Published on August 27th, 2015 | by Jim Lee


Government’s new White Paper on Defence published

Strategic direction and clear policy is essential for any organisation so it can plan and maximise its resources and energies on the roles and responsibilities it was created for. This is particularly true where resources are limited and where there are competing demands. In publically funded services it also essential to ensure both taxpayer and political buy in. Defence has often been compared to insurance, something you only need in an emergency, but essential in dealing with the unexpected. Like insurance, it cannot prepare for every possible contingency, except at an exorbitant cost, and a cost that may not been sustainable, or politically or socially acceptable.

Therefore it essential that a small country like Ireland, has a clear Defence Policy framework, to prioritise the requirements it expects of its Defence Forces, and to underpin resource allocations and capability and equipment decisions. Ireland’s first White Paper on Defence was published in 2000 and sought to provide this strategic direction and set out roles and responsibilities for the Defence Forces and its civilian counterpart, the Department of Defence.

In the intervening period since 2000, there have been significant changes in the security environment and the emergence of new and complex challenges. In this context, the Government decided that there was a requirement to prepare a new White Paper on Defence. In July 2013, a Green Paper on Defence was published, as part of the process leading to the publication of this White Paper. The purpose of the Green Paper was to stimulate an open debate about future defence requirements and public submissions were sought. In total, 122 written submissions were received from a wide variety of interested parties, including Flying in Ireland,

Detailed deliberations followed. Two groups, comprised of civil and military personnel from the Defence Organisation, undertook detailed work on identifying future operational and capability requirements. This work included the consideration of various policy approaches, having regard to resource requirements. The Minister also established an External Advisory Group to support him in the development of the White Paper and as a final part of the process he hosted a symposium on the White Paper on 15th May 2015. This, coupled with Dáil statements on 30th June provided a final opportunity for inputs from stakeholders, prior to the finalisation and publication of the White Paper.

This culminated in an event in Dublin Castle on 26th August, where the Minister for Defence, Mr. Simon Coveney, flanked by the current Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Conor O’Boyle and Maurice Quinn, Secretary General of the Department of Defence, launched the new White Paper on Defence. The event was attended by many of the stakeholders who took part in the process, foreign ambassadors and military attaches and a significant number of senior officers from the Defence Forces, including Deputy Chief of Staff, Support (and Chief of Staff designate), Rear Admiral Mark Mellett DSM, Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service, Commodore Hugh Tully and General Officer Commanding, Air Corps, Brigadier General Paul Fry.

White Paper - The Minister and Chief of Staff designate, Mark Mellett (IMG5109 JL)

The Minister and Chief of Staff designate, Mark Mellett

The White Paper seeks to set out Ireland’s defence policy framework for the next decade. In the document and based on a forward looking assessment of the security environment, the Government have set out the defence policy response to security challenges, including the defence contribution to international peace and security. To ensure a flexible and adaptive response from Defence, the White Paper provides for regular reviews of defence requirements.

As noted above, the preparation of the White Paper was informed by a wide-ranging consultation process, and at the outset, the Minister acknowledged the contributions made noting; “The Government sought the views of a wide range of stakeholders and there has been an extensive consultative process which has shaped the policy decisions contained in this White Paper. I would like to thank all of those that contributed their views”.

He added “The White Paper on Defence provides clear direction and a pragmatic approach to defence and to ensuring that we can continue to reflect with pride on the service provided by the Defence Forces to the security of the State. The approaches in the White Paper reflect the wider Defence and Security Policy framework and the increasingly complex nature of security threats in the world today and the need for a full spectrum comprehensive response”.

In highlighting the wide range of other supports provided by Defence he stated “The Defence Forces will also continue to provide a broad range of ‘non-security’ supports to other Government departments and agencies. This approach minimises the duplication of service provision and ensures that the State gets additional value for money from defence expenditure.”

White Paper - Some of those in attedance (IMG5054 JL)

Some of those in attendance

In commenting on future capability requirements the Minister said “The White Paper sets out the roles that Government have assigned to the Defence Forces and considers associated capability requirements. It sets out decisions on the replacement of major equipment platforms for the next decade and other priorities for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service. This will guide long term defence planning.” He also went on to outline several new initiatives for Defence, which will be considered later. The full document, which runs to over 130 pages is available here, but for the moment, we will consider the main points only and mainly from an aviation perspective, based on a perusal of the document, presentations made at the launch and replies to specific questions put to the Minister by us.

