Falklands Feud: UK ‘Halts’ Major Warship Patrols Near ‘Contested Islands’; Dearth Of Vessels Leave It Undefended?

The Falkland Islands are no longer patrolled by major British warships due to a shortage of vessels, leaving their defense primarily in the hands of a small patrol vessel and four RAF Typhoons, according to reports.

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This signifies a deviation from the official policy of conducting patrols in the South Atlantic, giving rise to apprehensions, particularly in light of Argentina’s intentions to modernize its military.

The report says a significant British warship has not been deployed to the region for almost seven years, resulting in the island’s defense relying on a small patrol vessel and four RAF Typhoons. 

Traditionally, the Falklands region was patrolled by a frigate or destroyer equipped with anti-ship and air defense missiles. The last major warship deployed to the area was the Type 23 frigate HMS Portland in 2017.  

However, British naval authorities have now reduced the islands’ maritime protection to HMS Forth, an offshore patrol vessel featuring a solitary 30mm cannon. Four Typhoon fighter jets are stationed on the island, though one is currently non-operational. 

This security situation in the Falklands has drawn attention, particularly as the new Argentinian government intends to acquire fighter jets, submarines, and warships. This has raised concerns about the potential for Argentina to initiate a renewed invasion akin to the events of 1982, the report claimed. 

HMS Forth (P222) - Wikipedia
HMS Forth (P222) – Wikipedia

But, recent revelations from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) indicate that four of the Navy’s 11 frigates are out of operational duty, with two scheduled for decommissioning due to a staffing crisis.

The anticipated entry into service of new Type 31 and Type 26 frigates is not expected until at least 2027 and 2028, respectively, while the launch of a new destroyer, Type 83, is projected for the late 2030s.

The Falkland Islands, hosting 1,200 military and civilian personnel, feature an RAF base at Mount Pleasant and a naval port for HMS Forth. In addition, the British Army maintains three Sky Sabre surface-to-air missile batteries in the Falkland Islands. 

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The longstanding issue of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands has remained a contentious contention between Britain and Argentina since their brief but bloody conflict over the islands in 1982. 

Despite Argentina’s persistent efforts to reopen negotiations over the Falklands, referred to as Las Malvinas in Argentina, the UK has consistently asserted that talks are not on the table unless the islanders desire to switch sides.

Recent concerns have been amplified following the election of Javier Milei as the new Argentinian President. 

During his campaign, Milei vowed to secure sovereignty over the Falklands through “diplomatic channels,” declaring it as a “non-negotiable” objective. However, the UK’s Foreign Office has rejected these overtures.

In January 2024, Milei announced that discussions with the UK about the Falkland Islands had commenced, hinting at potential future negotiations over the sovereignty of the British territory. 

This declaration sparked controversy, as Britain has previously emphasized its lack of intentions for diplomatic negotiations concerning the islands’ future.

Adding to the unease, reports indicate that since taking office, President Milei has unofficially approved a deal to acquire 24 F-16 fighter jets from Denmark, supported by the US Congress in October. 

Additionally, he has initiated a review of plans to procure three submarines and a fleet of warships from France or Germany. The US government strongly advocated selecting Lockheed Martin F-16 planes over Chinese-manufactured JF-17 jets.

These acquisitions will significantly enhance Argentina’s defense capabilities, particularly as the country faces a deficit in operational fighter jets since retiring its Mirage III fleet in 2015. Additionally, the Navy has operated without a submarine since the loss of ARA San Juan in a training exercise in 2017.

File Image: F-16 Fighting Falcon

“Victoria’s Secret”

British experts have been concerned over these developments, notably as Victoria Villarruel, Milei’s vice president and daughter of a Falklands War prisoner, announced the intention to triple the defense budget by 2032. 

This move aims to position the armed forces as “fundamental institutions of the country.” In response to these developments, calls have emerged for Britain to reconsider and potentially resume significant warship patrols, highlighting the need to closely monitor the evolving security situation in the South Atlantic. 

However, these concerns have been deemed baseless by other experts. An Argentine military analyst, Patricia Marins, told EurAsian Times that the Argentinian Navy faces even more limitations than the British Navy.

She highlighted the scarcity of modern and relevant ships, the absence of submarines, and the limited naval aviation units in the Argentinian fleet. Marins expressed skepticism about any imminent improvement in the precarious state of the Argentinian Navy.

Additionally, she noted that the Danish F16 fleet is outdated and needs modernization, and the submarines will require 7-10 years to become fully operational.

“Considering all these factors, the UK may be right to reduce its patrol presence in the area. The Falklands also have coastal defenses, adding an extra layer of security,” she added.

Marins further added, “There was a time when Argentina was leaning towards Chinese influence, which could have potentially led to the development of a new and modern navy in a few years, posing a real threat.

“However, after the election of Milei, the country has shifted back towards Western influence, and the US is looking to sell F16s to Argentina to solidify this relationship further.”

Marins also acknowledged that the UK faces significant challenges beyond the Falklands. Despite recent investments, British shipyards trail their Asian counterparts in speed and cost-effectiveness in delivering vessels. There is a considerable deficiency in the UK’s ability to produce large-scale naval drones, a crucial aspect in modern warfare highlighted in conflicts like Ukraine, and this concern extends beyond the UK to all European navies.