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Irish Defence Forces

New €50m cargo aircraft will enable international troop transport and rescue missions abroad

Multiple sources have said that the deposit was paid on 23 December by the Department of Defence and the final cost could be in the region of €50 million.

THE STATE HAS laid down a deposit on a new cargo aircraft for the Irish Air Corps, which would carry troops and vehicles to foreign military missions and rescue stranded Irish citizens.

Multiple sources have said that the deposit was paid on 23 December by the Department of Defence and the final cost could be in the region of €50 million.

It is understood that the Government was anxious to progress the procurement before the end of 2022, with an amendment made to an existing tender with European aircraft manufacturer Airbus. 

The original contract was focused on two replacement Casa maritime patrol aircraft for the Air Corps. That tender is nearing completion as the delivery of these new aircraft is imminent. 

They will be dedicated to patrolling the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone and monitoring fishing and other ship movements. 

They have also provided, on occasion, radio relay for long distance search and rescue operations as well as occasional air ambulance flights. 

One of the Casas was used to repatriate the body of Private Seán Rooney.

Sources have said that the decision to expedite the tendering process with an amendment followed anxious discussions about the need to see urgent progress in one of the key recommendations in the Commission on the Defence Forces.

A source said that the decision to opt for the Casa 295 cargo variant means that the Air Corps pilots will not require extensive training in “converting” their qualifications to flying the aircraft.

The final decision was made with the arrival of Tánaiste Micheál Martin to the Minister for Defence role. It is understood that he was informed of the decision following a meeting of the High Level Planning and Procurement Group.

This group is tasked with implementing key findings from the Commission on the Defence Forces, which recommended a major overhaul of the air capabilities of the Irish Air Corps. 


Sources have said that the aircraft manufacturers indicated delivery is expected in 2025.

Those sources have also told The Journal that the Air Corps is still advocating for a separate long-range small jet, not just for ministerial air transportation but also for medical evacuations of soldiers and Irish civilians.

This website has reported extensively on this issue and revealed previously that the Government had engaged an aircraft consultancy to determine the best course of action to replace the current jet.  

The issue of Ireland’s lack of large military transport aircraft was highlighted in the wake of the Kabul mission to rescue Irish citizens in 2021. 

airbus-military-airbus-defence-and-space-casa-c-295m-transport-aircraft-at-the-farnborough-international-airshow A CASA C-295 military cargo aircraft. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Members of the Army Ranger Wing (ARW), the Irish army’s special forces unit, were dispatched to rescue Irish citizens from the Afghan capital.

As the Irish Air Corps did not have a long-range aircraft suitable for the mission, French and Finnish aircraft were used for their flights to and from the war-torn country.

Altea, which has offices across Europe and in Canada, carried out a report for the department and documents we obtained through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that there were discussions on the purchase of aircraft. 

Major capability jump

Former military officer Deputy Cathal Berry, TD, has been campaigning for the cargo variant – he welcomed the news.  

“This is a huge step forward and is a major capability jump not just for the Defence Forces but for the whole country.

“In the 100-year history of the State we have never had this before – we’ve never had an organic capability to deploy troops and extract large numbers of citizens in difficulty.

“Every other nation state in the EU has this capability in, bar Malta – it is beyond time for Ireland to have this. 

“There is a lot of credit to the Army Ranger Wing team who went to Kabul because they established a proof of concept – they showed that Ireland can deploy at short notice to rescue Irish citizens,” he said. 

Berry said that the important next step is to ensure that there are technicians and air crew available to fly the aircraft when delivered.

He also suggested that Ireland, when the aircraft is delivered, should join the European Air Transport Command, which is an EU body in which nations pool heavy lift capabilities.

“This organisation makes aircraft available to fly and assist other countries – that would keep this aircraft flying regularly. It would also mean that we could get access to even heavier aircraft for transportation missions,” he added. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Defence said: “The Department has no comment on this at present but will be in a position to give an update in the near future.” 

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