Remote and rugged, and classed as a self-governing British Overseas Territory, the Falkland Islands are two-thirds the size of Wales and with similar terrain, comprising East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 lesser islands.
A fragile and beautiful, if rugged, place, off South America, and similar to north Scotland, the Islands farm 700,000 sheep, with the sale of fishing licences generating extra income.
In line with government policy, British forces remain in the Falklands following the 1982 campaign to help guarantee the Islands’ safety and to support the population’s wish that the Islands remain UK sovereign territory.
The 1,200-strong British Forces Garrison, which makes up British Forces South Atlantic Islands, or BFSAI, is based at Mount Pleasant Complex, some 35 miles (56km) from the capital, Stanley.
BFSAI’s mission is to deter any military action against the South Atlantic Overseas Territories, spread across several thousand square miles of the South Atlantic and comprising the Falklands, Ascension Island - the tropical stopover off West Africa - South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
See more photos of UK forces personnel deployed to the Falkland Islands in the gallery at Related News.
In line with the Islanders’ wishes, British forces provide a visible demonstration of UK sovereignty over the Islands.
A tri-Service contingent, with a dedicated team of civil servants and contractors in support, provides strong all-round defence for the Islands, drawing on infantry and specialist troops, Rapier surface-to-air missiles, Royal Navy ships, RAF Typhoon jets and support aircraft, and Search and Rescue and support helicopters, among a myriad of other assets supporting the mission.
Summing up the mission, Commander BFSAI, Brigadier Bill Aldridge, said:
We’re here to deter any military aggression across the whole region of the South Atlantic Islands and to demonstrate the UK’s commitment and capability to defend them if the need should arise.
We are in the South Atlantic very much at the wish of the Islanders and, with an area two-thirds the size of Wales in which to operate, we are fortunate to be able to make the very best use of the superb training opportunities that the Islands offer.
With their daunting terrain and challenging climate - the phrase ‘all four seasons in one day’ is never more apt - the Islands provide an outstanding training environment which stands British forces in good stead for operational service anywhere.
**A key element of the British presence is the ‘FIRIC’, or Falkland Islands Roulement Infantry Company, which for four months of this year has been provided by members of 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (2 PWRR), nicknamed ‘The Tigers’.
Based in Woolwich, they swapped their public duties role guarding Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle, among other glamorous locations, for combat kit and cold weather clothing to cope with the driving winds, snow and heavy rain of the Falklands winter - a far cry from the Royal Wedding sunshine when they were street-liners.
The resident infantry companies exploit the training opportunities to the full, as Major Ben Walters, Officer Commanding C Company, 2 PWRR, described:
As an exercise environment, the Falkland Islands are in many ways unique. The Islands offer an excellent environment for demanding training and give us the opportunity to operate with the other Armed Services in extreme and changeable weather conditions across every type of terrain.
The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force were extremely forthcoming, providing ships, aircraft and helicopters to ensure we got the most from our deployment.
**Royal Air Force
While the FIRIC provides a presence ‘on the ground’, air power is provided by 905 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) whose four Typhoon jets of 1435 Flight provide a Quick Reaction Alert to protect and defend the Falkland Islands Control Zone, while 1564 Flight’s two Sea King Mk3 helicopters are on hand to deliver a Search and Rescue (SAR) and resupply service.
The C-130 Hercules and VC10 of 1312 Flight also provide SAR, as well as in-flight refuelling, and the resident Rapier battery drawn from 16 Regiment Royal Artillery ensures ground-based air defence.
Also on the EAW strength is the Joint Service Police and Security Unit, delivering a tri-Service military police presence right across the Islands.
Atlantic Patrol Task (South) are the main seaborne assets, provided by the Royal Navy, and maintaining a long association with the Islands dating back to 1914.
This long-standing commitment is currently provided by HMS Edinburgh, a Type 42 destroyer, the Falkland Islands patrol vessel in the shape of HMS Clyde, and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel Gold Rover.
Between them they provide a potent maritime force in the region that can take on a whole range of tasks including patrols around the Islands and to South Georgia, several hundred miles further south, in often rough South Atlantic seas.
In addition to the above assets, unsung heroes 460 Port Troop, 17 Port and Maritime Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, run East Cove Military Port as the main supply access for the Garrison, applying their specialist expertise to turning round supply ships in the fastest time possible.
Whilst at all times an operational location, with a serious and multi-dimensional mission, the Garrison is in many ways unique and enjoyed by those stationed there. Mount Pleasant Complex, the main base and home to the staff during their stay, boasts a sprawling but comfortable domestic complex.
The complex is linked by reputedly the longest corridor in the world and has excellent social and sporting amenities, including a bowling alley and swimming pool - vital when the harsh Falkland Islands winter closes in, with its fierce gales and driving snow - and even a Service Children’s Education school for families on long-term postings.
Whatever their role ‘down South’, and whether there for just a few months or longer, personnel deployed to the Falklands will have an unforgettable and hugely rewarding experience.