Thursday, 18 November 2021
Department of Defence
234. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which he remains satisfied that all aircraft available to the Air Corps are fully equipped with the most up to date navigational equipment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56801/21]
239. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent of audits carried out to ascertain the extent to which all equipment, navigation and otherwise used by the Air Corps whether on a regular or occasional basis is up to specific standards of an international level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56806/21]
242. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which all equipment used by the Air Corps whether in permanent or occasional use meets international standards in respect of reliability and have valid certification of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56809/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 234, 239 and 242 together.
My priority as Minister for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, is maintained and developed to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles as assigned by Government, including overseas deployments.
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 is to replace and upgrade, as required, 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 Equipment Development Plan (EDP) published in June 2020, completed through extensive joint civil-military work, provides a comprehensive list of planned equipment projects which will be progressed over a five year period. This plan builds on the intentions set out in the White Paper in relation to equipment acquisition, modernisation and upgrades and has been developed to ensure that the Defence Forces have the major equipment platforms, ancillary equipment and force protection equipment to carry out their important roles both at home and overseas.
I am committed to update and upgrade the Defence Forces equipment and capability, having regard to the financial envelope available. The Department of Defence has received a capital allocation under the National Development Plan of €566m over the 2022-2025 timeframe. Within that capital allocation the Defence annual capital budget for 2022 is €141m. This will enable continued investment in defence equipment, including major platforms, and barracks infrastructure.
The level of capital funding available will allow the Defence Organisation to undertake a programme of sustained equipment replacement 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. 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 to acquire two Airbus C295 maritime patrol aircraft. An additional PC-12 was also acquired in response to the Covid 19 situation. A contract for the supply of two C295 Maritime Patrol Aircraft was signed with Airbus Defence and Space in December 2019, with delivery of the aircraft expected in 2023. Some €276 million, including VAT, has been committed to the acquisition of all of these enhanced air capabilities.
The Air Corps operate a wide variety of aircraft and equipment, which are selected on the basis of detailed in-depth and rigorous selection and evaluation process. Part of the acquisitions process looks at the operational reliability and performance of such equipment to meet the required performance. Aircraft possess relevant military or civilian type certification and as such, any equipment carried is in accordance with manufacturer’s requirements and certain required standards.
I am advised by the Military Authorities that the General Officer Commanding Air Corps publishes an annual audit plan which pertains to a number of different strands from flight safety, maintenance quality assurance and flight operations. Air Corps aircraft routinely operate in civilian airspace both, domestically and internationally and at all times conform to the prevailing international standards as it may pertain to aircraft equipment and navigation systems. Equipment and systems are checked and continuously approved by both the Air Corps technical staff and by commercial technical staff if aircraft are undergoing maintenance with the original equipment manufacturer. Similarly, Air Corps crews are trained in synthetic training devices (simulators) on a regular basis and this includes periodic checks by external third party approved training organisations to ensure ongoing competence and that international standards with respect to the operation of such equipment and systems are met.
All Air Corps aircraft are equipped with the most up to date navigational equipment as appropriate. The CASA C235 aircraft have received midlife upgrades in relation to certain safety and navigation equipment that was not available at the time of manufacture in the early 1990s which included the installation of traffic awareness and collision avoidance systems, enhanced ground proximity warning systems and upgraded Flight Navigation System. These aircraft will be replaced by the new Airbus C295 aircraft which are scheduled for delivery in 2023. These new aircraft, when delivered, will be equipped with a contemporary and comprehensive navigational system.
I am satisfied that the Defence Forces have the necessary modern and effective range of equipment available to them in order to ensure that they can fulfil the roles assigned to them by Government.