Ireland orders C295 MPA pair

The Irish Department of Defence has announced it has ordered a pair of Airbus C295s, configured for maritime surveillance operations.

To be operated by the Irish Air Corps, the C295s will replace the nation's two Airbus CN235-100MPAs, which are operated in the same role. The acquisition will make Ireland the 33rd international operator of the C295 platform. In Irish service, the two aircraft will be equipped with the Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS) as well as state-of-the-art mission sensors and Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion avionics.

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A graphic showing a C295 in Irish Air Corps markings. Airbus

Alberto Gutiérrez, head of Military Aircraft at Airbus Defence and Space, said: "We are pleased to welcome the Irish Air Corps to our family of C295 operators, a signal of continued trust from an Air Force that already operates two Airbus CN235s."

Irish Air Corps CN235s

Responsibility for patrolling Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – with an area of approximately 132,000 square nautical miles, or 16% of the total EU sea fisheries – currently falls to a pair of CN235-100MPA aircraft, operated by 101 Squadron, 1 Operations Wing, Irish Air Corps. Flying from Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, on the southwest outskirts of Dublin, the squadron's motto is ‘Shúile Thar an Fharraige’ (‘Eyes Over the Sea’ in Gaelic).

The aircraft, serials 252 and 253, entered service in December 1994, and are the hardest-working CN235s within the worldwide Airbus Military fleet.

While the CN235 fleet can be used for tasks as diverse as paratrooping, long-distance resupply, air ambulance and transport, the main duties are maritime patrol of the EEZ and maritime SAR.  For the SAR mission, the aircraft uses its sensors to search for vessels in distress and survivors, and it can airdrop life rafts from the rear ramp when flying at low level.

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Irish Air Corps CN235-100MPA, serial 252, lines up prior to departing RAF Fairford after the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) 2016. Khalem Chapman

In 2007-08, the systems of both aircraft were upgraded with the EADS CASA (now Airbus Military) Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS).  This consisted of multiple systems updates, including the Telephonics APS-143C(V)3 OceanEye radar, FLIR Systems Star SAFIRE III five-axis gyro-stabilised electro-optical turret, Collins HF-9000 high-frequency radio, Honeywell inertial navigation system (INS)/GPS and RF Española’s TX-ARQ satellite communications (SATCOM)/HF data link.

As supplied to the Irish Air Corps, the Star SAFIRE III includes a thermal imaging camera, a low-light level TV camera (LLLTV) and a long-range spotter scope TV camera that can be used for discrete surveillance.  The system is fully integrated with the FITS data management system, which allows for video and stills to be transmitted via the data link.

The duration of a typical maritime patrol mission is about six hours, and the patrol zones are as directed by the Irish Fisheries Monitoring Centre (FMC); a patrol can reach as far as 25° west if required.

A patrol crew consists of six personnel: two pilots, two sensor and radar operators (SAROs), a radio operator and a photographer.  A typical mission involves a high-level transit to the designated area off the coast, followed by a descent to lower levels to commence the patrol.  The CN235 carries out monitoring of all ships equipped with a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) that are operating in the Irish EEZ, as well as surveillance of unidentified and suspicious vessels.

Targets can be identified initially using the onboard radar, and then visually using the SAFIRE cameras in the nose.  Target information can also be passed to and from any Irish Naval Service ships operating in the area, as well as being shared with the FMC.

Once a vessel of interest has been identified, the CN235 will conduct a low-level flypast to take photographs, with GPS location data being embedded in the images for use as evidence in any court proceedings that may result.