Government urged to purchase fighter jets to protect Irish airspace 

Government urged to purchase fighter jets to protect Irish airspace 

A report by the Commission on the Defence Forces suggests the air corps should get between 12 and 24 jet fighters.

The Government has been urged to purchase up to 24 fighter jets as part of a multi-billion euro package to enable the country to counter terrorist hijackings and hostile incursions into our airspace.

A report by the Commission on the Defence Forces recommends three options as part of a wide-ranging programme of reform of the military, saying Ireland is ill-equipped to deal with the increasing threats from Islamic and right-wing extremists and the activities of Russia and China.

The first option looks at maintaining the Defence Forces in its current form but increasing spending by tens of millions of euros on the current budget of €1.1bn.

The second option would enable the Defence Forces to hire more people and to purchase the likes of radar equipment and military aircraft. This would cost about €500m extra annually.

The third option significantly increases the Defence Forces capabilities and would involve the purchase of fighter jets. It would cost €3bn each year to fund this.

Manpower shortages

Under this option, the authors of the report believe the naval service fleet should increase to 12 ships, to cover the exclusive economic zone. The navy currently has nine ships, but only five are operational and it is suffering from crippling manpower shortages.

The experts suggest the air corps should get between 12 and 24 jet fighters to protect Irish airspace. Ireland has no jets currently and Britain's royal air force has committed, under a secret deal with our Department of Defence, to police our skies in the event of a terrorist hijacking or incursion by foreign 'hostile' aircraft. 

Recent Russian naval activity off our shores, allied to increased cyberattacks allegedly perpetrated by them, plus the growing global threat of the Chinese military, are spelt out in the report as some of the primary reasons we have to up our defence spending, as we can no longer rely on the US and British to protect us.

It recommends an increase in the number of military personnel to protect against cyberattacks and concludes the Defence Forces needs a minimum strength of 11,500.

It should have a minimum strength of 9,500 currently but is about 1,000 short of that figure.

Poor pay and conditions

Poor pay and conditions have been cited constantly in recent years by the two Defence Forces' representative associations — Raco for the officers and PDForra for enlisted personnel — as being the reason so many highly trained soldiers, sailors, and aircrews are bailing out for better careers in the private sector.

The Reserve Defence Forces has also been decimated by a lack of Government funding, leaving the country even more vulnerable in the event of attacks.

The report also states that more helicopters should be purchased for our military to enable rapid response to emergencies and it is suggested that a cohort of the elite army ranger wing be stationed at the naval service headquarters in Haulbowline Island, Co Cork, in case of offshore attacks on our vulnerable southern coastline.

Experts also agree that Ireland is currently over-committed to peacekeeping duties overseas because of the lack of personnel.

Defence spending here is just 0.27% of GDP, which is the lowest percentage of any of the 27 EU member states. The report says Ireland's era of "defence spending on a shoestring is over”. 

It recommends, as a minimum, increasing defence spending by 50% per annum as a first step.

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