|Irish Army Ranger Wing|
|Irish: Sciathán Fiannóglaigh an Airm|
Shoulder flash and insignia of the Army Ranger Wing
|Active||16 March 1980- present|
|Part of||Defence Forces|
|Garrison/HQ||DFTC, Curragh Camp, County Kildare|
|Motto(s)||Glaine ár gcroí, Neart ár ngéag, Agus beart de réir ár mbriathar|
("The cleanliness of our hearts, The strength of our limbs, And our commitment to our promise")
|Colours||Black, Red and Gold|
The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) (Irish: Sciathán Fiannóglaigh an Airm, "SFA") is the special operations force of the Irish Defence Forces, the military of Ireland. A branch of the Irish Army, it also selects personnel from the Naval Service and Air Corps. It serves at the behest of the Defence Forces and Government of Ireland, operating internally and overseas, and reports directly to the Chief of Staff. The ARW was established in 1980 with the primary role of counter terrorism and evolved to both special operations and counter terrorism roles from 2000 after the end of conflict in Northern Ireland. The unit is based in the Curragh Camp, County Kildare. The 2015 White Paper on Defence announced that the strength of the ARW would be considerably increased.
The unit has served abroad in a number of international peacekeeping missions, including in Somalia, East Timor, Liberia, Chad and Mali. The ARW trains with special forces units around the world, particularly in Europe. The ARW in its domestic counter terrorism role trains and deploys with the Garda Síochána (national police) specialist armed intervention unit, the Emergency Response Unit (ERU).
Offensive operations behind enemy lines
In the late 1960s, the Defence Forces established Special Assault Groups (SAG) in the Army to meet security challenges on the border with Northern Ireland. A number of Army officers attended the United States Army Ranger School in Fort Benning, Georgia who returned to conduct Army Ranger courses in Ireland with the first held in 1969. Among its founding officers was later-to-be Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Dermot Earley. Special Assault Groups were formed comprising 40 Rangers trained in all arms, engineering and ordnance techniques. By the mid 1970s, the Defence Forces had over 300 Rangers who conducted support operations on the request of the Garda Síochána. Students on these courses were selected from among all ranks and units of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps. The courses improved standards of physical endurance, marksmanship, individual military skills and small unit tactics. In December 1977, the Garda Síochána formed a counter terrorist unit named the Special Task Force (STF) to operate in border regions that was later to become the Emergency Response Unit. In 1978, following an assessment of the SAG, it was decided to consolidate the Rangers into a new special forces unit with a counter terrorist capability following an increase in international and national terrorism, such as the 1972 Munich massacre in Germany (then West Germany) and a number of hostage-takings by the Provisional IRA (such as the Balcombe Street siege).
The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) was formally established, in accordance with the Defence Act, by Government order on 16 March 1980. The ARW received its colours in 1981; Black, Red and Gold, signifying Secrecy, Risk and Excellence. In 1991, the ARW was granted permission to wear the Green beret.
In April 2017, it was reported that there had been no increase in the strength of the ARW despite the 2015 White Paper aim to considerably increase the strength of the unit.
The unit's official name is Sciathán Fiannóglaigh an Airm, which is translated from the Irish language into English as "Army Ranger Wing". Fiannóglaigh (representing "Rangers") is an amalgamation of two words. Fiann is closest to the English word "warrior", and refers to the ancient band of warriors known as Na Fianna in Irish mythology. Óglaigh literally means "young soldiers", and is often translated as '"volunteers". Use in this context refers to the name of the Defence Forces in Irish: Óglaigh na hÉireann ("Irish Volunteers").Na Fianna were purportedly expert warriors, so the addition of the word Fiann before Óglaigh denotes an elite element to the unit. The shoulder flash insignia of the unit uses Fianóglach, which is the singular version of the word Fiannóglaigh.
The motto of the Army Ranger Wing is taken from an old Fianna poem, in Irish it is: "Glaine ár gcroí, Neart ár ngéag, Agus beart de réir ár mbriathar", which translates as: "The purity of our hearts, the strength of our limbs and our commitment to our promise" in English.
