My priority as Minister of State with Responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible so as to enable the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service to carry out all roles assigned by Government. In this context, the full spectrum of Defence Forces personnel and equipment are available for deployment in response to any emergencies that may arise.
In relation to the Air Corps, it can provide airborne and other supports to the principal response agencies and my Department has put in place memorandums of understanding and service level agreements with other Government Departments and agencies both to ensure the maintenance of essential services and to capture the wide ranging supports that the Defence Forces can provide in emergency situations. It is important to note in exceptional circumstances, including outside of normal hours, the Air Corps can recall personnel, and deploy.
The acquisition of new equipment and equipment upgrades for the Defence Forces remains a clear focus for me, and the White Paper on Defence published in 2015 recognises that there are several new and enhanced platforms to be procured. Future equipment priorities for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service are being considered in the context of the lifetime of the White Paper as part of the capability development and equipment planning processes.
In the case of the Air Corps, equipment priorities set out in the White Paper recognise the requirement for new aircraft to be procured, including the replacement of the Cessna fleet with three larger aircraft suitably equipped for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance tasks, and replacement of the two Casa maritime patrol aircraft. A request for tender for fixed wing utility aircraft to replace the Cessna fleet was issued in early May, tenders have been received and the evaluation process has commenced.
On the issue of personnel up to 12 Air Corps Pilot Officer cadets are due to be inducted in the third quarter of 2017 and there are currently 3 Cadet Classes, with 26 personnel at various stages of their Pilot Officer ‘Wings Course’. Training is on-going with three Air Corps Apprentice Aircraft Technician classes comprising 36 apprentices plus 12 personnel in Air Traffic Services Training.
I am satisfied that the resources are available to the Defence Forces, to enable the fulfilment of all roles assigned by Government, including in emergency situations.