Experts have advised that Irish defence was now approaching a “critical decision point” in respect of its long-term direction.
Ireland must invest in its air, sea and cybersecurity to fend off threats from hostile states, such as Russia, a number of military officers and academics have said.
Writing in the Irish Defence Forces ‘Defence Review 2020‘, Commandant Derek McGourty said:
“There have been further incursions by Russian military aircraft into Irish airspace and reports of increasing Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic and Irish Sea, which have added to growing concerns about Ireland’s inability to protect its critical national infrastructure including transatlantic fibre-optic cables that lie in Irish coastal waters.
The Irish Naval service has no anti-submarine capability and its ability to deter or even detect such maritime intelligence gathering is exceptionally limited. Neither has Ireland got the radar, air defence, and air interdiction capability necessary to deter and monitor Russian or other aircraft entering Irish airspace without permission and instead relies on the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force to carry out this task on its behalf.”
Lecturer in European Studies Viktoriya Fedorchak also states:
“I remain convinced that the key to solving the air policing problem of Irish airspace is in procuring fighter jets for the Air Corps and establishing national air policing here. Such a decision would signal a national commitment to defending its security and sovereignty. It could also stimulate better and more functional bilateral collaboration with Ireland’s closest neighbour, the UK. No matter how hopeful and optimistic one may be, the ‘what if?’ case scenario seems to remind of itself more often today than before. Being prepared has always been half the battle won.”
She outlines three options to do this says Security Correspondent for the Irish Examiner Cormac O’Keeffe here:
- Purchase of fighter jets by the State for the Air Corps, giving “substantial benefits” for Irish national security. It said the Air Corps would be able to attract more recruits and qualified specialists and would signal the security and defence self-sufficiency of the Irish state to Russian bombers and hijacked civilian aircraft;
- The current arrangement with Britain, but she warned, in a worse-case scenario, the protection of Irish airspace may not be the priority for another sovereign country;
- Request an extension of NATO air policing over Irish airspace, but she said this would be the most challenging option given the “political complexity” of making it happen Dr Fedorchak said she was convinced the first option was the best one.
What is the current situation?
Ireland lacks aircraft that can climb high enough or go fast enough to intercept Russian aircraft. As a result, Ireland and the UK have an agreement to allow British combat aircraft to overfly the Republic.
The UK isn’t simply protecting Irish airspace as such, the agreement is mutually beneficial, you can read more on this by clicking below.
What about Irish neutrality?
Eoin Micheál McNamara, a PhD researcher at the University of Tartu in Estonia, wrote in the review:
“Gustav Gressel argues that ‘Russia doesn’t really recognise neutrality [including
Ireland’s]. The Kremlin still has a Soviet mindset. They see neutrality as tactical. Ireland is viewed as a weak spot for the enemy and nothing more.’ Despite the presence of the UK’s RAF, Dublin’s inability to monitor and police its own airspace allows Russia’s military aircraft greater freedom of action to conduct manoeuvres. Ireland is a neutral state, but this military deficit can still assist a Russian strategy that is broadly focused on NATO.
As a particular concern for the UK’s RAF, opportunities for Russian reconnaissance to survey the reaction times of NATO members sharing Ireland’s strategic theatre are increased. There is a risk that some intelligence gathered through these manoeuvres could be transferred to advantage the Russian military in other strategic theatres where Moscow competes with Western actors.”
Where can I read the review?
In the review, which can be found here, the security experts examine many aspects of what they believe to be shortcomings in airspace policing, maritime security and cyber defence.