Format and outline of the White Paper

The document is divided into ten chapters plus appendices and introductions by both Minister Coveney and An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. The White Paper firstly considers the security environment: it then sets out the Government’s policy response before moving on to consider capability requirements and implementation issues. The White Paper also has specific chapters dealing with Civil Defence and the Reserve Defence Forces.

Apart from considering National Security, from the perspective of external threats, it also considers the defence contribution to domestic security, principally in support of other government departments and Agencies, as well as the broad range of non-security related roles which facilitates the elimination of duplication of service provision by the State and promotes enduring savings to the exchequer. Chapter 5 sets out the revised roles of the Defence Forces, while the following chapter set out the capability issues for the coming decade, including major equipment projects, whilst recognising that there is a requirement to adopt a flexible and responsive approach.

Revised roles of the Defence Forces

Having set out the defence policy response to the security challenges identified and other government requirements for defence, the White Paper consolidates those requirements into revised roles for the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) and the Reserve Defence Force (RDF). At first glance, these seem little different from the roles set out in the 2000 White Paper, however a detailed reading of the relevant chapters is needed to fully understand the subtle differences in the roles as described below:-

Roles of the PDF:

  • To provide for the military defence of the State from armed aggression;
  • To participate in multi-national peace support, crisis management and humanitarian relief operations in accordance with Government direction and legislative provision;
  • To aid the civil power – meaning in practice to assist, when requested, An Garda Síochána, who have primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State;
  • To contribute to maritime security encompassing the delivery of a fishery protection service and the operation of the State’s Fishery Monitoring Centre, and in co-operation with other agencies with responsibilities in the maritime domain, to contribute to a shared common maritime operational picture;
  • To participate in the Joint Taskforce on Drugs interdiction;
  • To contribute to national resilience through the provision of specified defence aid to the civil authority (ATCA) supports to lead agencies in response to major emergencies, including cyber security emergencies, and in the maintenance of essential services, as set out in MOUs and SLAs agreed by the Department of Defence;
  • To provide a Ministerial air transport service (MATS);
  • To provide ceremonial services on behalf of Government;
  • To provide a range of other supports to government departments and agencies in line with MOUs and SLAs agreed by the Department of Defence e.g. search and rescue and air ambulance services;
  • To contribute to Ireland’s economic well-being through engagement with industry, research and development and job initiatives, in support of government policy;
  • To fulfil any other tasks that Government may assign from time to time.

Roles of the RDF:

  • To augment the PDF in crisis situations;
  • To contribute to state ceremonial events.

Capability Requirements

Having set out a comprehensive set of operational requirements that the Government require the Defence Forces to be able to undertake, the White Paper looks at the defence capabilities needed to achieve these requirements. Military capability can be defined as: the ability to attain operational success for a given scenario, achieving desired effects under specified standards and conditions through combinations of ways and means. These ‘ways and means’ include, but are not limited to; investment in new equipment, education and training, maintenance and development of infrastructure, ongoing review of military doctrine, the development of appropriate HR policies and the development of regulatory frameworks.

White Paper - Minister Simon Coveney, Lt Gen Conor O'Boyle & Maurice Quinn (IMG5133 JL)

Minister Simon Coveney with Lt. Gen. Conor O’Boyle & Maurice Quinn

Obviously there is a balance to be struck between being overly prescriptive regarding future capability requirements and having sufficient detail in order to allow for prudential capability planning. This is particularly true for the prioritisation and procurement of major equipment and platform items, which can have a lead time of several years. Here there may be some dispute as whether the White Paper has struck the right balance. While a number of key decisions have been outlined in the document following detailed work undertaken by the civil-military teams, it admits that “further work will be required in order to identify additional capability priorities over the life-time of the White Paper”.

The White Paper looks in some detail under the heading of ‘capabilities’ at issues such as:-

  • Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance,
  • High Level Command and Control,
  • Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) and Cyber Defence.
  • Interoperability and what is described as ‘Jointness’ (the ability bring elements of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service together to deliver effects in operations in a coordinated and cohesive manner),

It then goes on to look at each of the three services in detail. For the sake of brevity we will look principally at the capabilities required for the Air Corps.


