My priority as Minister with Responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, is maintained to the greatest extent possible to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles as assigned by Government.
Maintenance of Defence Forces military and technical equipment is a key element to ensuring operational capability is maintained to the highest level. All equipment is subject to rigorous and regular testing and monitoring to identify where such maintenance requirements, both essential and routine are needed.
The acquisition of new equipment for the Defence Forces remains a clear focus for me. Future equipment priorities for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service are considered in the context of the White Paper on Defence as part of the capability development and equipment priorities planning process. The principal aim over the period of the White Paper will be to replace and upgrade, as required, existing capabilities in order to retain a flexible response for a wide range of operational requirements, including response to security risks and other emergencies, both at home and overseas.
The mid-life upgrade programme for the Army’s fleet of eighty MOWAG Armoured Personnel Carriers which is currently underway at a cost of of €55m plus VAT will extend the utility of the fleet and provide greater levels of protection, mobility and firepower. Additionally, twenty-four 4 x 4 Armoured Utility Vehicles were acquired in 2017, and in 2018 delivery was taken of ten new armoured logistic vehicles. These measures at a combined cost of €10m plus VAT will provide essential force protection overseas.
There is also continuous investment in the non-armoured vehicle fleet. In 2018, 20 minibuses, 22 saloons, 61 logistics vehicles and 2 recovery vehicles were purchased for the Defence Forces, and funding is provided on an on-going basis for the required maintenance of vehicles in the military transport fleet, both at home and overseas. A tender competition for the replacement of the Army’s fleet of ¾ tonne 4x4 vehicles is currently underway, and planning is also underway for the replacement of the fleet of troop carrying vehicles in the coming years.
The Government is currently investing in updating the Air Corps fleet of aircraft with the replacement of the existing five Cessna aircraft with three larger and more capable fixed wing utility Pilatus PC 12 aircraft at a cost of €30m plus VAT which are being equipped for ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance). It is expected that the three aircraft will be delivered by 2020. Planning is also in progress to replace the CASA Maritime Patrol aircraft and a tender competition is currently underway in this regard.
The on-going Naval Service ship replacement programme is evidence of the Government's commitment to investment in the Naval Service. Three new Offshore Patrol Vessels were delivered between 2014 and 2017 with a fourth, to be named the LÉ George Bernard Shaw, delivered in late 2018, and due to be commissioned later this month. In addition, a Programme to extend the life of the P50 class vessels operated by the Naval Service, LÉ Roisín and LÉ Niamh, has recently commenced. Planning is also underway for the replacement of the current Naval Service flagship LÉ Eithne with a multi role vessel.
With regard to Defence Forces communications systems, there is continued investment in the development of suitable network enabled communications in order to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex operational environment.
The examples given, whilst not exhaustive, demonstrate my commitment to update and upgrade the Defence Forces equipment and capability, within the financial envelope available. In accordance with the National Development Plan, the capital allocation for Defence has been increased to €106 million for 2019, an increase of €29 million. The National Development Plan provides for a total of €541 million for Defence over the period 2018-2022. This level of capital funding will allow the Defence Organisation to undertake a programme of sustained equipment replacement and infrastructural development across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service as identified and prioritised in the Defence White Paper and builds on the significant investment programme over recent years.
I am satisfied that the Defence Forces have and maintain the necessary modern and effective range of equipment available to them which is in line with best international standards in order to fulfil all roles assigned to them by Government.