The Naval Service could have a new multi-role vessel (MRV) built and operational wthin the next three years.
A delegation is set to visit New Zealand shortly to look at a warship which could become a blueprint for the new ship — and could cost up to €200m to construct.
A small group consisting of Department of Defence officials and experts from the Defence Forces have been invited by the New Zealand government to inspect HMNZS Canterbury, which was designed by the New Zealand navy.
An MRV could measure up to 150m in length, dwarfing the navy’s largest vessel which is 90m long.
It is intended that it will replace the ageing LÉ Niamh as the navy’s flagship.
The MRV could easily accommodate a whole infantry company and all its equipment, who could be launched onshore by landing craft. The ship would also have the capability to launch helicopters from its flight deck.
Former taoiseach Enda Kenny referred to the need to purchase a multi-functional ship, which could also include a mini onboard hospital, when he commissioned LÉ William Butler Yeats last year.
Following the Budget, Paul Kehoe, minister with responsibility for the Defence Forces, said additional capital funding secured by the Department of Defence would allow it to commence the “process of procuring” an MRV.
The New Zealand ship has been deployed successfully on humanitarian missions, especially to providing help following natural disasters which hit neighbouring countries in recent years.
Once the inspection of the Canterbury is completed, representatives of the Naval Service, Army and Air Corps will sit down and come up with a design which is mutually acceptable for tripartite operations on the vessel.
Defence Forces sources said the ship will need to be adapted for flexible operations, which will include rapid deployment in crisis areas, be they military or humanitarian operations.
Not only could the vessel be used overseas, but it could be deployed for disaster relief here, as well as drug shipment interceptions and more routine duties such as fishery protection.
A source said a Canterbury-type ship was “very much along the lines of what we want”. The Naval Service is already at its most modern since its foundation in 1946.
The fourth new ship for the fleet, LÉ George Bernard Shaw, costing €67m, is currently being constructed at a shipyard in Appledore, Devon, and will be delivered to the Naval Service next summer.
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