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Chinooks to boost Falklands defence

Britain is to deploy two RAF Chinook transport helicopters to help bolster the defence of the Falklands amid renewed fears of a fresh Argentine invasion of the islands.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the helicopters would enable the islands' garrison to mount a "swift and decisive response" to any "emerging incidents".

In a Commons statement, Mr Fallon said a review of the islands' defences had found they were "broadly proportionate" to the current threat level.

However he said the Government would be installing an enhanced communications system at the military headquarters at Mount Pleasant as well as putting in place plans to replace the Rapier air defence missiles when they go out of service at the end of the decade.

He also confirmed the Government's commitment to maintaining a Falkland Islands patrol vessel - currently HMS Clyde - while investing £180 million over the next 10 years upgrading the infrastructure including harbour facilities and fuel infrastructure.

"The review we have undertaken confirms our commitment to the Falkland Islands. We will continue to defend the right of the islanders and to maintain their way of life against whatever threats may arise," he said.

The principal threat to the Falklands remains the quite unjustified claim of Argentina to the islands' ownership, Mr Fallon said.

He said the UK military presence on the islands would remain broadly unchanged, with 1,200 armed forces and civilian personnel, including 150 infantry troops.

The two Chinooks - which were withdrawn from the islands in 2006 to be deployed in Afghanistan - will become operational from the middle of next year.

"This 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," he said.

The move comes amid reports that Russia is working on an agreement to lease 12 long-range Sukhoi SU-24 bombers to Argentina which could be used to support a renewed attack.

Speaking earlier on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Fallon said the deal was so far unconfirmed but that Britain had to take account of any future possible threat to the islands.

"The threat remains. It is a very live threat. We have to respond to it," he said.

"Argentina still, sadly, maintains its claim to the islands 30 or more years after the original invasion and the war and we have to respond to that."

The long-running dispute over the sovereignty of the British overseas territory, which Argentina calls Las Malvinas, has surfaced again in recent years under the presidency of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

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