Everything You Need To Know About British Forces In The Falklands
The Falkland Islands are one of the UK’s most isolated overseas territories and home to one of the most remote military garrisons. Getting people and equipment there is difficult, with all deliveries having to be flown or shipped in. As a British Overseas Territory, the people of the islands rely on Britain to guarantee their security. Tasked with this crucial job is the British Forces South Atlantic Islands (BFSAI), staffed by more than 1,000 personnel from all three services, which also protects South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
After the end of the Falklands War in 1982, Britain invested heavily in the islands’ defences, including constructing a new airfield at RAF Mount Pleasant, 27 miles (43 km) west of the capital, Stanley. The base became fully operational in 1986 after being opened the previous year. Stationed there are the four Typhoon jets that provide air defence for the islands and surrounding territories. There is also one A400M and one Voyager aircraft, which are used for heavy lifting, transport and air-to-air refuelling.
Until April 2016, two Sea King helicopters were used to undertake air transport and search and rescue missions. These duties were handed over to AW189 helicopters flown by AAR Corp, however, after the MOD awarded the company a 10-year, £180 million contract to provide this capability. The Mount Pleasant Centre is a tri-service base and as such is staffed by personnel from all three services. The Army’s main commitments are the Roulemont Infantry Company (Infantry) and the Resident Rapier Battery (Royal Artillery). There are also detachments from all the other Army Corps.
Out of the Army staff in Mount Pleasant, there is an Explosive Ordinance Disposal at BFSAI. The Royal Navy contribution is made up of an RFA vessel in the South Atlantic, a patrol ship permanently close to the islands – a role currently being performed by HMS Clyde. An Ice Patrol Ship, HMS Protector, is also on station close to Antarctica for half of the year, although it does not fall under BFSAI command. Ships can dock at RAF Mount Pleasant’s port facility, Mare Harbour.
It is speculated that the Royal Navy also has Trafalgar and Astute-class nuclear submarines, armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, which could potentially be deployed to the area – although the details of these deployments are classified. The submarines can hit targets up to 1,500 miles (2,400 km) away, including those within an enemy country. Their capability was demonstrated during the Falklands War when HMS Conqueror sank the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano.
Also integrated into the defence system for the islands is their part-time volunteer force, the Falkland Islands Defence Force (FIDF), a company-strength light infantry force. The FIDF does not come under BFSAI command as they are a national defence force. However, the BFSAI support their training when requested. The FIDF receives training from a Warrant Officer seconded from the Royal Marines and has been trained by the Royal Navy to operate the Oerlikon 20 mm cannon and to board vessels suspected of fishery poaching
The unique location and the special relationship with the Falkland Islanders allows the BFSAI to train in a unique environment. “What I want to achieve here [in the Falklands] is take the training one step further,” said thew new Commander BFSAI, Brigadier Nick Sawyer, in an interview with Forces News. “We’ve got such a great training environment here, and I think there is more that we can make of this. “I want to move to great joint training, where we integrate the ships, the planes, the ground troops, and the supporting elements,” he explained.
The improving relationships with Argentina, over the past few years, are a metaphor for the relationship with the British Government. “We’ve always had shared humanitarian values with Argentina, even during the 1982 war we had shared humanitarian values with Argentina,” explained Brigadier Sawyer. In 2017, when the Argentine submarine San Juan went missing during a routine patrol in the Atlantic, the British Forces in the Falklands offered support in the rescue operation.
“Argentina, the UK and the Falkland Islands have a shared responsibility to do search-and-rescue, humanitarian work in and around this area.”
Because of this shared sense of responsibility, Brigadier Sawyer will send a small team to perform joint UK-Argentina search-and-rescue exercise in Argentina in the coming months. The remoteness, however, while being a set advantage to perform training and joint exercises, is also one of the downsides to being stationed in the Falklands. “We are 8,000 miles away from the UK,” said the BFSAI Commander.
“Everything we do here is at the end of a small line back to the UK.”
Troops stationed in the Falklands are almost completely self-sufficient. They have their own power station and water plant, as well as their own school and airfield.