William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, has warned that the Royal Navy still ‘packs a considerable punch’ as HMS Dauntless was deployed to the Falkland Islands.
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
3:30PM GMT 31 Jan 2012
The Navy’s most sophisticated warship is being sent to the South Atlantic in a move that will send a powerful message to Argentina.
Dauntless will set sail for the Falkland Islands in the coming weeks armed with a battery of missiles that could “take out all of South America’s fighter aircraft let alone Argentina’s,” according to one Navy source.
Although Mr Hague played down the deployment he said the ship was a “formidable vessel”.
The Type 45 destroyer is the most advanced anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic ship in the world equipped with 48 Sea Viper missiles and the Sampson radar, which is more advanced than Heathrow air traffic control
The ship is in a league of its own in air defence, able to track dozens of multiple targets.
“It can shoot down Argentine fighters as soon as they take off from their bases,” said another Navy source. “This will give Buenos Aires serious pause for thought.”
The deployment, expected in late March, comes as Argentina has stepped up its sabre rattling over possession of the islands with a ban on all Falkland registered ships in South American ports.
Tension between Britain and Argentina over the disputed South Atlantic islands has been rising again as the 30th anniversary of the war approaches and British companies drill for oil in waters surrounding the islands.
Jeremy Browne, the British Foreign Office minister responsible for relations with Latin America, is due to visit the islands in June to take part in the commemoration of Britain’s recapture of the islands from occupying Argentine troops.
Browne said he hoped his week-long visit would not annoy Argentina, which has already accused Britain of acting provocatively by announcing that Prince William, second in line to the British throne, will be deployed to the islands this year as an RAF search-and-rescue helicopter pilot.
“I hope they will see it for what it is, which is a recognition of the valour and sacrifice of British soldiers and the Falkland islanders themselves in the liberation of the islands 30 years ago and also a wider commemoration of the sacrifice made more generally, including by Argentinians,” he said.
Browne is the first minister from Britain’s 20-month-old coalition government to announce plans to visit the islands and will be the first Foreign Office minister to go there since 2008.
London has controlled the islands, about 300 miles (480 km) off the southern Argentine coast, since 1833. In 1982, Britain sent a naval force and thousands of troops to reclaim the islands after Argentine forces occupied them. About 650 Argentine and 255 British troops died in the 10-week conflict.
David Cameron has responded that the sovereignty of the islands is not for negotiation.
After Argentine President Cristina Fernandez described Britain last year as a “crass colonial power in decline” for refusing to hold talks over the islands, Cameron retorted this month by accusing Argentina of “colonialism”.
Browne said there was scope for a “more productive” relationship between Britain and Argentina in areas such as trade, climate change and economic cooperation, including in the G20 group of leading economies to which both countries belong.
“But we are not about to forfeit our belief in the right of self-determination of the Falkland islands’ people … in order to engender that relationship,” he said.
Sending the £1 billion Dauntless on her first mission to the area will reinforce Britain’s position, although it will cause difficulties for the Foreign Office which is trying to downplay the rhetoric.
Admiral Lord West, the former First Sea Lord and Falklands veteran, said the Type 45 has an “amazing anti-air warfare capability.”
He also sent a warning to the Buenos Aires government. “Should there be any foolish nonsense from Argentina, Dauntless can sit just off the airfield and take down any aircraft coming in. It’s a game-changing capability.”
A Navy Spokesman said: “The Royal Navy has had a continuous presence in the South Atlantic for many years. The deployment of HMS Dauntless to the South Atlantic has been long planned, is entirely routine and replaces another ship on patrol.”
Dauntless will replace the ageing Type 23 frigate Montrose.
Earlier this month the Navy sent Daring, the first Type 45, to the Arabian Gulf as tensions with Iran increase.