New arms threat: Argentina's £3billion boost to military
BRITISH military chiefs were last night “carefully monitoring” developments after Argentina announced a £3billion revamp of its armed forces.
Buenos Aires will acquire military hardware including fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft weapons and specialised radar, as well as beefing up its special forces.
The news comes months before drilling for oil begins in earnest off the Falkland Islands, provoking Argentina’s struggling President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Last month she created a new cabinet post of Secretary for the Malvinas, her country’s name for the Falklands.
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has refused to confirm that Britain would retake the Falklands if they were overrun by enemy forces.
The extra cash means Argentina will increase defence spending by 33.4 per cent this year, the biggest rise in its history. It will include £750million for 32 procurement and modernisation programmes.
They will include medium tanks and transport aircraft and the refurbishment of warships and submarines. The shopping list also includes Israeli air defence systems, naval assault craft, rocket systems, helicopters and a drone project.
There will be a range of hi-tech capabilities for the army and the formation of new commando and special forces units.
We’re just waiting for a rig, which isn’t easy to organise in the South Atlantic, before we can escalate to the next stage,
Sources from British oil and gas firm Rockhopper Exploration confirmed serious drilling could begin in a few months. Its Sea Lion field is thought to have 394 million barrels of oil.
“We’re just waiting for a rig, which isn’t easy to organise in the South Atlantic, before we can escalate to the next stage,” said the source. President de Kirchner’s new Malvinas Secretary Daniel Filmus sent over 200 letters to oil firms threatening fines of up to $1.5billion and 15-year-jail terms if they drilled without consent.
Though the threats have no validity in international law, it is seen as an example of the lengths the president will go to in order to bolster domestic political support.
Britain has strengthened its defences of the islands, with four RAF Eurofighter Typhoons and 600 troops. A Royal Navy nuclear submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles visits twice a year.
Senior military sources told the Sunday Express they were “carefully monitoring” the situation. The real fear, however, is a raid by Argentinian special forces aimed at damaging Port Stanley’s runway.
Admiral Lord West, who was at the helm of HMS Ardent when she was sunk in the Falklands War, said: “Any major increase in defence expenditure by Argentina must be viewed with concern. I am concerned that, without any aircraft carriers, we are incapable of recapturing them.”
He said Britain’s new carriers will not be operational until 2020 and until then Argentina had a window of opportunity.