IRELAND'S gangs terrorising rural areas have adopted Special Forces tactics to give gardai the slip.
Sources say that gardai and the gangsters are no longer on the same playing field when it comes to resources and equipment. Here are some of the ways that the gangs have gone hi-tech.
Gangsters are using military grade night vision goggles in 4.8 litre Audi A4s and BMW M5s (below) with the headlights switched off to evade gardai.
Night vision goggles, which magnify ambient light to allow a driver see the road in virtual darkness, are used by the Army's Ranger Wing, by regular army units for patrolling at night and by the Garda's elite Emergency Response Unit.
Used military grade goggles can be bought on the internet; a search by the Herald revealed prices ranging from about €300 for a first-generation, ex-military set to almost €4,000 for the latest Generation 4 plus.
Most of those on offer are made by specialist firms in Russia, Belorussia and the Ukraine, although one eBay seller was offering ex-UK military NVGs.
Night vision scopes and binoculars are widely available in Ireland, with prices starting around the €150 mark.
Garda Representative Association vice-president Dermot O'Brien said the gangs are keeping their lights switched off and using NVGs on raids.
"These gangs often make their escape without the lights of their cars and we believe they've been using night-vision goggles," he said.
"There is a massive network of roads. We haven't a hope of catching these people because they're using high powered vehicles and we're driving cars with 1.6 litre engines."
"It's akin to putting a snail against a hare."
Gangs specialising in stealing cars from homes are using converted fishing rods to hook car keys left on hall tables.
One fishing rod recovered by gardai was extendable and fitted with a light to allow the burglar look in through the letter box of a targeted premises.
The burglar can also add on a magnetic pick-up tool, a mirror and a tray.
All the items can be bought legally in supermarkets or DIY stores.
In the past five weeks, gardai have recovered five of the rods after arresting a number of suspects and carrying out searches in Dublin. The gangs have stolen 60 vehicles using rods since the start of the year, up from 50 in the same period last year.
High-powered cars have always been a favourite target of criminals, but in recent months they have focused on extra-powerful vehicles with V9 engine sizes of 4.8 litres to outrun gardai.
Gardai complained at the GRA conference that most of their patrol vehicles are converted family saloons, with 2 litre or 1.6 litre engines, as well as newly bought vans with two seats in the front.
"We might as well be provided with lawnmowers to keep up," GRA president John Parker (pictured) said in Westport this week, adding that travelling gangs were driving top-of-the-range BMWs and Audis, that, he claimed could even outpace the Garda's two helicopters.
Body armour able to stop handgun bullets is now routinely used by many criminals at risk of being shot.
Some body armour available on the open market, particularly in the US, is designed to be 'covert' and to offer exceptional levels of protection against bullets and knives.
It can be worn under a shirt or coat and is often virtually undetectable.
Criminals have also invested in armoured cars.
In 2010, the Criminal Assets Bureau seized two armoured SUVs used by a notorious Limerick criminal gang.
The two BMW X5 series 4 X 4s, valued at an estimated €350,000, had been made to order and imported from Germany.
The Garda decision to order high-tech Heckler & Koch MP7 sub-machine guns, which fire an armour-piercing bullet, for the Emergency Response Unit and the Regional Support Units is believed to have been influenced by the increasing use of body armour and armoured vehicles by the criminal gangs.
The firepower used by Ireland's criminal gangs has escalated to a frightening level in recent years.
Gardai this week recovered rifles with telescopic sights in a house in Dublin, raising the fear of sniper attacks.
In 2010, gardai seized two rocket launchers, a Russian RPG-22 and a Serbian-made M80, which were capable of destroying a house or an armoured car. The weapons were believed to have been hidden by a drugs gang.
The fall of the Soviet bloc has proved to be a prime opportunity for dissidents and drug gangs to avail of state of the art weaponry, with a fully automatic AK-47 assault rifle (right) or a grenade launcher on sale for as little as €300 in eastern Europe.
German Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns, of the same type as used by the SAS, were discovered in Co Kildare, while Kalashnikov rifles – including the Russian army's current AK-74 with its high velocity 5.45mm bullets – have turned up in Dublin.
The Austrian Glock 9mm pistol (top) is used in the majority of gangland killings, with the small pocket-sized Glock 26 and its 10-round magazine a particular favourite with Dublin's drugs gangland.