THE Government has taken a major step towards preparing the Defence Forces for a key role in Europe.
Defence Minister Willie O'Dea announced yesterday that a multi million euro contract was being placed for the purchase of a fleet of 66 light tactical armoured vehicles.
The vehicles will be used to boost the capability of the Army to carry out a range of tasks, including surveillance, reconnaissance, target acquisition, communications and acting as a weapons platform.
Firms competing for the contract have been told by the Department of Defence that the vehicles must be capable of being adapted for:
* A chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear role in protection and detection.
* The fitting of add-on armour panels without adversely affecting its operational performance.
The criteria are based on an examination of the performance of similar vehicles with other armies in war-torn zones overseas.
The vehicles must be able to be fitted with 12.7mm heavy machineguns, 66mm smoke dischargers for close defence, and 40mm automatic grenade launchers - although the latter are available at present to the elite Army Ranger Wing only.
They must also provide protection against a mine blast and have capability to carry ground surveillance radar equipment.
On a visit to the Defence Forces training headquarters at the Curragh yesterday, Mr O'Dea said the new fleet would complement the work of the 65 Mowag armoured personnel carriers delivered in the past few years at a cost of ?84m.
Department officials this week began issuing documentation to interested suppliers, and proposals must be back in the department early next month with the aim of placing a contract before year-end.