Thursday 8 December 2016

Defence industry to use Irish military to test more products under Coveney plan

Defence Minister aims to boost links with innovative research companies

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney with the crew of the LE Eithne in Valetta last week
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney with the crew of the LE Eithne in Valetta last week

The international defence industry is to have increased access to the Irish Defence Forces for product testing, under plans to be brought to Cabinet next week by Minister for Defence Simon Coveney.

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The Minister has been working on a White Paper setting out his aims.

"We are planning to do a lot more of it, to actually link defence infrastructure and the skillset of the defence forces, with innovators in the private sector so that actually we can create products that are good for defence," Coveney told the Sunday Independent.

"Also we can potentially develop products that can be put to good use in the market for the private sector as well."

Companies that have worked with the Irish military thus far include American manufacturer Moog, whose products are used in missiles, military and commercial aircraft, satellites and space vehicles, launch vehicles, industrial machinery, wind energy, marine applications, and medical equipment. The company worked with the Irish Defence Forces on "an efficient dockyard logistic supply-chain management system".

Kerry-based Reamda worked with the military on a project that "developed the software and hardware for weapons simulators", and law-enforcement agencies and security services from the UK, France, Germany and Spain worked on a project to develop "novel monitoring systems and miniaturised sensors that improve evidence gathering abilities."

The defence forces have also been involved in the 'CBRN Triage' project, which aimed to develop tools for detection, traceability, triage and individual monitoring of victims of a mass chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear contamination or exposure.

A Department of Defence spokesperson told the Sunday Independent that in July 2011, "the Government approved arrangements whereby Enterprise Ireland would support the Department of Defence and Defence Forces' capability development, by raising awareness of and engaging with, Irish-based enterprise and research activities. In turn, the Defence Forces would provide information and knowledge from its own experience on the use and application of innovative civilian technologies in the military sphere.

"The Defence Forces have also been part of consortiums in bids for Horizon 2020 funding - these consortiums would not be limited to Irish companies. Horizon 2020 is an EU Research and Innovation programme with approximately €80bn in funding and runs from 2014 to 2020."

Coveney said that "one of the ideas and policy commitments in the White Paper for Defence is very much about trying to plug in innovators and entrepreneurs, obviously in a controlled and managed way, to the infrastructure that is there in the Defence Forces, in a way that can help those innovators develop... but also can have a broader application as well and obviously can lead to company growth and job creation and so on.

"There's a company that's actually designing unmanned aircraft or drone technology to actually use off the deck of ships to be able to observe what fishing boats or doing, or what boats that might be suspected or carrying drugs or whatever are doing. So you can actually send a drone over to look at them before you actually launch a rig.

"That type of unmanned drone is also being used in the army in terms of securing targets."

Coveney said the plans wouldn't involve the testing of weapons like guns or rocket launchers.

"There's a kind of a principled view, and it's been the case in Ireland for a long time, that we don't develop weapons here. We're not really part of the arms industry in this country. What we are is we have a very advanced software industry in Ireland - we have very good designers, and that's why you're seeing IT developments around telecommunications, around drone technology, around kite technology and power from that, around improving observation both at sea and in the air. You're also seeing developments around submarine technology in Ireland at the moment, again. unmanned submarines. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on.

"We're testing kite technology from the decks of ships to be able to put improved observation cameras on kites to actually significantly improve the capacity of ships to push their horizon back in terms of what they're seeing.

"There are some in the naval service who think that we'll be able to use kite technology to power ships in the future to be able to reduce the volumes of fuel that we're using when we have patrols up and down the West."

Coveney was speaking ahead of the publication of new economic research that estimated the Government's plan for the marine industry could deliver more than 29,000 additional jobs and as much as an additional €2.7bn in economic growth by 2020.

Coveney said that Galway Bay has been "wired up to sensors all over the bay, that's actually sensoring in real time, water temperature, water quality, tidal movements, basically everything that you can observe in a bay like Galway Bay, and that's going to be extended out into the Atlantic.

"When you consider that we have a fleet of eight ships that are at sea a lot of the time, we can certainly connect some of the technologies in the marine space that we're looking to develop and hone and innovate around. We can use that naval infrastructure and that ship infrastructure to be able to do a lot of that work.

"And likewise, we can do the same in the Curragh with the Army, and also potentially with the Air Corps."

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