My priority as Minister for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, is maintained to the greatest extent possible so as to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles as assigned by Government, including overseas deployments.
The acquisition and updating of 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 is to replace and upgrade, as required, existing capabilities in order to retain a flexible response for a wide range of operational requirements 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. To date almost half of the fleet have been upgraded with the remainder due by late 2022. Additionally, twenty-four 4 x 4 Armoured Utility Vehicles (AUVs) were acquired in 2017, and in 2018 delivery was taken of ten new armoured logistic vehicles. These measures will provide essential force protection overseas. A capability requirement for additional AUVs has been identified and this project has been allocated funding and is being progressed.
There is also continuous investment in the non-armoured vehicle fleet. In 2019 a contract was signed with Toyota Ireland for the replacement of the Army's fleet of 3/4 tonne 4 X4 vehicles, the first of which entered service in early 2020. In March of this year a tender process completed for the supply of one hundred and twenty (120) new 4 X 4 Troop Carrying Vehicles, with the award of a contract to Westward Scania, based in Strokestown, Co. Roscommon. The first vehicles are scheduled for delivery in 2020 with delivery of all 120 vehicles concluding by 2023. Funding is provided on an on-going basis for the required maintenance of vehicles in the military transport fleet, both at home and overseas.
The White Paper on Defence provides that the Air Corps will see the Cessna fleet replaced with three larger aircraft suitably equipped for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance tasks. In December 2017, following a tender competition, a contract was awarded to Pilatus Aircraft Ltd for three PC-12 NG Spectre aircraft. These aircraft, arrived in Casement Aerodrome last month and are currently in the final stages of a period of testing and acceptance and are expected to be fully operational in the coming months.
In March 2020 an order was placed with Pilatus Aircraft Ltd for an additional PC-12 NG aircraft to provide very immediate additional fixed wing capacity to meet the unique situation arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. This aircraft provides the Air Corps with a further agile resource to service urgent requests from the HSE and other agencies of the State.
The White Paper also provides for the replacement of the CASA 235s with consideration to be given to their replacement with larger more capable aircraft which would enhance maritime surveillance and provide a greater degree of utility for transport and cargo carrying tasks. A contract for the supply of two C295 Maritime Patrol Aircraft was entered into with Airbus Defence and Space in December 2019, with delivery of the aircraft expected in 2023.
The White Paper on Defence also sets out an ambitious programme of capital investment in the Naval Service including the mid-life refit and upgrade of the P50 class vessels, LÉ Róisín and LÉ Niamh, as well as, in due course, the replacement of LÉ Eithne. The P50 mid-life upgrade programme is well underway. The replacement of the flagship LÉ Eithne with a multi role vessel (MRV) is the next scheduled component of the White Paper fleet investment programme. Projects for other vessel replacement will be considered over the life-time of the White Paper in the context of overall capability development and funding and the Equipment Development Plan (EDP) process. The EDP outlines that the MRV project is in planning ongoing stage within the indicative timeframe of 2020 to 2024.
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. In July of this year a tender competition was commenced with the publication by my Department of a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire inviting expressions of interest from economic operators for the supply of Software Defined Radios to the Defence Forces. The scope of the project consists of two main requirements; Personal Soldier Radios and Multi-Band Handheld, Manpack, Vehicular and Airborne radios. Given the complexity of the requirements the procurement process is expected to be comprehensive in nature with the first radios not expected to enter service before 2023.
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. 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 which is in line with best international standards in order to fulfil all roles assigned to them by Government.