Written Answers. - Defence Forces Equipment.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

142 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence his plans for the future of the Permanent Defence Force in terms of training and equipment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19133/03]

The White Paper on Defence of February 2000 defines the roles of the Defence Forces as follows: to defend the State against armed aggression; this being a contingency, preparations for its implementation will depend on an ongoing Government assessment of threats; to aid the civil power, meaning in practice to assist, when requested, the Garda Síochána, which has primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State; to participate in United Nations missions in the cause of international peace; to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Community; and to carry out such other duties as may be assigned to them from time to time, for example, search and rescue, air ambulance service, ministerial air transport service, assistance on the occasion of natural or other disasters, assistance in connection with the maintenance of essential services, dealing with oil pollution at sea.

The Defence Forces' training plans are structured to provide the capabilities needed to execute these assigned roles. Priority is given to meeting operational tasks in Ireland. The challenges of preparing military units for participation in international peace support operations constitute the major dimension of Defence Forces collective training. A primary focus is the attainment of military interoperability capability in order to conduct international peace support operations to international standards.
The acquisition of new equipment for the Defence Forces 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.
However, while much has been done and a great deal has been achieved with regard to both equipment and infrastructure, I am aware that more needs to be done. Whilst expenditure programmes will now have to be more prioritised, due to the changed financial situation, I will ensure that a substantial re-equipment programme will still go ahead to enhance the efficiency, professionalism and safety of the Defence Forces.
One example is the position with regard to the acquisition of APCs for the Defence Forces. The original APC contract contained an option for the supply of up to 40 additional APCs by Mowag. This option has now been exercised albeit for a reduced number of APCs. I signed a contract in December 2002 for the provision by Mowag of 25 additional APCs. The contract value is in the region of €33.2 million including VAT. Deliveries will commence in March 2004 and are scheduled to be completed by September 2004. Payments under the contract will extend from December 2002 to September 2005 due to the budgetary situation. On delivery, the Defence Forces will have a total of 65 APCs.
There has been significant investment on new vehicles for the Defence Forces including specialist transport cargo vehicles and on new troop carrying vehicles and three-quarter ton trucks. Over €13 million has been expended on new tactical VHF radios for the Defence Forces in recent years. Ongoing programmes include the acquisition of additional night vision equipment and nuclear biological chemical, NBC, equipment.
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.