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exclusive Defence Forces admit they cannot meaningfully defend Ireland

Draft report reveals the huge spending needed to enable the State police its territory

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The Russian frigate 'Admiral Kastanov'. Picture by Norwegian Air Force

The Russian frigate 'Admiral Kastanov'. Picture by Norwegian Air Force

The 'Ustinov' is the third largest vessel in Russia's Northern Fleet. Picture by Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP

The 'Ustinov' is the third largest vessel in Russia's Northern Fleet. Picture by Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP

The Northern Fleet cruiser 'Marshal Ustinov'. Picture by Norwegian Air Force

The Northern Fleet cruiser 'Marshal Ustinov'. Picture by Norwegian Air Force

The Russian navy rescue tug SB-406. Picture by Norwegian Air Force

The Russian navy rescue tug SB-406. Picture by Norwegian Air Force

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The Russian frigate 'Admiral Kastanov'. Picture by Norwegian Air Force

The Defence Forces have admitted they are not adequately prepared to meaningfully defend Ireland against an outside attack, according to a draft report into the future of the military.

The Sunday Independent can reveal the Commission on the Defence Forces will find “striking gaps” in the State’s capacity to police its air and maritime areas of responsibility, and to protect its national security from external incursion by sea or air.

It will recommend the most far-reaching reform of the Defence Forces in the history of the State — including a major overhaul of its command and control structures, potentially reducing peacekeeping missions, renaming the Irish Air Corps, Naval Service and Army Ranger Wing, and increasing the country’s overall defence capability by as much as trebling the military’s budget.

It comes after Defence Minister Simon Coveney confirmed Russia is to relocate its military drills outside Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Ireland has no primary radar system — which means it has effectively no capacity to carry out detailed surveillance on the Russian ships, instead relying on Nato navies. The report will recommend obtaining greater surveillance capabilities.

Significantly, a draft of the commission’s report is understood to contain an admission from the Defence Forces that the army’s own assessment is that it “is not equipped, postured or realistically prepared to conduct a meaningful defence of the State against a full spectrum force for any sustained period”.

The report, which is due to be finalised and sent to Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister Simon Coveney this week, will find that Ireland can expect to face a growing risk of becoming a target of hybrid aggression, either against the country itself or against the EU as a whole.

It will also call into question the future of Irish peacekeeping missions, noting that the Defence Forces have been staffed and equipped for overseas taskings rather than defending the State from external attack.

The current level of troop commitment to peacekeeping and crisis-management overseas places a significant strain on the army, the report will find. It will warn that the Government will have to make decisions in the near future about Ireland’s capacity and appetite to take on more high-intensity peacekeeping missions.

The commission will set out three options or levels of ambition for the future of the Defence Forces, in order for it to be capable of defending the State, its people and its resources. Two options recommend increasing defence spending by anything between 50pc and 300pc over the next decade.

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Ireland currently spends less on its military than many of its peers in northern and western Europe.

The report will recommend an urgent overhaul of the command-and-control structures of the Defence Forces, which would see the creation of the new position of Chief of Defence. There would be a new joint strategic headquarters with the commanders of the army, navy and air force all of equal rank, reporting into the Chief of Defence, who would be the overall commander of the military. Such a move would require legislative changes.

The report will also recommend renaming the Irish Air Corps the Irish Air Force and the Irish Naval Service the Irish Navy, while the Army Ranger Wing would be renamed Ireland’s Special Operations Force or IRL-SOF.

The report will warn that the first option for reform — to effectively maintain the status quo — will leave the Defence Forces unable to conduct a meaningful defence of the State against a sustained act of aggression and would likely require a reduced commitment to international peacekeeping.

The second option will propose a 50pc increase in defence spending to around €1.5bn per annum to improve troop protection, in part through a larger fleet of armoured personnel carriers, increased firepower, and better air defence for land forces. This would include additional helicopters, and a primary radar capability to support national security.

The report will note that the lack of any such radar is a clear weakness, in that it effectively means that aircraft flying in Irish airspace can remain undetected if their transponders are turned off. The commission received several submissions on this issue, with the Irish Aviation Authority saying the military “should have full capability to detect potential aircraft infringements into our national airspace”.

It also recommends deeper engagement with the EU’s Maritime Security Strategy and the development of new maritime and aviation security strategies. It will also be recommended under the second option that the State’s naval fleet be upgraded, including setting up a new naval support base and doubling the naval crew.

It will also recommend an increase in the fixed-wing and rotary aircraft and revitalising the Reserve Defence Forces.

The third option is for Ireland to upgrade its defence capabilities to match other small western European countries, including some who are neutral and others who are Nato members, by nearly trebling the defence budget from €1bn to nearly €3bn per year.

This would fund a substantial mechanised component of the army with state-of-the-art force protection and firepower. It would also provide the budget for at least 12 naval ships to provide maritime warfighting capability, along with at least eight fighter jets with air combat and interception capabilities.

The report will recommend that the Government consider increasing defence spending to reach option two in the short-term, pending further policy debate about whether to move to option three.

It will also recommend a significant strengthening of the Defence Forces intelligence and cyber defence capabilities with the establishment of a new Information Command to coordinate the State’s response to both cyber and hybrid attacks. It would need an additional 100 to 300 personnel, with staff recruited directly from the civilian ICT workforce.

The commission, which was set up in December 2020 to examine the future of the Defence Forces including its retention problem, will find a strong sense of crisis in the force, partly because of understaffing in all three branches of the military.

It will criticise the internalising of grievances, a masculine culture, a lack of appreciation for diversity, and a resistance to females which is grounded in what it will describe as outdated social concepts. It will call for mandatory gender, diversity and unconscious bias training and recommend that the Defence Forces should aim to achieve 35pc female participation by 2025 — five times the current rate.


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