Written Answers. - Defence Forces Equipment.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

135 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if an increase or decrease in the strength and extent of hardware in the Air Corps is being contemplated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19126/03]

The acquisition of new equipment for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service has been a key focus for me since my appointment to the Defence portfolio. Significant investment has taken place and I am satisfied that the Defence Forces are now well equipped for their day to day roles at home and overseas.

The main priority for the Air Corps has been the purchase of fixed wing training aircraft. In that regard, I was delighted to sign a contract on 16 January 2003 for the supply of eight turbo propeller training aircraft to replace the Siai Marchetti aircraft in the pilot training role. The new aircraft is the Pilatus PC-9M, manufactured by Pilatus Aircraft Limited, Switzerland. The cost of the aircraft is approximately €60 million. Delivery of the aircraft will take place during 2004.

Other recent additions to the Air Corps fleet include the second helicopter for the Garda air support unit and the Sikorsky S61 helicopter which is entering service in the search and rescue role in the north-west region, operating from Sligo Airport. In addition, tender competitions are in train for the acquisition of two aircraft for the ministerial air transport role to be operated by the Air Corps.