Army Ranger Wing to double in size due to terror threat

Defence Forces unit completes simulated hostage-taking exercise in the Irish Sea

The Defence Forces has conducted a joint operations exercise led by Special Operation Forces from the Army Ranger Wing where a simulated terrorist situation was taking place on a ferry in the Irish Sea. Video: Defence Forces

 

The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) is to double in size as the Defence Forces responds to the perceived increase in the threat of international terrorism and implements last year’s White Paper on Defence.

The Rangers constitutes the Defence Forces’ special forces capability. Its precise strength is never disclosed, but it is believed to be significant by international standards.

Army, Naval Service and Air Corps personnel who complete training for the Ranger Wing are regarded as the fittest, most motivated and most able members of the Defence Forces who are capable of operating under extreme pressure.

Simulated incident

Ranger personnel led what the Defence Forces has called the most complex land, sea and air joint exercise to date in the Irish Sea on Wednesday when Rangers responded to a simulated terrorist and hostage-taking incident.

In the exercise scenario, heavily armed terrorists had taken control of a passenger ferry, the Stena Superfast X, which was heading to Dublin Port.

As part of the exercise to regain control of the ferry against robust resistance, the Rangers also had to respond to a series of complex bomb scenarios, details of which they had no prior knowledge.

These included threats to themselves as well as to ferry passengers and crew from suicide vest-wearing terrorists, belt bombs and other improvised explosive devices .

The exercise involved the three branches of the Defence Forces working with a directorate of operations in McKee Barracks in Dublin being fed information from the scene.

As the exercise unfolded rigid-hulled inflatable boats (Ribs), with assault personnel on board, were launched from the LÉ James Joyce.

As the Ribs came alongside the ferry and assault teams secured ladders allowing them to scale the sides of the ferry, colleagues on board Air Corps AW139 helicopters began abseiling on to the deck.

Cover for those boarding the ferry was provided from supporting Ribs and by designated airborne marksmen armed with HK417 battle rifles.

The main aim of the exercise was to provide critical real situation training for the Rangers, testing command and control equipment and procedures, and their Istar (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) capabilities.

Public reassurance

There is also an awareness of the need to provide a level of public reassurance that the Defence Forces are capable of responding to threats of this nature.

“While we are subservient to the civil power, there is no one else in reality who can do this.

“We train ultimately for a warfare scenario but operate normally one step down from that, with peacekeeping and assisting otherwise as requested, but we must train for this type of thing also,” said a military source.

Maj Gen Kieran Brennan, who is deputy chief of staff of operations, said the exercise offered Ireland a force “capable of hedging against the complexities of the current security environment”.

Last year’s White Paper noted the need for combined exercises stressing interoperability, procedures and doctrine and for the Defence Forces to “retain a range of flexible conventional military capabilities, including special operations forces, in order to meet the roles assigned and as a hedge to future uncertainty”.

Doubling the size of the Army Ranger Wing in line with the White Paper imperative to increase its strength “considerably” is likely to involve recruiting personnel across the three branches of the services.

“The Rangers are the quarterbacks, but they need medics, bomb disposal and IED experts, IT specialists and not just phenomenal athletes,” said a military source.