The Officer Commanding the Army Ranger Wing is responsible for the administrative, disciplinary and operational control of the unit, and is in turn directly under the command of the Chief of Staff at Defence Forces Headquarters (DFHQ). Information on the numerical strength of the unit and the identity of its personnel is restricted. Estimates variously put the strength at "well over a hundred" or between 140 and 150 personnel. In 2015, the Defence White Paper announced an increase in strength with reports of the unit doubling in size. The Wing is divided into operational task units each comprising several assault teams relative to each operator's area of speciality. After serving one year in an assault team an operator can apply to join a specialist team such as combat diving team, free fall parachuting team and sniping team. An example of an operational task unit is the Special Operations Maritime Task Unit (SOMTU). Support platoons provide expertise in bomb disposal, medical treatment, maritime and aviation operations. The Army Ranger Wing is headquartered at the Defence Forces Training Centre (DFTC) in the Curragh Camp, with Army Rangers required to live within a defined radius. Training is carried out nationwide at a number of Department of Defence properties, including Lynch Camp in Kilworth, County Cork.
The ARW is on immediate call 24/7, 365 days a year for operations throughout the state and abroad. The ARW is on five days notice to deploy overseas on special operations. The ARW is on a 2-hour alert for anti-terrorist operations to deploy anywhere on land in the Republic of Ireland using Air Corps aircraft and up to 200 miles out to sea via the Naval Service vessels. In the event of a major terrorist, hijacking or hostage incident, the ARW may be called to aid the Garda ERU, and in the past they have been put on standby to assist the Irish Prison Service during major prison riots. The ARW have also provided security at Ireland's maximum-security Portlaoise Prison. The unit has on occasion been tasked for search and rescue (SAR) operations, as the ARW have trained Arctic survival specialists.
Besides sanctioned international military missions, the unit may be deployed overseas to protect Irish diplomatic missions and diplomats (particularly in times of war or civil unrest in host countries), to provide close protection to members of the Irish government travelling overseas, to rescue kidnapped Irish citizens or to conduct intelligence operations.
The ARW is equipped with SINCGAR ITT, Harris and Racal communications equipment, which have an inbuilt encryption and frequency-hopping systems. It is also equipped with satellite communications, through the ARW C3 (Command, Control & Communications) function and in cooperation with the Communications and Information Services Corps (CIS). This means ARW teams can communicate with their GHQ from anywhere in the world. The Army Ranger Wing Intelligence Section has the ability to remotely intercept electronic and telephonic communications, working with the Directorate of Military Intelligence (J2) and Army CIS Corps.
Candidates must be serving members of the Permanent Defence Forces (PDF) from any of the three branches (Army, Air Corps or Naval Service). The candidate must be medically fit and have attained the rank of at least 3 Star Private (or equivalent). There is no age limit to attempt selection. Selection has been open to females since 1984, however, none have been successful. Usually 40 to 80 candidates attempt selection annually.
The ARW recently revised its selection and assessment procedures combining the previous Selection course & Basic Skills course into a new single course named the Special Operations Force Qualification Course (SOFQ). The SOFQ is conducted over 10 months (40 weeks). The Selection Course had been conducted over 3 weeks after being reduced in 2006 from 4 weeks. The Basic Skills course had been conducted over 5 months.
The SOFQ is divided into 5 distinct modules:
Module 1 assesses a candidate's level of physical fitness, motivation and suitability to progress on towards further modules (2-5) of the SOFQ course similar to the previous selection course. Candidates must pass a series of fitness assessments, map reading and individual navigation assessments, claustrophobia, water confidence, and psychometric testing. The final phase of Module 1 includes individual navigation exercises with set weights over unknown distances and completion times which can be over 250 km, culminating in an additional 65 km cross-country march carrying a 65 lb combat load in the Dublin & Wicklow mountain range. On average candidates get between four and five hours sleep per a night. Officer and senior NCO candidates are subjected to separate, rigorous scrutiny of their planning and decision-making skills to determine the suitability. The length of Module 1 is 3 weeks similar to the previous selection course length. Typically 85% of candidates fail Module 1. Between 2000 and 2005, approximately 240 attempted selection, including a female, with 50 successful.
Modules 2 to 4 consist of assessment and training in weapons and marksmanship, live-fire tactical training, special operations tactics, techniques, and procedures (green role) and counter terrorism tactics, techniques, and procedures (black role), combat water survival, Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Extraction (SERE), communications and medical training. Upon successful completion of Module 3, candidates are awarded the Fianóglach shoulder tab and are provisionally assigned to the unit. Upon successful completion of Module 4, candidates are awarded the distinctive ARW green beret.
