Irish Gripens?

The Irish Air Corps dates back to 1922 as the National Army Air Service, making it the same age as modern independent Ireland. Equipped originally with a handful of RAF hand-me-down Brisfits and Buzzards, by WWII they enforced Ireland’s cautious neutrality, grounding 163 interloping aircraft during the conflict with the help of newly-acquired Hawker Hurricane and Gloster Gladiator fighters along with Anson patrol bombers– although Eamon de Valera would have surely bought some Messerschmitts and Heinkels if he would have had the chance.

After a post-war period with Supermarine Spitfires and Seafires, Ireland entered the jet age with six De Havilland Vampires in 1956, aircraft that remained the country’s primary fighter until they were retired in 1976. Picking up the mantle from the Vampires were a half dozen Fouga CM-170-2 Super Magisters, a sedate trainer akin to the T-2 Buckeye that could be armed if needed. Once the subsonic Magisters were put to pasture in 1999, Ireland was left with an all-prop and rotary-wing force, one they had put to effective use both before and since.

Using a Rolls-Royce built, fuel-injected, Continental IO-360D 210 hp engine with a constant-speed propeller, a Reims (Cessna) FR.172 Rocket No. 207 of the Irish Air Corps, equipped with 12x37mm Matra rockets, is seen taxiing in at Casement Aerodrome Baldonnel, Circa 1980. At the time these were Ireland’s most fearsome aircraft, as the only jets, Fouga Magisters, were typically just used for training. 

However, now some 21 years after leaving their handful of jets behind, Ireland appears to be beset by regular intrusion by Russian long-range bombers with Tu-95 Bears having to be twice this month run off by RAF fast movers called in for the task. This has led many to suggest Dublin get more muscular with their air sovereignty, as they have no active air search radars– depending on civil transponder-based receivers that bad actors can disappear from by turning off their squawk boxes.

Some are even calling for a small group of Irish jet fighters, as the country is outside of NATO and thus cannot count on the services of an air policing rotation such as seen in Iceland and the Baltic States. Likewise, the RAF has their hands full just keeping an alert over the UK and economically couldn’t assume regular protection over Ireland at the same time such a move would not be politically welcome among Irish politicians.

Other than picking up some surplus F-18Cs or F-16A/Bs sitting around a boneyard somewhere, the most budget-friendly option for an Irish Bear patrol would be Swedish Gripens.

Smelling the air, Saab just released an English-language Gripen commercial last week, with a tagline that seems tailored to such a pitch:

“Gripen’s low maintenance requirement results in the highest availability among today’s fighters. The fighter can be airborne just after a scramble signal, requiring only engine start and final automatic start-up tests. Gripen users can maintain a high sortie rate and always be ready to respond to any changing threats.”

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