The Irish Examiner reports that…
Ireland is “Europe’s weakest link” in air defence cover because our Air Corps is so poorly equipped it cannot defend our airspace against hijackers taking over commercial aircraft or intrusions by foreign military aircraft.
One of the country’s leading security experts says the recent incursion by two Russian Tupulov TU-95 ‘Bear’ bombers highlights a potentially dangerous situation in the skies above us that we can cannot affect.
By Russian standards, the massive, propeller-driven TU-95 are old, having entered active service in 1956. However, they operate at up to 13.7km and can travel at 510 knots.
By contrast, the Air Corps is equipped with much slower planes. Its five Cessnas aircraft, with a combined age of more than 200 years, can only attain an altitude of 3km and a top speed of 161 knots.
The more modern Pilatus PC-9M, which entered service with the Air Corps in 2004, can reach a height of 7.6km and achieve 275 knots.
The TU-95, which is capable of carrying nuclear weapons, has a range of 8,000km, while the Pilatus manage 1,574km and the Cessnas just 926km.
If the Air Corps was equipped with jets, even the most inexpensive, they could easily intercept military and civil aircraft.
Former army officer Tom Clonan says the Department of Foreign Affairs should have banned all Russian civilian aircraft from our airspace after the incident until it had received assurances from the Russian authorities that the recent incident was not repeated.
The TU-95s flew with their transponders off, which made them unidentifiable to air traffic control and commercial aircraft in one of the busiest airspaces in the world.
“Around 75% of all transatlantic traffic passes through Irish airspace,” said Dr Clonan. “There are roughly 1,800 aircraft movement in our airspace every 24 hours. For aviation safety, we were relying on those Russian aircraft knowing what was in their path.
“When they shot down the Malaysian aircraft over the Ukraine, the Russians had no regard for safety.”
Dr Clonan said such crowded skies made the possibility of mid-air collisions between transponderless military aircraft and passenger aircraft “quite high”.
He also described Ireland’s airspace defences as “Europe’s weakest link”.
“If terrorists take over an aircraft in Irish space, it’s game over,” he said.
The Defence Forces are also equipped with substandard radar systems, which have less range than the commercial radar employed by the Irish Aviation Authority.
At a conference for Defence Force officers in December 2013, Chief of Staff Lt Gen Conor O’Boyle, said he would like the ageing Cessnas to be replaced with more modern aircraft. The pilots who fly the Cessnas are all younger than the planes.
The Department of Defence was asked what it planned to do about air cover deficiencies.
It said future defence requirements are being considered as part of the development of a White Paper on Defence. Work is ongoing in this regard.