Wednesday 17 January 2018

Troops receive armoured vehicles after 10-year wait

Don Lavery

It took 10 years, three defence ministers, and delays and deferrals.

But the Defence Forces finally received the first of a fleet of light-armoured vehicles this week specially designed to protect soldiers from mines.

The first two vehicles of an initial fleet of 27 RG-32M vehicles arrived in the Curragh after the Sunday Independent revealed in December 2008 that BAE OMC in South Africa had won the €20m Irish contract.

Irish soldiers have served in Lebanon, Liberia, Kosovo, and Chad, without the benefit of a modern light-armoured vehicle -- even though the Army had first sought them in 2000.

The request had gone in to then defence minister Michael Smith but nothing happened.

The next defence minister, Willie O'Dea, launched a tender competition in 2005 for 66 vehicles, saying they were a "key priority".

But that was deferred after no suitable vehicle was found and more Mowag 8X8 armoured personnel carriers were bought instead.

Later, Mr O'Dea launched another competition for just 27 vehicles, with an option on a similar number, and the South African vehicle was successful over Swiss and Italian rivals.

The first vehicles were to be delivered before the end of 2009 but more delays occurred as technical changes were made to the fleet.

The growing need for such a vehicle, called a light tactical armoured vehicle, was shown clearly in 2008 when two Irish soldiers had a lucky escape from a roadside bomb blast in their unarmoured 4X4 in Lebanon.

"Peace Support Operations are becoming increasingly complex and present many and varied threats to troops.

"Force protection was one of the primary considerations in the procurement of the vehicles," a Defence Forces spokesperson said.

"The RG32M provides substantial levels of protection from small arms fire, shell fragments, roadside bombs and landmines, thereby enhancing the protection of our personnel."

It was eventually left to new Defence Minister Tony Killeen's watch to see the "key priority" vehicles come into service.

Four different variants have now been bought for use by the infantry, and for surveillance and reconnaissance, communications and target acquisition.

The new vehicles can be armed with a remotely operated turret with a 0.5 heavy machine gun or a 40mm grenade machine gun.

Their first use is expected to be with the EU Nordic Battlegrop in 2011, as Ireland has committed a 160-strong company.

Sunday Independent

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