Hi-tech vessels will give Navy drone capability by 2015
THE Naval Service will have the most capable and hi-tech fleet in Irish history within two years.
The vow came as the Navy undertook a major exercise off the south-west coast to fine-tune its fishery protection and maritime defence skills. The LE Eithne and LE Niamh led the exercise, which also featured the Air Corps' ultra-modern AW139 helicopter.
The highlight of the exercise off west Cork, part of a week-long skills training programme, was the boarding of LE Eithne by a select team from LE Niamh.
In the last six years the Naval Service has intercepted €1.7bn worth of drugs in Irish waters and has carried out 474 boardings and five detentions this year in relation to fishery protection duties.
Naval Service Flag Officer Commodore Mark Mellett said the Navy is now a multi-skilled and highly-flexible force protecting the nation's assets and interests.
"The strategic vision for the Defence Forces is to continue to be relevant, useable and adaptable to the State and these exercises have provided the platform for the Naval Service to demonstrate this vision," he told the Irish Independent.
In the next two years the Navy will take control of two patrol vessels, which cost €49m each. The first of these will be delivered in January from UK shipyard Babcock Marine.
The new vessels are a hi-tech modification of the old LE Niamh/LE Roisin design.
They will be the first Irish vessels capable of handling drones or unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles as well as robotic submersibles. With a top speed of 23 knots, they are 30pc faster than the ageing vessels they replace. By the time the two new ships are commissioned in 2014/15 six of Ireland's eight-strong fleet of ships will be over 30 years old.
Ireland has an option for a third vessel from the UK yard but the follow-on order can be stalled by the Government until 2015 if necessary.
The Government has insisted the deal represents value for money.