and are capable of meeting the demands placed on Defence Forces personnel on a day-to-day basis. The Deputy will appreciate that, for operational and security reasons, it would not be appropriate to specify in any further detail what is intended to be purchased in the coming months.