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. This is primarily to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles assigned by Government as set out in the White Paper on Defence. Equipment priorities for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service are being considered in the context of the lifetime of the White Paper on Defence as part of the capability development and Equipment Development Planning (EDP) process.
In this context, 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 at home and overseas. Budget 2021 provides a Capital allocation of €131m for investment in Defence equipment and barracks infrastructure and will enable continued investment in major equipment platforms such as Defence Forces vehicle fleet. The increased capital funding for 2021 builds on increased levels of capital expenditure totalling €392m over the years 2018 – 2020.
In relation to air-based capability, my immediate priorities have been the acquisition of three Pilatus PC-12 aircraft in the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) role and for two Airbus C295 maritime patrol aircraft. An additional PC-12 was also acquired in response to the Covid 19 situation. No decisions have been made for the acquisition of additional aircraft in other roles. Some €276 million, including VAT, has been committed to the acquisition of these enhanced capabilities.
While the option of acquiring a wider military lift capability has been mentioned, it is not identified as an action for acquisition in the present 5 year Equipment Development Plan, which was developed through a joint civil-military approach. Much of this longer range lift capability for military purposes is provided by way of chartering aircraft through a competitive procurement process on an as-required basis. To date, this has been considered to be the most cost effective approach taking account of the acquisition, running and maintenance costs of larger aircraft in the context of their expected usage and contingency requirements. The overall priorities in the EDP will remain under review as it is progressively implemented and taking account of funding availability.
With regard to domestic duties, while the Defence Forces are not a primary response agency for non-security related emergencies, as defined in the Framework for Major Emergency Management, they provide the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate Lead Department in the event of a natural disaster or emergency situation in an Aid to Civil Authority (ATCA) role.
As part of the Defence Organisation, the Air Corps provides a broad range of services in accordance with its primary security role. The Air Corps also undertakes a diverse range of non-security-related tasks on an ‘as available’ basis including the provision of air ambulance services to the Health Service Executive (HSE). This support is underpinned by agreed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
In relation to other requests for support, the Air Corps and indeed the Defence Forces, can be made and are made available, within current means and capabilities, as the need arises. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Joint Task Force was established to coordinate the Defence Forces contribution to the whole-of-Government COVID-19 response while retaining, at all times, a contingent capacity to provide Aid to the Civil Power support.
Given the unique situation arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional PC-12 NG aircraft was purchased to provide immediate additional fixed wing capacity. This aircraft provides the Air Corps with a further agile resource to service urgent requests from the HSE and other agencies of the State. Over the last year, the Air Corps have been involved in the transportation of COVID-19 tests to Germany in direct support of the effort to fight COVID-19, as well as fulfilling a broad range of other security and non-security roles as detailed above.
I am satisfied that the Defence Forces have the necessary resources available to them, including a modern and effective range of equipment which is line with best international standards in order to fulfil all roles assigned to them by Government.