With global security being a key issue in this troubled world, is it time that Ireland makes a commitment to attaining the technology needed to sufficiently defend its airspace? At the present time, Ireland does not have the essential capability to carry out such a task.
Irish airspace is particularly vulnerable and in recent months we have seen Russian aircraft flying through it without their transponders on. An aircraft without a functioning transponder is, to all intents and purposes, completely undetectable to civilian aviation. In an article early last year Dr. Tom Clonan brought light to this shortcoming in our national defence.
The Pilatus PC-9 aircraft currently used by the Air Corps are not interceptor aircraft. In any modern military, even in neutral countries, they play a training/surveillance role.
When two Russian TU-95 aircraft violated Irish airspace last February, the Pilatus PC-9's were useless to intercept them. A quick look at the respective performance abilities of both aircraft will confirm that. The PC-9 has a top operational speed of 320 knots (368 mph), while the TU-95 has a top speed of 520 knots (575 mph). In terms of service ceiling. The PC-9 has a maximum altitude of just over 37,000 feet. On the other hand the TU-95 can operate comfortably up to 45,000 feet.
In terms of an interception, the Russian aircraft would have been too high and too fast for the PC-9 to even hope of getting anywhere close to it. I am not saying we need to compete with even smaller nations when it comes to national defence, but it is imperative that we can secure our airspace. 75% of transatlantic traffic travels through Irish airspace and it is unacceptable that this traffic would be endangered by the presence of an "invisible" Russian bomber. The event last February caused one transatlantic flight to change course and divert to Dublin.
All sovereign states are responsible for the security of their air space. Ireland facilitates a huge bulk of the transatlantic air market every year. We owe it to air passengers to provide a safe airspace for them to travel through.
The picture above of the F/A-18 Hornet used by the Swizz air force is to compare our capabilities with other small and neutral states. The Hornet costs €26 million per unit. It is not a small amount of money I know, but it seems it would be a vital security spend to purchase even two such aircraft. There are other options and of course retired aircraft from other air forces would also be a cheaper option.
Why the Hornet is a good fit is because of its fantastic performance ability. It can serve comfortably up to 50,000 feet. It has a top speed of 1,034 knots (1,190 mph). While the PC-9 can only climb at 4,000 feet per minute, the Hornet can climb 50,000 feet per minute.
Had we possessed such capabilities last February, two Hornets could have been scrambled from Casement Aerodrome and caught up with the Russian aircraft within a matter of minutes. Added to that, the Hornets could have warned the Russian aircraft and, if needed, escort them to Shannon.
This may seem long-winded but it is needed in order to explain the issue. People argue that such an investment in a fast aircraft would be a waste for a neutral country. Others say that it would violate neutrality to have such a capability. However, while the Hornet can carry armaments and can act as a fighter, it can also be used simply as an interceptor aircraft.
At present our neutrality is violated by the lack of such technology. If an aircraft of this type enters Irish airspace, we currently depend on the RAF to follow and intercept it. Should we be outsourcing our defence to another state? This is a key violation of our neutrality and it is something we must change.
We spend as much on our defence as Andorra (a ministate nestled between Spain and France). Since 2008 spending on our defence forces has fallen from €898 million down to €677. With a recovering economy we must invest more into our defence forces. With €150 million earmarked for the navy in the coming years to build three new ships, should we not invest the same amount in the acquisition of five Hornet like aircraft, with the remaining €20 million spent on training a new generation of Irish Air Corps pilots to fly these more modern aircraft?
Ireland spends on welfare, tax breaks and a massive civil service. That's why no air force, no metro in Dublin, water infrastructure falling apart, no new railways since the British left, no new runway for the airport etc.
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