The Naval Service is preparing to use drones as part of a plan to improve its surveillance operations while policing the county’s 1 million square kilometres of territorial waters.
The service has already carried out pilot operations with unmanned and unarmed drones, and is planning to launch them from ships and from new runways which are to be built at its headquarters on Haulbowline Island in Cork harbour.
Simon Coveney revealed the planned, extended use of drones yesterday during his first official visit to the navy’s headquarters as minister for defence.
The unmanned aircraft will be used to extend patrol coverage and to aid a number of operations, such as intercepting drugs shipments, fisheries protection, search and rescue missions and pollution monitoring.
Mr Coveney said he expected the service soon to be using kites to improve surveillance and fuel efficiency.
The kites would be floated over the ship and fitted with radar and other sensors which would also enable the navy to extend it monitoring capabilities. The kites will also help cut down on a ship’s fuel usage.
The new landing strips will be built on the former Irish Steel/Irish Ispat site adjacent to the naval base.
The Naval Service is to refurbish quays at the former steel plant which it will use to berth its new ships, which, at 90 metres long, are larger than the older ships in the fleet, some of which are just 65 metres.
The first of the three new ships, LÉ Samuel Beckett, was commissioned last May. Another, LÉ James Joyce is due to be delivered next May and a third, as yet unnamed, is expected to be delivered from Appledore in Devon in spring 2016.
Mr Coveney told newly commissioned officers at a passing out parade yesterday they were joining the Naval Service at a very exciting time and said he believed that the navy would, in the years ahead, become more involved in overseas operations.
He said he was also very excited about the partnerships the navy had embarked on with the National Maritime College, IMERC (the Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Centre) and “a series of companies who are using the naval infrastructure we have to test new technologies”.
Mr Coveney said such collaboration had the potential to generate jobs and income for the state and he said this was, as far as he was aware, unique in the world.
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