24. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of the purchase of new aircraft for the Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20292/18 asked on 10 May 2018)

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): My priority as Minister with Responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible so as to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles as assigned by Government.

The White Paper on Defence provides for the replacement of the current Cessna fleet with three larger aircraft which will be equipped for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR). Following an open tender competition, a contract was placed with Pilatus Aircraft Ltd in December 2017 at a cost of some €32m for the provision of three PC-12 fixed wing utility aircraft suitably equipped for ISTAR tasks which will replace the Cessna fleet. It is expected that the three aircraft will be delivered by 2020.

The White Paper also provides for the replacement of the two CASA 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft with consideration of their replacement with larger more suitable aircraft, which would enhance maritime surveillance and provide a greater degree of utility for transport and cargo carrying tasks. The planning process for the replacement of the CASA 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft has recently commenced on this project and it is intended to hold a public tender competition shortly. The cost of the aircraft will only be known once the tender competition is concluded.

The National Development Plan provides for a Capital allocation of €541m for Defence for the five year period 2018-2022. This allocation will allow the Defence Organisation to undertake a programme of sustained equipment replacement and infrastructural development across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, as set out in the White Paper. The replacement of the Air Corps Cessna aircraft and the CASA 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft are among the projects for inclusion.