Published on October 24th, 2016 | by Jim Lee0
Irish Defence budget increases but is it enough?
On 11th October, the Minister of State with responsibility for the Department of Defence, Paul Kehoe, announced the allocation of €922 million in Defence funding for 2017. This, he said, “represents a significant increase of over €16 million on the corresponding 2016 allocation and will allow Defence to deliver on the commitments outlined in the White Paper on Defence”.
He added that the “Defence Force personnel are highly professional, possessing the operational skills, commitment and dedication required to undertake the roles assigned to them by Government, both at home and overseas. The increased 2017 Defence allocation will ensure that the Defence Forces have the necessary resources and capabilities to allow them to undertake these roles.”
The White Paper on Defence identified and prioritised the need for capital investment, on a broad range of replacement defensive equipment programmes, and on upgrading the Defence Forces Built Infrastructure. It was however a fairly minimalist approach and the extra investment promised, merely seeks to provide the basic requirements, rather than any real increase in capability.
On the equipment front, the immediate requirement is to ensure that the Defence Forces can continue to undertake the tasks that are required of them. This will require replacement of significant equipment platforms over the life-time of the White Paper as follows:
- Upgrade or replacement of the Army’s fleet of armoured personnel carriers (APCs);
- Further enhancement of the capabilities of the Army Ranger Wing, in particular with the aim of increasing the strength of the Unit considerably;
- Replacement of a further three Naval Service vessels – LÉ (Long Éireann/Irish ship) Eithne, LÉ Ciara and LÉ Orla;
- Replacement of the Air Corps Cessna fleet and CASA maritime patrol aircraft.
Air Corps continues to see reductions in the number of available airframes
This minimalist approach to improving capability has meant in the Air Corps for example, to serious reductions in the number of airframes operated. This is based on the theory that more modern types can replace a larger a number of older ones. This theory of course is only valid for the initial years of a new types operation, because as they age, the cycle of fewer airframes available and less capability, will continue.
In addition, the long lead in of new equipment does not help. Look at the Air Corps Cessna’s, the first four ‘203’ – ‘206’, were delivered on the 4th October 1972, with the remaining four, ‘207’ – ‘210’, following on 13th October. That’s now over 44 years ago and the fleet has progressively fallen to just five examples (‘203’, ‘205’ ‘206’, ‘208’ and, ‘210’). They are scheduled to be replaced with three larger aircraft suitably equipped for ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) tasks. Given the normal cycle of maintenance, it is likely that the Air Corps will only have two available at any one time. Progress on their acquisition has been particularly slow, back in May for example, the Department was saying that the tender documentation was currently being prepared and was expected “to be initiated and advertised on the e-tenders website in the near future”, five months later, no sign of the tender.
Helicopters, which are vitally importance to a small military force such as Ireland, have also seen a massive decline in the number rotary fleet airframes available. From a high of 16 helicopters in the fleet, the number has fallen to just eight, two EC 135 and six AW 139 and these are expected to continue to deliver the required Defence Forces training and other support capabilities, over the lifetime of the White Paper (i.e. for at least the next ten years).
The two CASA Maritime Patrol Aircraft are due for replacement in 2019. The White Paper provides that these will be replaced with “consideration given to their replacement with larger more capable aircraft to enhance maritime surveillance and to provide a greater degree of utility for transport and cargo carrying tasks”. The seven Pilatus PC9 aircraft, which operate as the main pilot training aircraft for the Air Corps, are not due for replacement until 2025.
Even if additional funding were to become available, (beyond that required to replace existing capabilities), the equipment priorities have already been identified. These include improved radar surveillance capability for the Air Corps, further vessels for the Naval Service and additional armoured vehicles and air defence capabilities for the Army.
In spite of these restrictions, there might be some opportunities to improve the airframe situation, albeit it marginally. There have been reports that the Air Corps may acquire an attrition replacement for the Pilatus PC-9, ‘265’, which crashed at Crumlin East, Cornamona, Connemara, Co. Galway, just over seven years ago, on 12th October 2009. Air Corps sources have indicated that consideration is being given to acquiring Fuerza Aerea Mexicana (FAM) example ‘2601’ (c/n 669). Mexico was the last customer to receive the PC-9 in September 2006 and had intended to replace its entire training fleet of PC-7s with the type. However, difficulties with the use of the type in the counter insurgency role, led to an embargo by Switzerland, and only two were delivered. The other aircraft, ‘2602’, was written off in a training accident on 14th of September 2011.
