Until Ireland Invest in Irish Air Corps, Russia will continue to violate its sovereignty

Neutrality does not protect any nation in peace or at wartime. The definition of neutrality says that the state of not supporting or helping either side in a conflict or disagreement is an impartial state or neutral state. But history teaches great lessons when Stalin’s tank roared in Finland. The Dictator never asks questions “why”, it’s always “Why not?”.

A Russian Bomber is flying near air defense identification zones of NORAD.

Recently, there have been a number of incursions into Irish controlled airspace by the Russian air force. Most recently Tupolev TU–95, the so called “Bear” strategic bomber aircraft, triggered UK Royal Air Force fighter jets to scramble in order to confront the Russian aircraft. Reliable sources indicate that there is an agreement between the UK and Ireland permitting the Royal Air Force to enter Irish airspace if deemed necessary, though the specific nature of this arrangement is not clear. 

So what were these Russian bombers doing in airspace controlled by Ireland? Did Irish ask themselves this question?

Nevertheless, such behaviour by Russian aircraft is reckless and dangerous, especially when they turn off their transponders, making them effectively invisible to civil aviation surveillance systems. Although somewhat provocative owing to the nature of the aircraft and the proximity to UK and NATO airspace, any reasonably minded person could not perceive this as posing any significant military threat by Russia.

Retired Major General Ralph James of the Irish Air Corps indicated that Ireland would need to invest in at least 15 fighter aircraft, as well as support crews and infrastructure, to counter such threats. However, this would cost the Irish exchequer a great deal of money. In fact, the purchase of such aircraft is only part of the overall cost, as the purchase and maintenance of an up-to-date air defence system to accompany this is also prohibitively costly. 

NATO members such as Belgium, Poland, Denmark, Norway and Portugal all have significant air defence capability, but they are part of a military alliance that requires such commitments. Ireland is not a member of NATO and as yet the EU has not adopted a common defence policy.

The case of the much wealthier Switzerland, a nation known to take its neutrality seriously, is an interesting example the Swiss government has since confirmed plans to acquire new fighter jets for around CHF6 billion (€5.68 billion) over the next few years, but a vote on this may also be taken before any purchase agreement is signed.

Cyber attacks in particular can cripple a country’s electronic infrastructure, including the wide range of network connected devices and systems that control or operate critical national infrastructure. There is evidence of such attacks and interference in elections by Russia, making attacks of this nature a more immediate threat to Ireland than violation of air space.

In 2014, the Minster for Defence admitted in the Dail that the Air Corps was not tasked or equipped for monitoring or responding to unauthorised aircraft overflying Irish airspace. He described it as unacceptable for large aircraft to travel through international air space that is the responsibility of the Irish Aviation Authority without informing it and with the transponders deliberately turned off.  

Until Ireland takes sovereignty very seriously, a potential military mishap is waiting to happen over Irish airspace or Russia may cripple Irish tech industry through cyber attacks.

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