Air Corps Capability Requirements

The Air Corps will continue to operate a range of rotary and fixed wing aircraft, within “existing organisational structures”. The principal aim over the lifetime of the White Paper will be to ensure that the Air Corps can continue to undertake the “required military operations” and to deliver a “broad range of air supports to other government departments and agencies in line with MOUs and SLAs”. To achieve this it has set out key equipment requirements. Should additional funding, beyond that required to “maintain existing capabilities” become available, the development of a radar surveillance capability is a priority for the Air Corps.

  • Maritime Patrolling and ISTAR (Information, Surveillance, Target acquisition and Reconnaissance): The Air Corps currently provides surveillance capacity primarily through two CASA 235 Maritime Patrol aircraft and five Cessna FR-172 aircraft. The CASA 235s are due for replacement in 2019. Consideration of their replacement with “larger more capable aircraft” is proposed. This would enhance maritime surveillance and provide “a greater degree of utility for transport and cargo carrying tasks”. The existing five Cessnas, which are currently (over) due for replacement, will be replaced “with three larger aircraft suitably equipped for ISTAR tasks”.
  • Air Combat: The existing Pilatus PC9 aircraft provide only a very limited air to air and air to ground capacity and these are due for replacement in 2025. The development of a more capable air combat/intercept capability “will be considered as part of the White Paper update”.
  • Air Mobility: The existing helicopter fleet will continue to deliver the required Defence Forces support and other support capabilities over the lifetime of the White Paper. The CASA 235s and their replacements will continue to provide additional air transport capacity. A replacement for the Learjet 45, which provides the current MATS service and which is due for replacement in 2024, will be considered by an interdepartmental high-level group of officials, chaired by the Department of Defence which is reviewing “the medium to long term options for the future provision of an independent off-island air transport service for high level delegations” and a decision on the Learjet 45 “will be informed by the recommendations of this group”.
  • Garda Air Support Unit (GASU): The GASU service will continue to be operated by An Garda Síochána and the Air Corps in accordance with arrangements formalised by way of a Service Level Agreement (SLA). The support provided by the Air Corps to the GASU includes provision of hangar facilities and pilots for all GASU aircraft and for the servicing and maintenance of the fixed wing Defender 4000 aircraft. The arrangements in place for the servicing and maintenance of the Defender aircraft will be reviewed in the coming years as changes occur to the current composition of the GASU fleet.
  • Air Ambulance: The establishment of a permanent Emergency Aeromedical Support (EAS), as provided as a pilot by the Air Corps, was approved by Government in July 2015. The Government’s decision provided that whilst the current service model will continue, the service will be subject to ongoing review in the context of ensuring “a sustainable long term service arrangement”. The separate emergency inter-hospital transfer service within Ireland and to the United Kingdom in support of the HSE will continue to be provided on an “as available basis” only and is not a dedicated service.

Separately and in relation to the Naval Service, the White Paper confirms the need to replace the LÉ Eithne, which is the current flagship and a Helicopter Patrol Vessels (HPV), with a multi-role vessel (MRV). Whilst this ship will not carry a helicopter, it will be “enabled for helicopter operations” and will also have a freight carrying capacity. It is the Government’s intent that this new vessel will provide “a flexible and adaptive capability for a wide range of maritime tasks, both at home and overseas”.

Capability Development Plan

While the White Paper sets out Government decisions regarding key equipment and priorities over its lifetime, there are a range of other equipment requirements that are not set out in detail. The White Paper commits the Department of Defence to “develop a detailed capability development plan building on the work completed as part of the White Paper process”.

It is clear however, that given the significant reduction of capital funding over the past 7 years, that developing and maintaining infrastructure (all buildings and permanent installations), will be very challenging over the lifetime of this White Paper. There is a requirement for example, to carry out major building refurbishment in a number of areas, including Haulbowline and Casement Aerodrome and there is a need to develop within the Department of Defence, “a coordinated infrastructure development plan”. The Government are committed to maintaining a PDF establishment of at least 9,500 serving personnel” and in particular to enhance the capabilities of the Army Ranger Wing in particular with the aim of increasing the strength of the unit considerably. The Minister was very clear on the need to expand the Special Forces concept provided by the Army Ranger wing from its small base of around 140 by up to 50%. He also saw the 9,500 figure as a “benchmark minimum” with the potential for improvement when finances allow.

