I propose to take Questions Nos. 134 and 135 together.
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, including overseas deployments.
The acquisition of new defensive 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 will extend the utility of the fleet and provide greater levels of protection, mobility and firepower. 29 vehicles have already been upgraded and delivered to the Defence Forces during 2018 and 2019. The remaining vehicles due for upgrade will be delivered between 2020 and 2022. A significant investment of €68m incl VAT has been made on this programme. The terms of this contract, signed in 2016 allows for changes to the scope of work and configuration of certain variants of vehicles to be agreed between the parties during the lifetime of the contract.
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 with a combined cost of €13.5m inclusive of VAT will provide essential force protection overseas. A capability requirement for additional Armoured Utility Vehicles has been identified and a procurement process is expected to commence in 2020 for these vehicles.
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 which are being equipped for ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance). It is expected that the three aircraft will be delivered during 2020 at a cost of €43m inclusive of VAT. Planning is also underway to replace the CASA Maritime Patrol aircraft and a tender competition recently been completed in my Department and a preferred bidder has been identified.
The on-going Naval Service ship replacement programme is evidence of the Government's commitment to investment in the Naval Service. The most significant investment of recent years by the Defence Organisation has been on the procurement of the new Off-Shore Patrol Vessels for the Naval Service. This programme has seen the delivery of three new Naval Service vessels since 2014. The LÉ Samuel Beckett was commissioned in May 2014, LÉ James Joyce was commissioned in September 2015 and LÉ William Butler Yeats was commissioned into service in October 2016.
In June 2016, a contract for an additional sister ship was agreed, bringing investment in the new ships programme to some €270 million inclusive of VAT since 2010. This fourth ship, named LÉ George Bernard Shaw was commissioned into service in May 2019.
The P50 class vessels, 20 and 18 years old this year, now fall into the category of ship requiring a mid-life refurbishment / extension programme. Due to their age profile, much of the auxiliary equipment onboard is coming to the end of its useful life or is becoming obsolete and requires to be replaced in a structured manner.
The Mid-Life Extension Programme of LÉ Róisín commenced in March 2019, with an initial dry-docking phase to be followed by an extended period of equipment upgrade and refit works. Works are progressing as planned. LÉ Niamh’s extension programme is due to commence in 2020. Over the course of their extension programmes, LÉ Róisín and LÉ Niamh will be out of operation for a period of some twelve months each. Contracts to the value of the €7.6m inclusive VAT have been awarded for the main works associated with the upgrade to LÉ Róisín.
In addition, planning is ongoing 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 was been increased to €113 million for 2020, an increase of €7 million from 2019. 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 the necessary modern and effective range of equipment available to them, including vehicles and communication systems, which is in line with best international standards in order to fulfil all roles assigned to them by Government.