Ministry of Defence fires back over claims delayed new missile defence system is putting Falklands at risk
Sky Sabre, the British Army’s new £250m medium and short-range surface-to-air missile defence system, is more than a year behind schedule.
Currently being tested with air defence specialists at 16th Regiment Royal Artillery, on Thorney Island, the weapons platform was due to be operational in ‘early 2020’, the MoD said in 2018.
The setback means the Falklands is instead having to rely on the old Rapier system – a variant of which was used to defend the settlement during the last invasion by Argentina 39 years ago.
Defence sources have described the current version of Rapier as being almost ‘unserviceable’ – something the Ministry of Defence has flatly denied.
Justin Bronk, a research fellow of air power and technology at the Royal United Services Institute defence think tank, disagreed and warned the Rapier system was ‘obsolete’ and that the ‘threat landscape within which Rapier was designed and introduced bears little resemblance to the threat landscape today’.
Mr Bronk warned that because Rapier's launcher can only guide one missile at a time, it would not be able to defend itself against ‘multiple incoming threats’.
This is unlike Sky Sabre, which can ‘guide large numbers of missiles in the air simultaneously against lots of incoming threats, so it's much harder to swamp’.
‘Rapier is totally obsolete in the modern battlefield,’ he added.
The comments come amid rising tension between Argentina and the UK over which nation should own the islands.
Buenos Aires has appointed a minister for them and lobbying at the United Nations to support their claim over the territory,
Mr Bronk does not believe there is a serious threat of Argentina invading the Falklands, but said the delay in setting up Sky Sabre was another ‘missed deadline’ by the Ministry of Defence.
Firing back over the claims, the MoD put its faith in the ‘fully operational’ Rapier system and insisted the island chain was protected by RAF fighter jets and a Royal Navy warship – HMS Forth.
A spokesman added: ‘Whilst there is a slight delay to the deployment of Sky Sabre due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there has never been a capability gap when it comes to protecting the Falkland Islands.’