Lt Col Mick Moran outlines the many roles of the Irish Air Corps, from transporting military cargo to the Emergency Aero-medical Service, and how engineers help provide these services in the face of significant funding cuts and reduction in numbers
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Author: Lt Col Mick Moran, C Eng. FIFE, aeronautical engineer and quality assurance manager, Defence Forces of Ireland Air Corps

For nearly a century, the Irish Air Corps has been serving the Irish State. Whether rescuing an Irish citizen from war-torn Libya or extinguishing large gorse fires in Donegal, the Air Corps fleet has always remained ready to defend, protect and support the citizens of Ireland.

The mission statement of the Irish Air Corps is “to deliver the airpower contribution to the military defence of the security of the State and to fulfil all roles assigned by Government, through the deployment of a modern, well-motivated and effective air corps”.

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This was ably demonstrated when the Air Corps co-ordinated a complex air defence network over Ireland during the first official visit of HRM Queen Elizabeth II and US president Barack Obama in 2011. For almost two weeks, Casement Aerodrome became a nucleus for this enormous security operation and, over the space of ten days, the whole Air Corps fleet took part in the operation.

Aircraft provided combat air patrols and ceremonial flights; while others took on the role of airborne command-and-control platforms, as well as providing military transport for the operation. Helicopters provided army support, VIP transport, military transport and an air ambulance capability, while fixed-wing aircraft conducted visual air patrols and other aircraft were on constant standby for VIP transport.

The operation’s success required detailed planning and liaison with several agencies such as the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), Garda Síochána and civil air-traffic control, as well as developing a complicated communications network, airspace management and rules of engagement for the combat air patrols.

The Air Corps has always taken pride in answering its primary role of defence of the State, including supporting Irish troops at home and in United Nation missions or evacuating Irish citizens from war-torn areas of the world. However it is equally proud of all of its other assigned Government tasks that make it an essential support service to the Irish people.

ORGAN DONATION

Air Corps Eagle Section

At a recent charity event to raise awareness for organ donation, hosted by the Air Corps, transplant surgeon Mr David Hickey, director of transplantation in Ireland, stated that without the support of the Air Corps, transplantation in Ireland – both literally and metaphorically – would never have got off the ground

“From the start of our programme, the Air Corps, through its professionalism, expertise and availability, has been an integral part of the success of the transplant programmes in Ireland,” he added. The military aircraft used for these roles were not purchased to support transplantation, however. This role developed in support of a requirement for a fast, reliable and flexible transport system.

Another example of this innovation and flexibility can be seen in the operation of the Air Corps Maritime Patrol aircraft. The Air Corps operate two Airbus Military CASA CN235, which are maritime patrol aircraft. These fixed-wing aircraft are equipped with an extensive suite of radar and camera surveillance systems managed by an on-board computer. This surveillance system was required to be extensively upgraded when Ireland’s responsibility for its maritime waters was significantly expanded.

This upgrade was designed by Air Corps engineers, pilots and technicians and allowed Ireland to protect and exploit the largest maritime area in Europe. It offered the key platform upon which the Government could develop ‘Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth’, an ambitious plan to double the economic output from the maritime sector by 2030.

WIDE VARIETY OF ROLES

Skellig Michael operation (December 2012)

As well as directly supporting this critical economic activity, these Air Corps aircraft, due to their size, are also used for a number of additional roles. After completing a six-hour patrol over the sea, these aircraft can be tasked with:

  • Transporting military cargo and personnel for the Defence Forces;
  • Parachuting operations with the Army;
  • Providing airborne command-and-control for military operations;
  • Providing air ambulances for the HSE;
  • Search and rescue cover for the Coast Guard; or
  • Patrols for the Customs & Excise Services.

The Air Corps has stand-by crews in readiness for these roles every night, every weekend and on public holidays.

In November 2006, the Air Corps took delivery of six Augusta Westland 139s (AW 139). These six tonne, medium-lift helicopters were purchased to replace the Dauphin and Alouette III fleet. The basic model of the AW 139 was developed into a military variant by competent and well-trained engineers, pilots and technicians from the Irish Defence Forces.

These professionals worked on the project in conjunction with Augusta Westland, conscious of the wide variety of roles that the helicopters would play. This allowed the finished aircraft to have the maximum utility for the Air Corps, with the added flexibility and future potential for civilian support. This design and implementation work bore fruit with the introduction of the Emergency Aero-medical Service (EAS), a joint project between the HSE National Ambulance Service and the Irish Air Corps.

An AW 139 aircraft was based in Custume Barracks, Athlone, ready to answer emergency calls from the HSE. The EAS was provided in addition to the Air Corps’ normal taskings. The success of the joint project has seen over 500 call-outs since the introduction of the service in May 2012, as well and an average of 100 hospital-to-hospital transfers outside of these EAS missions.