While there is no mention in the section on the Reserve to the Air Corps, when questioned on the subject the Minister confirmed that there was no plan to create an Air Corps reserve. His priority was to get the existing Reserve structures “right”. However in relation to building the capacity of the Air Corps to serve overseas the Minister was more positive saying that Air Corps deployment was on the table with “a suitable mission being considered” in the near term.

White Paper Implementation

The White Paper is aimed at securing a robust and sustainable approach to defence for the period ahead and the arrangements for implementation involve, what were described as, “some significant innovations directed at achieving this”. The principal elements relate to civil and military management, defence review arrangements, funding and implementation frameworks. Unfortunately these ‘innovations’ are something of a “work in progress”, as much of the detail is the subject of ongoing working groups and even the White Paper implementation process will “include appropriate review mechanisms to provide for policy revision or recalibration” in the form of “new fixed cycle of defence reviews”.

Each three years there will be a White Paper update – this will consider progress made up to that time and consider any revisions required. It will commence in the second-half of the third year of the cycle. Each alternate three-year review will commence in the first half of the third year of that cycle and be more comprehensive in nature and be styled ‘a strategic defence review’. Under this programmed approach, the first White Paper update would commence in July 2018 and the strategic defence review would commence in early 2021. ‘Strategic defence reviews’ are not uncommon in other countries, but experience in the UK have shown that in most cases there are little more than cost cutting exercises and mechanisms for ditching previous policy commitments. This is particularly true where Governments change.

AW-139, 275, on the ramp at Baldonnel

AW-139, 275, on the ramp at Baldonnel

However key to implementation is Defence funding and while it is recognised that “significant additional funding is required simply to maintain existing levels of capability and associated operational outputs”, again ‘the can has been kicked down the road’, with the “establishment of a specific defence funding study to capture in a new way the expected long-term costs of meeting Ireland’s defence requirements using a ten year planning horizon”. There is no mention of a fixed percentage of GDP, for example, even though it is recognised that “Ireland’s investment in defence is low relative to international comparison and as with other areas of government expenditure has been reduced very considerably in the period since 2008”. While this study is to be completed by the end of the year and while there are vague references to the “scope to explore new funding models potentially involving public – private partnerships, leasing and lease-back or other sources such as the European Investment Bank”, there are no concrete funding models proposed other than the discredited policy of linking investment decisions to disposal of infrastructure, described by one commentator, as the “sell a site and buy a gun” policy. The total realised from 1998 to date in terms of sales of surplus property is €108m approx. and only a portion of this was retained and re-invested in providing equipment and new infrastructure for the Defence Forces. In addition, some of these properties were turned over for public use by local authorities or in the education sector, free, or well below their market value, while others were allowed to fall into ruin thereby reducing their value. Apparently the best that can be achieved is that “100% of any such receipts are to be reinvested in the defence capital programme and necessary adjustments will be made in financial provisions”.

As part of the new initiatives for Defence, the White Paper includes a proposal for an Institute for Peace Support and Leadership training with a focus on international education in the field of peacekeeping and conflict resolution. It also includes a proposal for a new employment support scheme, with the direct involvement of the Defence Forces, aimed at people in the 18-24 age group, who might otherwise struggle to break out of cycles of disadvantage. It is intended to initiate a pilot scheme in 2016. The Minister described the latter as part of the Defence Forces “social responsibility” but to be honest this “social responsibility” could be better provided with an additional helicopter to enhance air ambulance.


While the White Paper is definitely welcome and while the Minister’s enthusiasm and commitment is almost infectious, without proper funding mechanisms it could remain largely aspirational. The lack of commitment to funding is probably the most disappointing aspect of what is well thought out and considered document. Should the Government or indeed the Minister change, there is very little of tangible commitments to sustain the Defence Forces over the ten year life time of the plan. So in summary and after a lot of hard work, the best that can be said, and borrowing the 2002 Fianna Fáil election slogan to sum up the White Paper, ‘A Lot Done , More to Do’.

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About the Author

Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.

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