In response to the Swiss embargo, in January 2012, Hawker Beechcraft sold six new T-6C+ military trainers in an initial order and that fleet has subsequently been expanded to 28. The PC-9 is therefore surplus to requirements. An Air Corps spokesperson, in reply to our enquiry, confirmed the Air Corps interest, and indicated that the aircraft would be acquired “if the government make the money available.” It looks therefore, as it will be case of let’s wait and see!
A more detailed look at the 2017 Defence allocation
In his statement, Minister Kehoe, emphasised the importance of the additional €7 million in capital funding, allocated to the Defence Vote for next year, over the €67 million originally provided for 2017, in the 2016 – 2021 Capital Plan. He stated: “As indicated by its approval of the White Paper on Defence, this Government remains supportive of the role played by the Defence Forces. This support is further evidenced by the provision of an additional €7 million in capital funding to the Defence Vote in 2017, funding which will go towards priority equipment and infrastructural programmes.”
The Minister’s comments should be seen in the context that the combined 2017 defence allocation of just €922 million is comprised of €692 million on defence, (Vote 36), and €230 million on Army pensions (Vote 35). This represents only an increase of €10 million within the defence Vote and €6 million within the Army pension Vote in 2017. Of this, some €497 million is provided to allow for the pay and allowances for up to 9,500 Permanent Defence Force personnel, 550 civilian employees and 350 civil servants. Funding of over €2 million for the Reserve Defence Force is included in the allocation.
In 2016 the combined estimates for defence and Army pensions provided for gross expenditure of €906 million. Of that, €682 million was allocated to Vote 36 – Defence, with more than 72% of the defence Vote going towards providing for pay and allowances. €68 million has been provided as the 2016 capital allocation for the purchase and upgrade of military equipment, necessary building and maintenance works, and ICT projects.
Given to its high profile in the Mediterranean, and the pressing need for ongoing Naval Service fleet replacement, it is not surprising the 2017 budgetary allocation will contribute towards the purchase of an additional ship, due for delivery in 2018. Not surprisingly, in his statement, Minister Kehoe highlighted, the role played by the Naval Service in their continued deployment to the Mediterranean, which has resulted in the rescue of over 13,400 migrants, which clearly demonstrates the value of Ireland’s involvement in this important humanitarian response.
In the longer term, Defence has been allocated €437 million, as part of the 2016-2021 Capital Spending Plan, an additional €65 million provision over this timeframe.
Naval Service Vessel Replacement Programme will continue to soak up major investment
The White Paper on Defence recognised that a minimum eight ship flotilla would be required to ensure the operational capability of the Naval Service. Currently the eight vessels in the flotilla are (oldest to newest) LÉ Eithne, LÉ Orla, LÉ Ciara, LÉ Roisin, LÉ Niamh, LÉ Samuel Beckett LÉ James Joyce and LÉ William Butler Yeats. LÉ William Butler Yeats was commissioned into operational service in the Naval Service in Galway on 17th October 2016 and replaced the recently decommissioned LÉ Aisling. The commissioning included a flypast by four PC-9s, (‘261’, ‘263’ ‘264’ and ‘266’)
Over the past three years, the ship replacement programme has seen the delivery of three new vessels, as part of a contract placed in October 2010, with Babcock Marine, UK, initially for the provision of two new Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) with the option, subsequently exercised, for a third OPV. Of the original two, LÉ Samuel Beckett was named and commissioned in May 2014 and LÉ James Joyce was named and commissioned in September 2015. The value of the three-ship contract was €199.4 million, inclusive of VAT.
In June 2016, agreement was reached with the company for the provision for an additional ship for the Naval Service, also to be built in their facility in Appledore, Devon. The ship will be the same class as the earlier three. The agreed contract value for the further ship was €66.78 million inclusive of VAT and delivery is expected in 2018. The requirement for a fourth ship is regarded as urgent and expedient given the age of the older remaining ships in the fleet, LÉ Orla, LÉ Ciara and LÉ Eithne, all of which are over thirty years of age, having been built in 1984.
The White Paper provides for the replacement of the current flagship, LÉ Eithne, with a multi-roled vessel (MRV). In addition, the two existing Coastal Patrol Vessels (CPVs), LÉ Ciara and LÉ Orla are due for replacement in the coming years. The White Paper provides that these ships will be replaced with similar type vessels with countermine and counter IED capabilities.
