Britain to upgrade Falklands defences: minister

24th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

Britain is set to boost military defences in the Falkland Islands in response to the "continuous intimidation" from Argentina, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Tuesday.

A £180-million ($268-million, 245-million euro) programme over 10 years will include an upgraded surface-to-air missile system and the deployment of two Chinook helicopters to the South Atlantic archipelago.

However, there will be no increase in the number of military and civilian personnel stationed on the islands, who currently number about 1,200.

Buenos Aires invaded the Falklands, which it calls the Malvinas, in 1982.

Britain routed the Argentine forces after a brief but bloody war that cost the lives of 649 Argentine soldiers, 255 Britons and three islanders.

Bilateral relations have been tense ever since, and while Argentina wants bilateral talks on sovereignty, Britain maintains that there is nothing to discuss.

Unveiling the results of a review into the islands' maritime and air defences, Fallon said the main threat remained Argentina, which continues to claim the Falklands as its own.

"All this would not be necessary if we didn't have this continuous intimidation of the Argentinian government," he told members of the House of Commons.

Fallon dismissed questions about the threat posed by a proposed deal with Russia to upgrade Argentina's air force.

"The principal threat to the islands remains the quite unjustified claim of Argentina to ownership of those islands," the defence minister said.

The two Chinooks will be operational by the middle of 2016, and would provide "24/7 tactical mobility in order to allow a swift and decisive response to any emerging incidents", as well as a heavy-lift capability, Fallon said.

"I can confirm we will be renewing the ground-based air defence system when Rapier (the current system) comes out of service around the end of the decade," he added.

Britain also intends to upgrade the operational communications and power generation systems at the Mount Pleasant airfield, and improve the ageing Mare Harbour.

A new school will meanwhile be built for the children of British troops deployed on the islands.

Any change in the Falklands defences is likely to be viewed as a provocation by Argentina, which in November filed a formal complaint following British military exercises carried out 350 kilometres (217 miles) east of its shores.

Last month, Argentina announced it was issuing a new 50-peso (five-euro) banknote on which the Falklands will be depicted, which the central bank said was a reminder of the country's claim.

Tensions have intensified in recent years following the discovery of significant offshore oil deposits close to the islands. Fallon said this development had informed his department's review of the islands' defences.

© 2015 AFP

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