THE Royal Navy is to send one of its most powerful warships to the Falkland Islands as tensions rise with Argentina over the disputed territory.
The News understands HMS Dauntless will deploy to the South Atlantic in late March – almost 30 years to the day that a naval task force left Portsmouth to reclaim the Falklands after Argentina invaded in 1982.
The South Atlantic patrol is one of the navy’s global commitments and a warship is sent there every year.
But Portsmouth-based Dauntless will be the first of the navy’s new £1bn Type 45 destroyers to go to the area.
The deployment comes after a period of increased rhetoric between London and Buenos Aires about who has the right to rule the islands.
Dauntless would be a valuable asset if Argentina attempted to restage its 1982 invasion. She is armed with supersonic Sea Viper missiles and an air defence system which can take out targets the size of a cricket ball moving at three times the speed of sound.
A Royal 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 station.’
A navy source told The News: ‘HMS Dauntless is an elite warship. She is one of six Type 45s built for the navy as the most advanced fighting ships in the world.
‘She is going to the Falklands on a routine deployment, but the fact the navy is sending her there and not one of the older warships is significant.’
The Falklands patrol will be Dauntless’s first operational deployment.
It comes after her sister ship HMS Daring left for her first mission to the Gulf at a time of worsening relations with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
Admiral Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and Falklands veteran who was in command of HMS Ardent when she was sunk by Argentina with the loss of 22 men, said: ‘The Type 45s are becoming a key part of our modern force.
‘The thing that is fascinating about them is they’ve got the most amazing anti-air warfare capability.
‘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.’
The deployment of HMS Dauntless to the Falklands follows criticism of the government’s decision to axe the navy’s Harrier jump jets and HMS Ark Royal – leaving Britain without an aircraft carrier until at least 2020.
Military strategy expert, Commodore Steve Jermy, who served in the Falklands War, said: ‘We have a critical lack of carriers so the Falklands is much more vulnerable than it’s been for many years. Sending Dauntless down there, while it doesn’t make up for the carrier gap, shows resolve.
‘It’s a very prudent deployment.’
At the weekend, former Army chief General Sir Michael Jackson warned it would be ‘impossible’ to reclaim the Falklands if it was invaded today.
Brigadier Bill Aldridge, commander of British forces in the South Atlantic, responded by saying: ‘I am not expecting to hand the islands over to anybody and therefore put us in a position to have to retake the islands.’