Speaking in the Dáil on 27th September, the Minister said that work had “commenced in the Department of Defence on further ship acquisition. The specifications for the replacement vessels will be drawn up and a public tender competition will be instigated to cover the supply of such future ships within the overall available funding envelope.” He added that “the Programme for Government also mentions the acquisition of a ninth ship for the Naval Service. This will be considered in detail in the normal way taking account of the overall ship renewal plan and the progression of the planning exercises.”
Given that last four ships cost over €260 million, providing four more will cost at least €300 million, depending on the final specifications for the MRV and the CPVs. Therefore, it is clear that Naval Service vessel replacement programme will continue to soak up major investment, over the lifetime of the White Paper.
This means that the improved radar surveillance capability for the Air Corps, much needed investment such as a new control tower at Baldonnel, and improved hangarage, never mind further aircraft, cannot be realistically achieved without the commitment of further funding. Given that level of expenditure on Defence, expressed as a percentage of Gross National Product, has fallen since 2011 when it was 0.7%, to 0.5% in 2015, this is highly unlikely.
How can we meet other threats such as cyber security?
The White Paper recognised that Ireland, like most of Europe, has a highly developed infrastructure that is, in most cases, almost entirely dependent on information and communication technologies (ICT). Critical national infrastructure such as energy, water, social welfare, telecommunications, banking and healthcare are dependent on ICT not just to operate effectively, but to operate at all. It also recognised that cyber threat exists for government and public utilities as well as for commercial entities and individuals. The Government has decided that the primary focus of the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces, will nevertheless, remain the protection of Defence networks. In relation to specific assistance from the Defence Organisation, two members of the Defence Forces have been seconded to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT-IE). Also, as in any emergency/crisis situation, once Defence systems are supported, the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces will provide support to the CSIRT-IE team in so far as resources allow.
Across the water, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP, have taken the issue more seriously, with announced on 20th October, that the UK will invest up to £265 million (around €297.8 million), to boost the defence of military cyber systems, The investment, which supports the new Cyber Vulnerability Investigations (CVI) programme, will help the MoD better understand cyber risks.
Speaking at the second International Cyber Symposium, Mr Fallon said it will also help the MoD ensure that resilience to cyber-attack is built-in, when buying equipment in future. He went on; “Cyber-attack is one of the greatest challenges to our security. It’s crucial we use our increasing defence budget to stay ahead and investing in this programme will help us protect against these threats”.
The programme will complement the work of the Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC), the £40 million (around €44.96 million) facility, announced in April, to use state-of-the-art cyber capabilities, to protect the MOD’s cyberspace from malicious actors.
The programme has also benefited from detailed analysis across the full range of potential cyber-attacks, meaning it is dynamic and can be applied to all aspects of MoD digital systems. The funding follows the UK and US signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work more closely together to overcome the growing cyber risk.
Separately the UK and France have also confirmed greater co-operation to defeat this threat under the Lancaster House Agreement.
On 19th January 2015 the Irish Minister for Defence and his UK counterpart signed a MoU between the Department of Defence, Ireland and the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence on the enhancement of bilateral engagement on certain aspects of Security and Defence Cooperation.
The MoU provides that the participants prepare a three-year Action Plan that contains the programme of bilateral cooperation activities for the forthcoming year and sets the intent for the succeeding two years. Various actions provided for within the plan, which is divided thematically into Policy, Land, Air and Maritime activities, are currently being advanced. Hopefully Ireland may be able to benefit from the UK’s investment in cyber security in the future.
UK also investing in a joint Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) programme with France
Also on 20th October, the UK Minister for Defence Procurement Harriett Baldwin launched the next phase of a €150 million (around €168.59 million) joint Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) programme alongside her French counterpart, Laurent Collet-Billon.
Working with French allies, the programme will develop cutting edge maritime mine warfare capability to keep the UK and France at the forefront of autonomous systems technology. The development and deployment of unmanned mine clearance drones will help keep personnel safe in challenging maritime environments. This is another programme that is of potential interest to Ireland.
Led by Thales, this joint programme draws on the expertise of companies from both sides of the Channel to the benefit of both nations. Work will be shared between UK and French supply chains, as will the considerable export opportunities arising from such innovative technology. The programme will secure around 150 jobs across the country, including Somerset, Manchester and Fareham.
As part of the UK’s £178 billion (over €200 billion) equipment plan, the programme will be supported by a defence budget that will rise every year until the end of the decade, meeting the NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence.