UK Seeks To Update Falklands Air Defense
By Andrew Chuter 12:03 p.m. EDT March 24, 2015
LONDON — Britain is to invest £180 million (US $268.7 million) over the next 10 years strengthening its military presence on the Falkland Islands and has already started looking for a contractor to build a key element of a ground-based air defense (GBAD) system.
Speaking in Parliament Tuesday, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon outlined plans to deploy helicopters and upgrade port facilities along with the GBAD system to boost Britain's military on the islands.
Two Chinook support helicopters will be operational by the middle of next year along with communications capabilities for the British headquarters at Mount Pleasant airfield.
A number of projects to replace some of the aging infrastructure are also included in the long-term capability plans, including the refurbishment of Mare Harbour.
Fallon said the introduction of the Chinooks is a "significant capability which will provide reactive, 24/7 tactical mobility, in order to allow a swift and decisive response to any emerging incidents. The helicopters will also bring a heavy lift capability and will enhance the training opportunities available to the resident infantry company.
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"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 defense of the Falkland Islands against any potential threat. However, I have agreed a number of measures designed to ensure our resilience for the short, medium and longer term," Fallon said.
The announcement follows a review of the islands' defenses conducted by the MoD over the last 18 months or so.
Britain and Argentina fought a bloody war over the islands in 1982 and the dispute concerning sovereignty of the territory, known in Buenos Aires as the Malvinas, continues to rumble on diplomatically.
The British defend the island with a force including four Typhoon jets, an offshore patrol vessel, a ground based air defense system and infantry.
There are about 1,200 soldiers, sailors and airmen based on the Falklands and Fallon told Parliament those number would not be changing.
Even before the announcement, Britain had already taken a significant step toward updating its air defenses on the Falklands by kick-starting a competition to supply a key element of a new ground-based system.
Defence Ministry officials recently briefed industry on its requirements for a battle management C4I system and have issued a pre-qualification questionnaire.
Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Saab are among the companies known to have attended the February briefing by the British MoD.
The contract comes in what the British call its B1 funding category, which means the value of the BMC4I deal will be between £100 million and £250 million.
The command-and-control system will be part of an air defense system that will include a new ground-to-air missile being developed by MBDA and Saab's Giraffe radar, which is already in service with the British military.
The MoD spokesman said the BMC4I-based requirement is in the assessment phase with the contract award to go ahead, known here as the main gate decision, by May 2016.
He declined to give an in-service date for the system.
However, the MoD's Contract Bulletin reports that the winning company will have to provide five years of initial support in a contract set to end in 2025.
The British Army recently received the last unit of a similar ground-based air defense system from Lockheed Martin, known as Land Environment Air Picture Provision, or LEAPP.
The spokesman said LEAPP hadn't been considered because the new requirement involved additional capabilities.
"The potential threat posed to our forces from air platforms and their munitions has evolved and the system required must interact with the Future Local Area Air Defence System [FLAADS] [Land] and G-AMB radar system, meaning it needs a solution incorporating additional capabilities [like weapon control] for which LEAPP was not designed," he said.
LEAPP achieved full operating capability in December and the spokesman said reliability and functionality of the system is exemplary.
Britain awarded missile-maker MBDA a £228 million contract in December to develop the FLAADS (Land) weapon system. The new weapon is destined to replace the long-serving Rapier anti-air missile as part of the Falklands ground-based defenses and in other British Army units by 2020.
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With an aging Air Force, Argentina poses no threat to the islands. The Argentineans, though, have been trying, so far without success, to modernize a force that consists of Mirage III, Super Entendard and Nesher combat jets.
French, Swedish, Russian and Chinese-made jets have all been touted as possible options for cash strapped Argentina to replace some of their old aircraft.
The Buenos Aires government has always denied media reports that it was in talks to buy or lease Sukhoi Su-24 jets from Russia in a beef-for-fighters barter.