The Irish Army Ranger Wing
, Sciathán Fianóglach an Airm) is the special forces
unit of the Irish Defence Forces
The ARW trains and operates with many international special operations units worldwide, including the US Army Rangers, Marine Corps Force Recon, Delta Force and Navy SEALs, French GIGN, German GSG 9, Swedish SSG, Italian COMSUBIN, Australian SAS and New Zealand SAS, among others.
The Army Ranger Wing is the Republic of Ireland's premier hostage rescue unit, and trains closely with the specialised firearms service of An Garda Síochána (known as the Emergency Response Unit or ERU). In any major hostage incident the Ranger Wing would be involved with the ERU in a supporting role.
The unit's official name is "Sciathán Fiannóglach an Airm"
, which roughly translates into English
as "Army Ranger Wing".
"Fiannóglach" (representing "Ranger") is an amalgamation of two words. "Fian" is closest to the English word "warrior", and refers to the ancient band of warriors known as Na Fianna in Irish Mythology. "Óglach" (literally 'young hero') means "soldier" and refers to the name of the Defence Forces in Irish: Óglaigh na hÉireann.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s a small number of Irish Defence Forces personnel attended the United States Army Rangers course
at Fort Benning
, Georgia, USA. On their return, these personnel organised similar courses with the goal of bringing standards of training throughout the Irish Defence Forces into line with accepted international standards. The first course was conducted in the Military College in the Curragh Army Camp in 1969 with 12 officer students. Students on these courses were selected from among all ranks and units of the Army
, Air Corps
and the Naval Service
and covered physical endurance, marksmanship, individual military skills and small unit tactics.
Formalising these standards and creation of the Army Ranger Wing resulted from the increase in international terrorism in the late 1970s and 1980s. The increased skills and endurance training of 'Ranger'-trained personnel provided the perfect basis for the creation of a new specialist unit to counter these threats. The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) was formally established, in accordance with the Defence Act, by Government order in March 1980.
The ARW has a wide variety of roles, covering conventional warfare, anti-terrorist
warfare and training for the Defence Forces including:
- Offensive Operations behind enemy lines, e.g. Securing of vital objectives, Long Range Patrolling - Raids - Ambushes - Sabotage, Capture of key personnel, Diversionary Operations.
- Defensive Operations, e.g. VIP Protection, Counter-insurgency.
- Specialist Aid to the Civil Power (Anti-Terrorist Tasks).
- Standards, e.g. Testing and evaluation of military equipment, conducting specialist courses.
- Returning highly-skilled personnel to the Defence Forces on completion of service in the ARW.
Training and selection
Selection for the ranger wing lasts 3 weeks, plus on success of completion, another 6 months continuation where basic skill's such as LRRP, parachuting are taught - which takes place annually, usually in October. Course candidates must be serving members of the Defence Forces, but are not subject to an age limit. The 3 week course is organised into 2 distinct phases. Selection is open to females.
In the first phase instructors demonstrate the basic requirements to become a Ranger, and candidates must pass a number of initial physical tests - including: water confidence training, assault course training, individual navigation tests as well as a 10km combat run test. If a candidate fails more than 3 out of the 9 basic tests they are returned to their home unit. A selection course may only be attempted 3 times by any candidate.
In the second phase candidates are taught special forces tactics in long range reconnaissance patrolling, surveillance, intelligence gathering, search tactics, and ambush organisation. The course culminates in a 40km group march which must be completed in a set time.
In all, candidates must complete assessment in the following areas:
- Abseiling - Assesses a student's confidence when working at height.
- Bridge jump - Tests confidence in water.
- River crossing - Evaluates ability to work in a team.
- Claustrophobia - Tests a student's ability to work with their equipment in confined spaces.
- Gym tests - Assesses muscular endurance and strength while performing a set number of exercises.
- 10km run - Tests cardiovascular endurance over a set distance and time.
- Mountain walk - Tests endurance over a set uphill march, while carrying a medium load.
- Hill circuit - Assesses stamina and strength over a set cross-country course, while carrying a light load.
- Forced march "cross-country" - Assesses stamina and strength over a set cross-country course and time while carrying a medium load around 15kgs.
- Forced march "road" - A group test to assess the student's tolerance of pressure over a set course and time, while carrying a medium load, the distance is between 22-26 miles.
- Route march - A group test to assess overall stamina, endurance and strength during a forced march over the mountains while carrying a medium load.
Of the 40 to 80 candidates that start the annual Ranger selection course, only 15% remain at the conclusion. All candidates who successfully complete the Ranger course are presented with the Fianóglach shoulder flash.
When it comes to selection the Officers and NCO's meet to assess the candidates, and the best are retained according to the number of places available.
If a student passes selection at this stage, they are sent on a further six-month ranger skills course. This course includes long range reconnaissance and survival training, unarmed combat, anti-terrorist and close quarters combat skills, advanced first aid, advanced combat shooting and parachuting. Upon passing this selection course and probationary period they then earn the right to wear the prestigious Green beret.
The ARW also has its own purpose built tactical training facility, including "shoot houses", training ranges and various urban settings. The facility is known as "Tac town".
Command and communications
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 HQ. The Army Ranger Wing is on immediate call for operations throughout the State.
The ARW is equipped with state of the art ITT SINCGAR, RACAL and Harris communications equipment, all of which have an inbuilt encryption and frequency hopping systems. It is also equipped with satellite communications, though it should be noted that Ireland is a neutral state and does not have its own military satellites.
The Army Rangers have seen active service assisting peacekeepers in Chad, Liberia, East Timor, Somalia and Lebanon, as well as operations at home in the 1980s against the Provisional Irish Republican Army and other armed groups.
The ARW was deployed in Liberia
following the Second Liberian Civil War
as part of a peace-keeping contingent of more than 400 troops from the Irish Defence Forces
, in turn part of a rapid reaction force for the United Nations mission in the country.
One of their most successful missions during this deployment was the rescue of a group of civilians captured by gunmen from renegade Government of Liberia forces. Acting on intelligence, twenty heavily armed Rangers were dropped by helicopter into the town of Gbapa. To avoid casualties among the hostages, the Rangers implemented a policy of non-lethal intervention and, after surrounding a 40-foot container containing the 35 hostages, rescued them.
In 1999, the Dáil
voted to send the ARW to serve with the United Nations International Force, East Timor
(INTERFET). Mandated under a UN Security Council
resolution, INTERFET was a peacekeeping force deployed to restore security in the region, support and protect the UN Mission in East Timor, and to facilitate humanitarian assistance operations. The detachment of 30 ARW personnel was involved in peacekeeping duties with Canadian and New Zealand troops near the West Timor border.
As Ireland's premier hostage rescue unit, operators from the ARW were deployed to Iraq
alongside Arabic-speaking members of G2
(the military intelligence branch of the Irish military), after Irish journalist Rory Carroll
was abducted in 2005. The Rangers were charged with liaison with U.S. Special Operations Forces
in regard to a possible rescue operation, and to provide security to the Irish Government representatives who were attempting to negotiate his release. Their assistance was not required however, as Mr. Carroll was released a short time later.
An ARW force of 54 was recently deployed in Chad
, as part of the peacekeeping European Union Force (EUFOR TCHAD/RCA)
. The ARW arrived on February 19th and have completed reconnaissance missions to select a mission base for the Irish Defence Force deployment, which has received the troops and has been named "Camp Ciara".
In addition to standard issue weapons of the Irish Defence Forces, weapons used by the ARW include: