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UK to bolster Falklands defence

UK to bolster Falklands defence

Defence Secretary of State, Michael Fallon, announced in an oral statement to the House of Commons today (24 March) that the UK Government would maintain its commitment to the defence of the Falkland Islands.

Mr Fallon endorsed the conclusions of an MOD review, commissioned in 2013, that the current UK military presence on the Islands was “broadly proportionate” to the threats and risks faced. The current level of 1,200 civilian and military personnel would therefore be maintained. But he announced the following new measures:

-the return of two Chinook helicopters which had been removed in 2006 to support operations in Afghanistan. These would be operational by mid-2016.

-the replacement of the Rapier ground-based air defence system due to go out of service around the end of the decade, without a gap in capability.

-the enhancement of the Command communications system to enable the sharing of real-time operational data.

-an infrastructure development programme of £180 million over 10 years to modernise facilities at Mare Harbour and replace the power generation systems at Mount Pleasant Airport. A major modernisation of the fuels infrastructure was also nearing completion. Improvements would be made to staff accommodation and a new primary school would be built.

Responding to questions, Mr Fallon refused to be drawn on media speculation about Argentine attempts to modernise their air force. There had been media reports of an agreement with the Russian Federation to lease 12 SU-24 Sukhoi ‘Fencer’ strike aircraft and a proposal to buy 24 Swedish ‘Gripen’ aircraft on the back of an order by the Brazilian government. Neither of these has been confirmed.

Referring to the overwhelming vote in favour of remaining a British Overseas Territory in the March 2013 referendum, Mr Fallon said: “We will always defend the right of the Falkland Islander to determine their own political future.” In answer to questions, he also insisted that if ever there were discussions with the Argentine on such matters, Falkland Islander representatives would have to be present “in the room”.

There was strong cross-party support for the Government’s position. This will not have been lost on Mrs Alicia Castro, Argentina’s Ambassador to the UK, who was present in the gallery for the debate.

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