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Russia to conduct missile tests in Irish-patrolled waters 240km off south-west coast

The missile test will take place in the first week of February in the Atlantic Ocean.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Jan 22nd 2022, 6:40 PM

RUSSIAN BOMBERS and naval ships are set to test missiles off the coast of Ireland.

The Journal has learned that the Irish Government has received a warning of a major exercise by the Russian navy and air force in the Atlantic off the South West coast. 

The missile test, or range practice as it is known in military terms, will take place in international waters off the coast of County Cork in the first week of February.

The missiles are expected to be launched by ships and from aircraft although exact details are not known. 

The Irish Aviation Authority has confirmed that it is to re-route commercial flights and issue a warning.

Exclusive Economic Zone

The area concerned is a relatively small area of water but sources have confirmed that it is within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone – which is patrolled by Irish Naval ships and Air Corps Casa aircraft. It is located approximately 240 kilometres off the Irish coast. 

An Exclusive Economic Zone is an area which Ireland has responsibility for and has rights to explore and operate in as a sovereign country. 

“There will be a need to issue a notice to commercial pilots to warn them of this issue and there will be a closure of airspace.

“It would be expected from other European member states that we would be able to monitor these types of activities within our area of operations from both an environmental and a security perspective.

“A major oil spill previously occurred from a Russian vessel off our coast in 2009 and the Defence Forces were involved in monitoring it.

“But with no primary radar, a limited number of maritime patrol aircraft and the majority of our naval fleet tied up – it is very difficult to monitor anything on this scale,” a security source said. 

The latest development comes as the Russian Government announced that it will carry out exercises with all its naval fleets across the world. 

moscow-russia-february-23-2012-tu-160-strategic-bomber-of-the-russian-armed-forces-flight-training-bomber A Russian bomber armed with a missile. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

The State owned Taas News Agency reported that the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement that the drills will begin at the end of January and conclude in February.

The manoeuvres will take place off the coast of Russia and also in the Mediterranean, the North Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific.

In November Russia tested a number of missile systems including hypersonic and anti-satellite devices in space. 

Russian bombers have flown above the Atlantic and down the West Coast of Ireland in recent years with the British RAF sending fighters to monitor the aircraft.  

International tensions

International tensions between Russia and Western Bloc countries are at a peak as fears grow of a Russian invasion of Ukraine which is linked to the potential expansion of NATO.

There have also been accusations that Russian hackers had targeted critical Norwegian infrastructure in recent weeks. 

Cathal Berry, TD, a former Defence Forces Officer, has warned in the Dáil of the danger of the Ukrainian situation for Ireland. 

“This is a range practice. This is what the great powers do, the exercise is posturing and is about messaging directly with European powers,” he told The Journal today.

“The location is not an accident and has been entirely anticipated – they could be doing this off the coast of Murmansk but have chosen the Atlantic instead. There has been an increased number of incursions in to this area and near to Irish airspace.

“The concern from a military perspective is that an exercise is a very easy way to assemble large amounts of military assets into an area under false pretences and be a precursor to other activities. 

“It is not unprecedented, but it is unusual to see it so close to the Irish area of economic responsibility.” 

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jul-28-2006-st-petersburg-russia-a-nuclear-powered-guided-missile-cruiser-launching-from-the-flagship-of-the-russian-the-navy-pyotr-veliky-battle-ship-during-russian-navy-northern-fleet-milit A nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser launching from the Russian Navy's 'Pyotr Veliky' during Russian Navy Northern Fleet military exercises. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Deputy Berry said the potential threat to Irish sovereignty has been caused by an under resourced defence response. 

“We took a gamble on peace in Europe, that it would always be there and we were wrong – a single event like this is the classic moment when the gambler has put all his money on one prediction with the consequence of potentially losing everything.

“Our navy is under equipped and undermanned, our Air Corps have no response capability but we will have to send out someone to monitor this when it happens.

“But the issue is we are the weakest link in European defence and this kind of incident shows that clearly,” he added. 

The Department of Transport said: “Management of Irish Air Traffic Control Airspace is a matter for the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).

“The IAA has advised the Department that the safety of civil aircraft operations will not be impacted by the proposed military activity, as all civilian aircraft will be routed away from the area.”

Warning

The Irish Aviation Authority has confirmed that a warning, known as a Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM), is to be issued to commercial aviation.

“The IAA has been made aware via the normal international processes for such events in International Waters regarding a Russian navy artillery test 240 kilometres off the south west coast of Ireland in early February.

“An ICAO NOTAM will be published to provide notification to pilots of the activity. The publication of a NOTAM for these type of activities is a well established process which has associated Pilot and Air Traffic Control procedures to ensure that there will be no impact to the safety of civil aircraft operations.

“Although the efficiency of aircraft routing may be affected, the safety of operations within Irish Air Traffic Control Airspace will not be impacted, as all civilian aircraft will be routed away from this area during the activity.

“While not common, notifications for similar activity in International Waters within Irish controlled airspace are received from time to time from other jurisdictions and the same procedures are applied to ensure the safety of civilian aircraft at all times,” the IAA statement said. 

The Russian Embassy in Dublin has described the reports of missile testing as “fake news” – they did not elaborate on the reason for this claim.

Concerns

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed on Saturday evening that it was aware of the Russian naval exercises and has raised “concerns” with Moscow.

“The location where the exercises are taking place is approximately 240 kilometres off the south west coast and within Ireland’s 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) but not in Ireland’s territorial waters.

“Under international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), states are entitled to carry out naval exercises in another state’s EEZ. The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) were informed of the exercise via standard procedures.

“In light of the current political and security environment in Europe, the Department of Foreign Affairs has raised a number of concerns with the Russian authorities and discussions will continue,” she said. 

‘Hugely concerning’

Reacting to The Journal’s story, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on defence Sorca Clarke said she is “deeply concerned” by the development.

“The lack of primary radar is the reason other state entities have been probing our airspace for years with high-altitude bombers and escorts. These foreign aircraft can see us but we cannot see them.

“While the 2015 White Paper recognises that radar surveillance is a priority, there has been no meaningful action by Government since then to deliver on it. Our Naval Service is now understaffed and under-equipped with no capability to see below sea level and normal operation of units is an ongoing issue.

“Our own Defence Forces staffing levels have been impacted by reducing numbers over the last number of years and it is an area of concern repeatedly highlighted by representative bodies.”

Clarke added that reports of naval service ships being anchored or running on skeleton crews due to severe understaffing are “hugely worrying”.

“International testing exercises, such as these latest reports from Russia, are placing increased pressure on our already over-stretched Defence Forces that successive governments have failed to invest in and support properly,” she said.

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