Interview

Published on September 25th, 2015 | by admin

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From The Bridge: What the LÈ Beckett Means For The Defence Forces

With military spending ever more heavily restricted over recent years, undoubtedly the arrival of the LE Samuel Beckett last year represented a major boost for the Irish Naval Service and the Defence Forces in general. The state-of-the-art vessel greatly boosts the operational capabilities of the Naval Service and enhances the interoperability objectives of the wider organisation. SIGNAL talks to Lieutenant Commander (Lt Cdr) Tony Geraghty about the new vessel and how it fits in with the operational requirements and strategic direction of the Naval Service.

Could you provide a brief history of your military career, including key appointments and command of other vessels in the Irish Naval Service (INS) flotilla?

I joined the Naval Service in 1989 as part of the 30th Naval Cadet Class. After commissioning in 1991 and periods of sea training, I completed the International Sub Lieutenants Course in Dartmouth, Devon, and was awarded my Naval Watchkeeping Certificate in 1994.

My seagoing appointments include navigational, gunnery and executive Officer of various ships, and I previously commanded the LÈ Ciara. Shore appointments include DFHQ, the Naval College, cadre staff for the Naval Service Reserve, Man Power Officer in PMS,  and APM/Staff Officer in Naval Headquarters. Overseas service was acquired with UNMEE in Eritrea in 2002.

I completed my Senior Command and staff Course in 2012, hold an honours MA (Leadership Management and Defence Studies), a Masters of Business Studies from University College Cork and have qualified as a Marine Surveyor.

My masters in UCC focused on Maritime Governance and I now use this to facilitate lecturing and internal examiner for the Level 8 MSc in Nautical Science at the National Maritime College of Ireland. I have also guest lectured Contemporary Maritime Issues in the 21st Century in University College Cork.

 
Could you tell us a bit about the LÈ Samuel Beckett and what capabilities she has as opposed to other more recently acquired vessels in the flotilla, such as the LÈ Niamh and LÈ Roisin?

LÈ Samuel Beckett (P61) is the first of three Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) being delivered as part of the largest defence procurement contract in the history of the state, at a total cost of approx €150 Million. The LÈ James Joyce (P62) is due for delivery in mid to late 2015 and P62 (as yet unnamed) is due mid 2016. Their procurement will ensure that the citizens of the state have ships built to the highest international standards in terms of safety, equipment fit, technological innovation and crew comfort. This ensures that the Naval Service can provide maritime defence & security operations for the 95% of goods transported globally to and from this island by sea. To put it simply, the Naval Service can help keep Ireland open for business.

From a purely defence perspective, we provide an armed presence at sea. This is vital in order to comply with our commitments under the EU Maritime Security Strategy (footnote required) where international and national law must be enforced, freedom of navigation guaranteed and citizens, infrastructure, transport and environment and marine resources must be protected.

The LÈ Samuel Beckett is 90 metres long, has a beam of 14 metres and requires at least 4.5 metres of water to float in. With a displacement of 2256 tonnes, she is the largest ship in the flotilla and represents a significant increase in size and capability over existing warships in the Naval flotilla.

When compared to the previous “new” ships, the LÈ Niamh and LÈ Roisin, which are now half way through their life span, the LÈ Samuel Beckett provides significant additional capability. Her size and stability systems ensure she can remain on station in weather conditions that would require other ships seek shelter. This is achieved through her additional length, displacement, stabilisers and flume tank, which are new additions for the Naval Service. The flume tank is a continuous tank that runs from one side of the ship to the other. Through the use of compressed air, the free flow of water from one side of the ship to the other can be controlled, thus improving sea-keeping capability.

Energy efficiency is a vital consideration for any military organisation in order to ensure that they have fuel to fight. With that in mind, the ship is fitted with two electrical motors that can be used to drive each propeller shaft. With a speed of up to nine knots in ideal conditions, they give significant fuel savings for comparable speeds on main diesel engines. With additional fuel capacity, the ship has a greater range than other ships thus enabling her operate for longer periods of time without fuelling.

The ships boats (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats – RHIBs) are also a significant step forward and are purpose designed and built for this class of ship by MST in the UK. Measuring 8 metres, each of three onboard can transport a fully kitted naval boarding team at speeds of 35 knots for up to 10 hours. They are also equipped with the latest warship automatic identification tracking systems and a full suite of communications that are integrated into the rest of the fleet and operations HQ ashore. This provides full situational awareness during maritime security as well as routine operations. These new generation RHIBs are a significant step forward for the Defence Forces in terms of maritime security services and provide multiple options for the commander.

Another new capability for this class of ship is the ability to carry out Dynamic Positioning (DP) operations. Dynamic Positioning is when a ship maintains position and heading to within an accuracy of a few metres. This capability allows us to deploy remotely operated vehicles (mini submarines) from the ship which can be used for underwater searches, surveys etc. The system can also be used when the ship needs to remain in the same position for extended periods of time, for example when coordinating a search and rescue in confined waters. The ability to operate in DP mode is a step in the right direction for the Defence Forces and lays a path for further ship classes.

How important was the acquisition of this ship, considering the age of the ship she is replacing?

