There are critical shortages of officers in all sections of the Defence Forces, forcing junior officers to act up and becoming overstressed, while others are often "double and treble-jobbing" to cover the gaps.
The exodus from the Defence Forces for better pay and conditions in the private sector goes on unabated, with repeated calls for the Department of Defence to address it falling on deaf ears, according to RACO general secretary, Comdt Conor King.
He told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade & Defence that 3,200 personnel left the Defence Forces between 2014 and 2018, which is an astonishing 34.7% of the average strength for those years.
"The Army is struggling to fulfill its assigned tasks, domestically and internationally. Ships are unable to go to sea and aircraft are not flying as a result of personnel shortages," the officer said.
Comdt King said the Department of Defence had removed retention initiatives for pilots, leading to a situation "where the Air Corps is on its knees".
The Air Corps only has 70% of the pilots it needs and has just 60 of air traffic controllers.
The Naval Service diving section has 33% of the officers it requires and just 36% of marine engineers.
Comdt King said he was aware of one Army unit which only had one captain where there should be eight and one barracks where there was one commandant instead of five.
He said it cost an enormous amount of money to train specialists and every effort should be made to retain them.
For example, it costs €1.54m to train an Ordnance Bomb Disposal Officer to captain rank and €1.72m to train and Air Corps captain.
"The cost of training one officer cadet is estimated at over €100,000 per student. At what point of dysfunction will management favour retention over the continual failing demands of recruitment," Comdt King said.
Instead of concentrating on retention, he said the department was happy to spend millions on recruitment campaigns which aren't working.
"The Defence Forces attempted to induct a similar number of candidates through a highly visible and professional recruitment campaign last year. Frighteningly, we saw a net loss of 120 personnel," Comdt King said.
RACO maintain at the current rate of exodus and recruitment it will take up to 2035 before the Defence Forces reach their proper minimum strength of 9,500 personnel.
Comdt King said a comprehensive external review, similar in nature and scope to the Gleeson Commission in 1990, or the recent Commission on Future Policing "should now be considered by Government where management are unable or unwilling to address the underlying organisational issues."