My priority as Minister with Responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Defence Forces, including the Air Corps, is maintained to the greatest extent possible so as to enable them to carry out their roles as assigned by Government. In this regard future equipment priorities for the Air Corps are being considered in the context of the lifetime of the White Paper on Defence as part of the capability development and equipment planning process.
The White Paper on Defence provides for the replacement of the current Cessna fleet with three larger aircraft which will be equipped for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR). Following an open tender competition, a contract was placed with Pilatus Aircraft Ltd in December 2017 at a cost of some €32m for the provision of three PC-12 fixed wing utility aircraft suitably equipped for ISTAR tasks which will replace the Cessna fleet. It is expected that the three aircraft will be delivered by 2020.
The White Paper also provides for the replacement of the two CASA 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft with consideration of their replacement with larger more suitable aircraft, which would enhance maritime surveillance and provide a greater degree of utility for transport and cargo carrying tasks. The planning process for the replacement of the CASA 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft has recently commenced on this project and it is intended to hold a public tender competition shortly. The cost of the aircraft will only be known once the tender competition is concluded.
The existing EC 135 and AW 139 helicopters will continue to deliver the required Defence Forces support and other support capabilities over the lifetime of the White Paper.
The acquisition of these new modern aircraft, combined with an ongoing maintenance regime for the existing fleet, will ensure that the operational capabilities of the Air Corps are maintained to the greatest extent possible.