Army fires up €4.4m spend on missile upgrade
ARMY chiefs are forking out €4.4m to upgrade more than a dozen anti-aircraft missiles.
The RBS 70s were deployed to protect visiting dignitaries like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and US President Barack Obama against an air attack - but have never been fired on Irish soil.
The Defence Forces said the multi-million euro deal - coming as households brace themselves for another austerity budget - will keep the arsenal in operation for another 15 years. It includes new simulators for training purposes.
“The aim of air defence is to take out an enemy aircraft or deter them from hostile action,” an army spokesman said. “Their presence is to deter hostile action.”
It is understood the army has more than a dozen RBS surface to air missiles (SAMs), which have a range of 8km and can hit targets up to 5,000m in the air.
Giraffe radar for the SAMs, together with Flycatcher radar for 40mn anti-aircraft guns, were used to protect an air exclusion zone for the Queen and Obama in 2011.
A quick reaction alert force of about 20 Rangers in three helicopters, and armed Air Corps PC-9 trainers used in combat air patrols, completed the aerial security bubble.
The PC-9s intercepted a civilian helicopter which strayed into the air exclusion zone and escorted it out of the area minutes before the Queen touched down on Irish soil.
“The RBS 70 has been used operationally for a variety of domestic security requirements, such as air defence in an aid to civil power role during high profile state visits, the EU Presidency and several security operations designated by government,” a spokesman for Defence Forces told The Herald.
They were first purchased as far back as the 1981, when world leaders such as Ronald Regan or Margaret Thatcher refused to visit Ireland until the air defence systems were in place.
The portable RBS 70s are described as being the backbone of the Defence Forces ground-based air defence (GBAD) capability and must be housed in climate controlled stores - but defence chiefs would not disclose their location or quantity for security reasons.
They have only ever been fired during overseas training missions.
As well as being able to target fast moving aircraft, the missiles also boast the ability to engage low, slow and small targets such as unmanned aerial vehicles - which NATO considers as one of the foremost prevailing air threats.
They are used by 18 other countries and are manned by the army’s ground based artillery regiment to give extra protection and low level air defence to visiting dignitaries flying in to the country.
The cache has undergone several upgrades since purchased by defence chiefs in 1981, and again in 2006, as technology advanced. The latest revamp - to be paid out over several years includes specialist night sight so they can be fired 24/7 and during extreme weather.
“In their current configuration all DF-owned RBS 70 MANPADS will be rendered unserviceable in eight years time,” the Defence Forces said.
“However their lifespan will be increased by a further 15 years - to 2037 - by procuring upgrades to the sights and stands that are compatible with the new generation Bolide Missile and BORC night sight.”
Defence and security company Saab - which manufactured the missiles - yesterday revealed it had signed a contract to upgrade Ireland’s arsenal of RBS 70s for SEK40m (€4.4m).
The deal includes deliveries of improved firing units, new simulators, night vision equipment and associated weapons support.