Irish soldiers have fought throughout the world for centuries, establishing a reputation for being steadfast in the face of the enemy. Of course, for the “Wild Geese” fighting for France, that enemy was often the English! However, over the years large numbers of Irish soldiers have also fought heroically for the British crown as well as the U.S., Canada, Australia and other English-speaking countries. Just consider the Irish Brigade of the U.S. Civil War or the “Fighting 69th” of World War I-two examples of Irish-American units.
Today, the Republic of Ireland has just roughly 10,000 members in its Defense Forces to protect Irish sovereignty and neutrality. Special operations capability within the Irish Defense Forces rests with the Army Ranger Wing (ARW), or the “Sciathán Fianóglach an Airm” in Gaelic. The term “fianóglach” harkens back to “Na Fianna” (“The Warriors” in English), who were legendary and can also be seen on the ARW’s shoulder-tab insignia.
The ARW can trace its beginnings to the Irish Defense Force personnel who attended the U.S. Army Ranger Course during the late 1960s and early 1970s. These graduates offered the first Ranger course in Ireland in 1969, emphasizing the same skills taught to U.S. Rangers, including small-unit tactics, endurance, survival and marksmanship. For the next decade, Irish troops who attended Ranger training went back to their units and taught them the skills they had learned. Then in March 1980, as a result of the increased threat of terrorist acts, Ireland established the ARW to give the Republic special ops and counterterrorism capabilities.
Selection for the ARW lasts for four weeks and requires candidates to pass rigorous physical tests, including water confidence, an assault course, land navigation and a 10-kilometer combat run. Also the candidates’ aptitude for special operations is assessed, including long-range recon patrolling, surveillance, intelligence gathering, ambush and counter-ambush, and a timed 45-kilometer group march. Other tests include rappelling, jumping from a bridge into water, using teamwork to cross a river, operating in confined spaces (a test for claustrophobia), and various trials of strength, stamina and determination. Typically only about 15 percent of candidates complete the ARW selection process.
Those who pass initial selection move on to six months of training in ranger skills. These include combat survival, long-range patrolling, close-quarters combat with weapons, unarmed combat, advanced land navigation, combat medicine, explosive entry, counterterrorist/hostage-rescue tactics, high-speed driving, close protection, sniping, small-boat operations, combat diving and parachuting. Those completing selection and training are awarded the green beret.
The ARW’s primary missions include (1) operations behind enemy lines such as patrolling, intelligence gathering (covert observation), raids, ambushes and diversionary operations; (2) counterinsurgency operations; (3) aiding civilian government with tasks such as VIP protection and hostage rescue; (4) testing new military equipment and conducting specialized courses for other members of the Irish Defense Forces; and (5) disseminating ranger skills to the rest of the Defense Forces when troops return from the ARW to other units.
The ARW trains with other friendly special operations units such as the Australian SAS, the New Zealand SAS, the Canadian JTF2 and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, and with European counterterrorist units such as France’s GIGN, Germany’s GSG9, Sweden’s SSG and Italy’s COMSUBIN. The ARW’s relationship with the U.S. Army Rangers remains very strong.
The ARW uses the Steyr AUG A1 and AUG A3 (the AUG is the standard rifle of the Irish Defense Forces), and M203 grenade launchers may be mounted. ARW operators also use the HK416 and have used the HK33 and HK53. For light-machine-gun support, the ARW uses the FN Minimi Para.
The primary pistols in use are the Sig Sauer P226 and P228. HK USPs have also been used, possibly with suppressors. The ARW has employed HK submachine guns such as the MP5A3, MP5SD6, MP5F, MP5K, as well as the FN P90. Shotguns include the Benelli M3T and M4, as well as the Franchi SPAS-12 and Remington 870. Sniper rifles include the Accuracy International L115 in .338 Lapua and L96A1 in .308. For longer range “anti-materiel use,” the Accuracy International AW50 is available. The HK417, an enlarged .308 version of the HK416, serves as a designated marksman rifle. Steyr SSG69 rifles have been used in the past, but I do not know if they are still in the ARW armory.