BRITAIN is to deploy two RAF Chinook transport helicopters to help bolster the defence of the Falklands amid renewed fears of a fresh Argentine invasion of the islands.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the helicopters would enable the islands’ garrison to mount a “swift and decisive response” to any “emerging incidents”.
In a Commons statement, Mr Fallon said a review of the islands’ defences had found they were “broadly proportionate” to the current threat level.
However, he said the government would be installing an enhanced communications system at the military headquarters at Mount Pleasant as well as putting in place plans to replace the Rapier air defence missiles when they go out of service at the end of the decade.
He also confirmed the government’s commitment to maintaining a Falkland Islands patrol vessel – currently HMS Clyde – while investing £180 million over the next ten years upgrading the infrastructure, including harbour facilities and fuel infrastructure.
“The review we have undertaken confirms our commitment to the Falkland Islands.
“We will continue to defend the right of the islanders and to maintain their way of life against whatever threats may arise,” he said.
The move comes after Jane’s Defence Weekly reported last year that the defence of the Falklands was being reviewed in the wake of reports that Russia was moving to supply Argentina with Sukhoi SU-24 strike aircraft.
The long-running dispute over the sovereignty of the British overseas territory, which Argentina calls Las Malvinas, has surfaced again in recent years under the presidency of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Asked about the reports of an escalating threat, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The assurance that I can give the Falkland Islands is that we will always be there for them, we will always defend them.”
Deployed service personnel and civilians will stay broadly the same at about 1,200 people, Mr Fallon told MPs.
In 1982, 255 British service personnel died in the successful recapture of the islands following an attack and occupation by Argentina.
Mr Fallon said Argentina’s continued claim to the South Atlantic territory remained the greatest strategic threat.
His remarks followed the completion of a regular review into the defence of the Falklands, reviewing threats and the assets available to see off any attack. He told MPs proposals by the Falkland islanders to develop their economy through oil and gas had an impact on the review.
Mr Fallon reiterated the British view that the islanders themselves must choose their political future – highlighting last year’s referendum which showed near unanimous support for remaining British.
He said: “The objective is to ensure our enduring commitment to the defence of the islands is sustained effectively.
“The current military presence is broadly proportionate to the threats and risks we face.
“Our forces in the south Atlantic are entirely defensive and are at the level required to ensure the defence of the Falkland Islands against any potential threat.”
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