“Over the years, hundreds of patients have benefited from this service, from the critically ill with limited time for transfers to the patient requiring speedy transport for organ transplants to the UK, day and night,” said Dr Cathal O’Donnell, medical director of the National Ambulance Service.

“Now with the EAS transporting advanced paramedics to 999 calls, the Air Corps and the National Ambulance Service are bringing the clinical expertise to the patient. In the last 12 months, close to 400 emergency calls have been completed, including 100 heart-attack patients that have been transported to the appropriate cardiac centre within the ‘door-to-balloon’ time of 90 minutes.”

EFFECTS OF PUBLIC-SECTOR REFORM

Air Corps’ Lear 40XR

A recent strategy statement from the Department of Defence recognised that, in contrast to many other nations, the Irish Defence Forces provided a variety of operational outputs that maximised the utility of Irish defence capabilities.

While internal security is primarily a matter for the Garda Síochána, the Air Corps as part of the Defence Forces is called upon to provide ongoing assistance in the provision of armed security, emergency ordnance disposal (EOD) and air and maritime support. The Air Corps also provide a variety of supports to the civil authorities including fishery protection patrols, ministerial air-transport services, fire fighting, disaster relief and ceremonial services, as well as acting as a strategic reserve in the maintenance of essential national services.

In addition, the Air Corps mans and operates the only military air base in the country, located in Baldonnel on the outskirts of Dublin city. This support offered to Irish citizens is achieved while at the same time retaining the five essential pillars to military capability: operational viability, sustainability, readiness, interoperability and deployability.

It has been a difficult process for the Air Corps to maintain all of its assigned roles in the midst of the economic crisis, so how has this been achieved?

Arising from the successful modernisation agenda that has been pursued in the Defence Forces and Department of Defence, a culture of change and continuous improvement is now firmly embedded. Business process reviews, coupled with value-for-money reviews and action plans under successive pay agreements, have ensured that the Air Corps now delivers enhanced value for money.

Improved procedures for expenditure planning, procurement and general governance have also been implemented where the Defence community is now recognised as a model of successful public sector reform.

The objective-oriented nature of all Defence Forces personnel, coupled with an ingrained philosophy of initial and recurring training in the aviation industry, ensures an Air Corps organisation that is inherently innovative and flexible. Training requirements are rooted to operational output and are certified by external organisation such as IAA and Engineers Ireland’s Continuing Professional Development programme. This support of continued training and an innovative culture are the key tools that allow any organisation, be they public or private, to manage change.

VALUE FOR MONEY

Lt Col Mick Moran receives his fellowship from former Engineers Ireland president, Michael Phillips

In conclusion, since the foundation of the State, the Air Corps has always been ready to support the citizens of Ireland when called upon. On a daily basis, it carries out its vital military roles as well as maximising its utility, to ensure that it offers a wide variety of services to the public.

This increased support to the citizens of Ireland has been carried out in the face of significant cuts and reduction in numbers. This maximising of the utility of military aircraft resources is continuing apace and demonstrates the Air Corps’ ability to continue to innovate.

The key drivers of this support for increased involvement in civil society are twofold. Firstly, it has been the professionalism of the technical personnel to develop bespoke equipment solutions uniquely suited to Ireland requirements. Secondly, it is the continued focus on training that allows the Defence Forces to exploit its key resource – its flexible, innovative and resilient workforce.

Whether exploiting inherent skills such as emergency air ambulance or fire fighting, the Air Corps has shown itself to be flexible, adaptable and innovative in ‘doing more with less’. Having a requirement to be a standing army in defence of the State, these additional and potential future tasks and skills sets, exploited by civil society, give excellent value for money in these stringent times.

Lt Col Mick Moran is a chartered engineer since 2008 and member of Engineers Ireland. He is currently a lieutenant colonel with the Irish Air Corps. He holds BEng electronic systems and control engineering qualifications from Sheffield Hallum University. In 1993, Moran joined the Irish Air Corps and was commissioned as an aeronautical engineering officer and in 1996, he received his MSc in flight dynamics from Cranfield Univserity before completing an MA in military leadership and defence studies in NUI Maynooth in 2010. Moran’s current role sees him in charge of quality assurance, technical training and innovation within the Air Corps. 

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  Author: Lt Col Mick Moran, C Eng. FIFE, aeronautical engineer and quality assurance manager, Defence Forces of Ireland Air Corps For nearly a century, the Irish Air Corps has been serving the Irish State. Whether rescuing an Irish citizen from war-torn Libya or extinguishing large gorse fires in Donegal, the Air...