The Irish Air Corps shared pictures of its first C295 Persuader maritime patrol aircraft that is currently being assembled by Airbus Defense & Space in its plant in San Pablo near Seville, Spain. 

The airplane is the first of an order of two, which is to be delivered by June 2022. The second is expected in early 2023. They will serve as a replacement for the two Casa CN235-100 MPA aircraft currently operated by the Irish Air Corps, which entered service in 1994.  

The Airbus C295 Persuader can cover several missions ranging from maritime patrol to anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue at sea. It is equipped with a magnetic anomaly detector allowing the tracking of moving metal objects underwater, and six underwing hardpoints to employ rockets, depth charges or torpedoes. 

Operated by the 101 Squadron, their mission is to monitor the 132,000 square miles of waters that compose the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone.  

The area was recently at the center of a diplomatic row between Ireland, a traditionally neutral country, and Russia. In January 2022, the Irish authorities expressed concern after the Russian Navy announced it would hold wargames 240km (150 miles) off the southwest coast of Ireland. While permitted under international law, the exercises would have had an impact on both fishing and air operations in the area.  

"We don't have the power to prevent this happening, but certainly I've made it clear to the Russian ambassador in Ireland that it's not welcome,” said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney at a time when tensions were building up in Ukraine. Russia eventually agreed to relocate the exercises. 

With no combat jet of its own since 1998, the limited capability of the Irish Air Corps has been the cause of debates in the past few years. As things currently stand, the Republic of Ireland relies entirely on the capacity of the United Kingdom to protect the sovereignty of its airspace through a “secret bilateral pact”. 

Speaking at the Irish security summit Slándáil 2020, General Ralph James, formerly responsible for the Irish Air Corps, declared that waving the “big flag of neutrality” was not sufficient, as Ireland must be able to deny its airspaces to both sides of a conflict.  

In February 2022, a report of the Commission on the Defence Forces recommended an increase in air combat and intercept capability through the acquisition of a squadron of combat aircraft. Without a change of doctrine, the report states that the country would be left “without a credible military capability to protect Ireland, its people and its resources for any sustained period”. 

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Currently, Ireland relies solely on the British Royal Air Force to defend the sovereignty of its airspace. This could change soon, however, as the government is reportedly considering acquiring fighter jets capable of carrying out interceptions in an increasingly contested environment.