Russia agreed to lease twelve Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer aircraft, long range bombers, to Argentina in exchange for beef and wheat. This agreement incensed tensions between Argentina and the United Kingdom, whose decades-long dispute over the Falkland Islands continues.
The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) immediately started a process to review defense strategies in the islands. The Falklands have their own government, but Britain is responsible for their defense.
“The MoD undertakes regular assessments of potential military threats to the Falkland Islands to ensure that we retain an appropriate level of defensive capability to address any threats,” said MoD. “We continue to remain vigilant and committed to the protection of the Falkland Islanders.”
Experts believe the new forces in Argentina could put the Falklands in danger if the UK does not place more gear on the islands. Defense cuts within the UK also hit the Falklands, which means the islands only have “four RAF Typhoon fighters, Rapier surface-to-air missiles and fewer than 1,200 troops, supported by a naval warship that visits throughout the year.” The Russian equipment to Argentina are old, but NATO called the Fencer aircraft “super-fighters” since they have a “2,000-mile range and laser-guided missiles.”
“The Ministry of Defence should be worried,” said Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, of the UK National Defence Association. “It always trots out the mantra of reviewing force levels but the only real solution is to deploy a sizeable force of Typhoons, at least a squadron, to buy us time to formulate a proper reinforcement package.”
But one strategic expert in London believes the four Typhoon fighters are more than enough against the Fencer aircraft.
“I’d back four Typhoons every day of the week against the threat posed by the 1960/1970s technology of the Russian jet,” said Doug Barrie, senior air analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “The Su-24 is not what Argentina needs. They have competent crews but they need a multi-role platform not a single-role air-to-surface aircraft, which is expensive to fly and expensive to maintain.”
The United Kingdom and Argentina engaged in a war over the islands in 1982, which ended with a swift British victory. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has claimed in the past she is interested in reappropriating the islands for Argentina, however. The islands voted in March to stay with Britain with a 99.8 percent vote. Kirchner retaliated in April by blocking the Falkland Islands’ official Twitter account. She claimed the islands became a “nuclear base for NATO” which led the account @falklands_utd to say she “confused missiles with penguins, which are native to the islands and a popular attraction.”
In August, Kirchner raised the issue at a United Nations meeting. She claimed the two countries must discuss the Falklands sovereignty, but Britain said the people of the island “made their views unequivocally clear in the referendum in March when they voted overwhelmingly to remain a UK overseas territory.”