The military authorities have advised that the whole-time equivalent strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 31 August 2020 was 8,374 personnel, comprised of Army, 6,763; Air Corps, 716; and Naval Service, 895. I am aware that there continues to be a shortfall between the overall current strength figures and those of the establishment and I am committed to restoring the strength of the Defence Forces to 9,500, which is the figure in the White Paper. The Public Service Pay Commission report and implementation of the high level plan, Strengthening Our Defence Forces - Phase 1, is a key part of the response to address recruitment and retention challenges and my responses to other questions today detail this.
I accept there are ongoing difficulties in the Defence Forces, and these have been well-documented. The reduction in the number of operational ships due to personnel shortages is a case in point and is one area where I believe further measures are required. The inability to induct recruits at previous levels as a result of Covid is also an aggravating factor. However, there are also positive developments which are restoring capacity in areas which were significantly depleted. By way of example, overall officer numbers are just 13 off the full establishment figure as at 31 August 2020. While I appreciate that experience levels have declined at some ranks and that gaps remain gaps in certain areas, the continued attraction of officer cadets in what was a competitive jobs market is indicative of the continued attractiveness of such a career.
Further initiatives such as the recommissioning of former Air Corps pilots have also assisted in boosting the number of much -needed specialists. I understand that further specialist officers will be recommissioned. The re-enlistment of former enlisted personnel is another initiative that is to be welcomed. While the numbers being inducted are lower than initially anticipated, all will play an important role in restoring capacity.
The fact is that the restoration of capacity in the Defence Forces will take time. The programme for Government provides that a commission on the Defence Forces will be tasked with examining a range of issues. This will provide an opportunity to chart the future direction of the Defence Forces. There is also a commitment to establish a pay review body specifically for the Defence Forces when the commission has completed its work.
Working closely with the Secretary General, the Chief of Staff and a range of other key stakeholders including the representative bodies, I am confident that the current challenges facing the Defence Forces can be overcome, although it will take some time. I appreciate colleagues' comments on all of these issues.