Module 5 Continuation training is the conclusion of the SOFQ course, and candidates are posted to an operational ARW task unit as an assault team operator. 3 Star Privates (and equivalents) who are successful in completing the SOFQ course pass out at the rank of Acting Corporal, and the lowest commissioned rank in the unit is that of Captain. All candidates must successfully complete the basic parachute course of five (5) static line jumps from 3,000 feet using T10 round canopies.
As of 2012, it was reported that since the units inception less than 400 had completed training to become a Ranger.
Further specialist training courses for Rangers include advanced combat medical skills, military freefall, combat diving (taught by the specialist Naval Service Diving Section) and boat handling, close protection and handling of advanced weapons.
Prior to 2000 with The Troubles, approximately 85% of Ranger training had been dedicated to counter-terrorism. The average age of a Ranger is 31 years old with the eldest 44 years old. On average, a member of the ARW spends between 5 and 10 years serving with the unit before being returned to their home unit bringing their skills with them, but it is not uncommon for some to spend 15 years in the unit.
The ARW has its own purpose built tactical training facilities, including shooting ranges, kill houses and various urban and rural settings. The main facility is known as "Tac Town", based in the Curragh. Other ranges are located in County Wicklow. These facilities are also made available to the ERU.
The ARW has trained with other military and law enforcement special operations forces, including;
In 2015, the Irish Defence Forces signed agreements with their British counterparts to deepen joint special forces peacekeeping co-operation, extending from previous deployments with British special forces in a number of combat zones.
Rangers have seen active service in a number of peacekeeping missions around the world with the United Nations, European Union (EU) and Partnership for Peace (PfP) of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (the Republic of Ireland is not a member of NATO, due to its policy of military neutrality). Individual deployments include Lebanon, Bosnia, Cyprus, Iraq and Western Sahara.
The ARW's first deployment overseas was in Somalia in 1993 as part of UNOSOM II where a number of teams joined the United States led peacekeeping coalition tasked with imposing a ceasefire in the Baidoa region. Over 100 Irish troops took part in the mission, during which the ARW wore US military uniforms to blend in with American troops.
On one regular return journey, from protecting a food convoy/supply run to Mogadishu, Irish and Indian UN troops were ambushed by insurgents. Following an intense firefight, there were more than 10 enemy killed with no Irish or Indian fatalities reported. Following this, the Irish contingent was supplied with armoured vehicles as they had previously being relying on soft-skinned vehicles mounted with heavy calibre machine guns.
In October 1999, No 1 IRCON (Irish Contingent), an ARW platoon of 30 Rangers deployed to East Timor as part of the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) to restore peace and security following the independence referendum in August. The Australian led mission had begun nearly a month earlier with an allied special forces coalition of Australian Special Air Service, New Zealand Special Air Service and British Special Boat Service (SBS) named Response Force.
No 1 IRCON was embedded in the reconnaissance company in the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Regiment (1 RNZIR) Battalion Group together with an infantry company from the Canadian 3rd Battalion, Royal 22 Regiment bringing the battalion to full strength. The Battalion Group based in Suai was responsible for securing the south west of the country from pro-Indonesian militia and Indonesian military (TNI) that included a long section of the border between East and Indonesian controlled West Timor.
No 1 IRCON completed a four-month deployment followed by No 2 IRCON. In February 2000, INTERFET handed over command of military operations to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). No 2 IRCON completed its four-month deployment in June 2000 with subsequent rotations from infantry platoons. The Battalion Group had several contacts (fire fights) and a number of incidents with threat forces sustaining no casualties.
The ARW was deployed in Liberia in the aftermath of the Second Liberian Civil War as part of a peacekeeping contingent of more than 400 troops from the Irish Army, in turn part of the mixed Irish-Swedish Force Reserve Battalion of the United Nations mission in the country, UNMIL (2003). The ARW's area of operations (AO) was "all of Liberia", consisting of 4.7 million people and 111,369 sq km (43,000 sq mi).