I think it is a much more fundamental question than just replacing ships that have gone past their life span. For me personally, and from my own studies and research, there are two overriding factors that determine the type of ships required to conduct maritime security operations – the size of the maritime domain and the threat/risk level that exists within that domain.

If you ignore global or even European waters and the associated responsibility under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Ireland has an ocean jurisdiction of approximately 1,000,000 km2. Not only is this the largest ocean to land ration of any EU state, but the seabed is equal to almost thirteen times the land mass of the state. Under UNCLOS, the state has rights to this area including the water column, seabed and sub sea bed. When you couple this jurisdiction with contemporary maritime security threats such as pollution control, ordnance disposal, search & rescue/recovery, drug interdiction, contraband operations, oil; gas and wind platform protection and the protection of maritime trade, there is a compelling argument for platforms that provide the commander with the ability to react to these threats. In my opinion, the P61 class of ships permit us to remain on scene for longer in an increasingly harsh operational environment and to conduct active maritime domain security operations.

What are the core tasks assigned to the Beckett and are there any tasks specifically assigned because of the craft’s superior capabilities?

I suppose to put it simply, it provides us with greater presence. We have the ability to stay out for longer, in more hostile conditions and complete the mission, when other ships may not be able to. This gives operations command a great deal of flexibility when assigning missions as they can do so in the knowledge that we can get to an area of operations (AO) and conduct the mission safely, effectively and quickly.

From your experiences of commanding the vessel so far, what has specifically impressed you about it?

Primarily, what has impressed me the most is her crew. Despite significant reductions in pay and conditions; the levels of enthusiasm, hard work and dedication to the assigned missions are impressive. There is a can-do attitude that never fails to impress me.

From the ship’s point of view, sea keeping, ship’s boats and comfort are what impress me the most. These facilitate poise and presence at sea whilst completing allotted taskings safely and efficiently.

 In terms of crew complement, how is the crew of the Beckett composed and what officer ranks are present on board?

We have an established crew of 44, but usually have additional souls onboard due to trainees requiring sea time as part of their training cycle. From and Officer perspective, the OC is a Lt Cdr, there can be up to four Lts (NS) and one S/Lt.

Depending on the mission and joint resources required, accommodation and storage can be provided for other elements of the DF as has been proven already.

In terms of working with the Army and Air Corps components of the Defence Forces, how can the LÈ Beckett improve these cooperative capabilities?

We have already proven capability within the joint domain through exercises utilising ACC (?) and Special Operations Forces (SOF) assets. C3(?) in the joint environment has been excellent, utilising the latest communications and situational awareness packages that also link to operations HQ ashore. Our RHIBs are the most capable in the fleet and provide the ability to transport SOF as well as other assets quickly and safely. We have also conducted joint operations with other governmental agencies and have proven the worth of the ship and her organic assets.

Into the future, there are multiple ways the ship can assist the land and air components. For example, as part of our lift capability the ship can transport up to three 20 foot containers. As such containers can be configured into any function, this gives significant capability and flexibility. From the air and land perspective, our C3 is excellent which can be used in everything from conventional military operations to search and rescue coordination. With the development of cheaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) the ship has the capacity to deploy and recover rotary UAVs if the mission dictates.

The bottom line is it is accepted internationally that maritime forces provide the quickest means of deploying a logistically self-sustaining and tactically coherent force over long distances, providing an invaluable capacity for timely presence and thus the ability to nip trouble in the bud. They can shape the joint operational environment in advance of heavier forces and play a role in support of them once they are established in theatre. In Ireland’s case, this fact was proven when LÈ Niamh was deployed in the joint environment to assist with the reconnaissance of Liberia prior to our land forces deploying.

In terms of the forthcoming White Paper, what developments would you like to see that reflect the improving capabilities of the INS?


I think it is more a matter of ensuring the Defence Forces are configured correctly for global, European and national defence and security requirements. Since Ireland published the White Paper on Defence in 2000, the landscape of global security, national security and therefore, Irish security has changed dramatically. From my own perspective, I think it is now very difficult to separate defence from security, and many European countries have published combined defence and security strategies in a very holistic manner. Natural and man-made disasters, mass migration, transnational crime, pandemic diseases, uncontrolled migration, energy & resource security and terrorism are some of the significant security issues upon which many of the states of the European Union are now focussed. Many of these have at times had a defence involvement or implication. Hence the development of defence and security requirements combined into one strategy.

From a naval perspective, since 2000, Ireland’s maritime domain has effectively doubled in size with a concurrent deterioration in climate conditions. It should also be remembered that the current balance and size of the flotilla was the minimalist approach to the situation in 2000. Looking at the recent EU Maritime Security Strategy and the reality of global security trends, the citizens of Ireland need a Defence Forces capable of providing maritime security services in response to these new security threats that were not codified or even envisaged during the last White Paper process.

The development I would like to see in terms of the forthcoming White Paper would be a sustained fleet replacement programme that can deliver a flotilla that comprises a balance of large multi-role, offshore and coastal patrol vessels. Such capabilities should also take account of Ireland’s growing defence and security challenges in support of our international commitments. In this regard I look forward to seeing Government’s vision, particularly during this challenging time for all island and coastal nations.

 

Picture: Lieutenant Commander Tony Geraghty

 




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