One of their most successful missions during this deployment was the rescue of a large group of civilians captured by gunmen from renegade Liberian forces. Acting on intelligence, a team of twenty heavily armed Rangers were dropped via helicopters at the town of "Gbapa". To avoid casualties among the hostages, the ARW implemented a policy of less-lethal intervention and, after surrounding a 40-foot container holding 35 hostages, rescued the innocent civilians and captured the rebel forces, including their commander. The incident, which resulted in no Irish casualties, drew praise from the international community and boosted the reputation of the ARW worldwide.
In February 2008, a Special Forces Task Group of 58 Rangers deployed to Abéché in Chad as part of the European Union Force Chad/CAR based at Camp Croci. The ARW was an Initial Entry Force together with other EUFOR special forces that conducted special reconnaissance within the Irish assigned south eastern Chad area of operations. The ARW was later based at Multi-National Base-South at Goz Beïda known as Camp Ciara in the area of operations providing security during the construction of the base. The ARW conducted vehicle patrols along the Chad / Sudan border in their Ford F-350 Special Reconnaissance Vehicles. The ARW mission ended in June 2008 with the arrival of the 97th Infantry Battalion.
In June 2019, Dáil Éireann approved sending an ARW Task Unit and staff officers to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in intelligence and operational roles, on 4-month rotations for two years. The ARW were deployed in response to an upsurge in violence in north-eastern Mali, led by militants affiliated with al-Qaeda. The Irish contingent are due to be primarily tasked with conducting long-range reconnaissance patrols (LRRP) and deployed as part of a German-led ISTAR Task Force, benefiting from the protections and medical support in place for the larger force. 14 ARW operators are reported to be involved per rotation.
MINUSMA is the most dangerous UN peacekeeping mission. As of October 2019, 204 peacekeepers had been killed out of a total of 15,000 deployed uniformed personnel. It is the first overseas operational deployment for the ARW as a unit, in ten years.
In February 2020, three ARW personnel were injured when an IED blast hit the armoured patrol vehicle they were travelling in, 70 km east of Gao. The personnel were airlifted to hospital but after two weeks were reported to be "back to work".
In October 2005, Rangers and Arabic-speaking intelligence officers from Military Intelligence (J2) were deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, following the abduction of Irish journalist Rory Carroll by al-Qaeda militants. Following negotiations with Irish, British and American governments, Rory Carroll was released unharmed days later and returned safely to Ireland.
In 2009, the ARW were involved in the evacuation of GOAL aid worker Sharon Commins who was kidnapped by Janjaweed in Darfur, Sudan for more than 100 days before being released, although the government denied the involvement of the ARW at the time.
From 2006 to 2014, it has been reported that operatives from the ARW, including from the Intelligence Section and Military Intelligence Directorate, had been on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of various international missions.
With the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the Libyan Civil War, the ARW, Air Corps and other Defence Forces assets were deployed in order to evacuate upwards of 115 Irish citizens from the country, mainly via the capital Tripoli. The ARW operated out of the British diplomatic mission in Malta. It was reported at the time that Irish officials printed fake boarding passes in order to bypass "tight" security at Tripoli airport, where authorities refused to allow a large number of aircraft to land or take off. Three Irish aircraft were involved in the operation.
In 2012, it was reported that the ARW could deploy 30 Rangers in the Gulf of Aden, subject to Government, Dáil and UN approval ("triple-lock"), to protect international shipping lanes against Somali pirates as part of the EU's Operation Atalanta.
As of 2014, Rangers were serving missions on three continents, including training foreign forces in Africa and the Balkans, protection duties in Lebanon for the United Nations mission and security and intelligence operations on the Israeli-Syrian border (Golan Heights).
In late 2015, Private John O'Mahony (Ret.) gave evidence as a witness in a military trial in Beirut, Lebanon against Mahmoud Bazzi, a former Lebanese militia fighter accused of murdering Private Thomas Barrett and Private Derek Smallhorne of the Irish Army in April 1980 in Southern Lebanon (see At Tiri Incident). O'Mahony was accompanied during his entire time in Lebanon by a Close Protection Team from the Army Ranger Wing.
The ARW was chosen to spearhead the special operations task group (SOTG) for the EU Battlegroup rapid reaction force based in Germany, deploying in late 2019. It is the fourth time the Irish Defence Forces have served in the Battlegroup, but the first time the ARW have as a unit. The wider force comprises 1,500 troops from EU member states. The ARW is due to train with the battlegroup for six months after which they are planned to remain on standby with it for 18 months. This overlaps with the unit's rotations to MINUSMA in Mali.
In December 1983 the ARW was involved in an operation against an I.R.A. unit on the loose in woodland in the South of County Leitrim that had been holding hostage for ransom a kidnapped businessman, the ARW having been sent in by the Government after the I.R.A. unit had murdered a Garda officer and an Irish Army soldier that had found their hideout.
In November 1987, the ARW was tasked with setting up a checkpoint in Urlingford, County Kilkenny to assist Gardaí in catching suspects linked to the kidnapping of a dentist and his family by the IRA, in an ordeal during which the dentist had two of his fingers cut off by the gang and a Garda officer suffered serious gunshot wounds. Acting on information, Gardaí were expecting a green BMW car with two of the gang's suspects. As the car approached, snipers from the ARW opened fire more than a dozen times killing one suspect and seriously injuring another. The surviving IRA terrorist had been linked to 26 murders and was jailed for 40 years by the Special Criminal Court.
In January 1997, two teams of 12 from the ARW were sent to Mountjoy Prison in central Dublin where three prisoners armed with knives had taken two prison officers hostage and barricaded themselves inside the Medical Unit where they were threatening to kill the prison officers. The ARW took up positions ready to blow down the steel door to the unit and eliminate the threat posed by the hostage-takers. The siege ended within a few hours of the ARW being called in, after the hostage takers were made aware of their presence during negotiations and surrendered.
In May 2011, the unit had a major role in protecting Queen Elizabeth II on her state visit to Ireland, where "viable" assassination attempts by dissident republican terrorists were prevented. The ARW had airborne sniper teams in three AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters, counter assault teams in the motorcade and a number of ground teams, including 20 close protection officers.
Also in May 2011, President of the United States Barack Obama received protection from the ARW on his visit to Ireland just days after the visit of the Queen. The two visits were the largest civil security operations ever undertaken in the Republic of Ireland, both ultimately successful.
From January to July 2013, the wing formed part of the security apparatus for the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, held by Ireland for six months, which included supplying sniper and spotter teams. Also in June 2013, they helped secure the Republic of Ireland-United Kingdom border on land and at sea as part of the security operation for the 39th G8 summit in Northern Ireland.
Three Rangers are known to have died while serving in the unit since its foundation in 1980, one of them overseas. Sergeant Derek Mooney, aged 33, of Blackrock, Dublin, died after the Land Rover Defender he was driving in a convoy overturned due to poor road conditions, 40 km south of Monrovia, Liberia on 27 November 2003. Sgt Kevin Mayne (1987) and RQMS Patsy Quirke (1998) also lost their lives while serving in the unit, however no details regarding the cause of their deaths are publicly available. No other losses have been publicly disclosed.
In Paul O'Brien and Wayne Fitzgerald's book Shadow Warriors, it states "four operatives losing their lives while on active service" with the ARW, however their names and details are omitted at the request of the Irish Defence Forces. They are remembered on a memorial located within the ARW compound at the Curragh Camp.
In addition to standard weapons of the Irish Defence Forces, weapons used by the ARW include:-
|SIG Sauer P226|| Germany
|Semi-automatic pistol||9×19mm Parabellum|||
|SIG Sauer P228|||
|Heckler & Koch USP||Germany||Suppressed|
|Heckler & Koch MP5||Germany||Submachine gun||9×19mm Parabellum||Including MP5A3, MP5SD6, MP5F and MP5K variants|
|FN P90||Belgium||Personal defense weapon||FN 5.7×28mm|||
|Benelli M3T (Tactical)||Italy||Semi-automatic shotgun||12 gauge|||
|Benelli M4 Super 90|||
|Franchi SPAS-12||Combat shotgun|||
|Remington Model 870||United States||Pump action|||
|Heckler & Koch HK416||Germany||Assault rifle||5.56×45mm NATO||Suppressed|
|Steyr AUG A1||Austria||Bullpup assault rifle|||
|Steyr AUG A3||Bullpup assault rifle|||
|Heckler & Koch HK417||Germany||Battle rifle||7.62×51mm NATO||Suppressed|
|Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Magnum||United Kingdom||Bolt action sniper rifle||.338 Lapua Magnum|||
|Accuracy International AW50||12.7×99mm NATO|||
|Light machine guns|
|FN Minimi||Belgium||Light machine gun||5.56×45mm NATO||Para|