FALKLANDS JETS ALERT; to Argentina, Spain sells 20 Mirage warplanes ramping up tension over the disputed islands.
ARGENTINA has launched a new round of sabre-rattling against Britain by buying a squadron of warplanes to be based within striking distance of the Falklands.
President Cristina de Kirchner - who wants the UK to hand over the disputed islands - personally agreed the PS145million deal to buy 20 secondhand Mirage F1 jets from Spain. The 1,453mph aircraft carry a fearsome array of weaponry including smart bombs.
Argentina's move could force the Ministry of Defence to bolster Britain's presence in the south Atlantic, even though its budget is to be slashed by PS875million in 2015.
Senior officers believe Argentina could now begin a campaign of "pester patrols" - flights towards the Falklands to test RAF responses.
Kirchner is thought to be trying to boost her nation's military capability in a show of strength before elections which are due in 2015.
But last night a senior RAF source said: "If the Argentines start playing games and escalate the tension, we will see more RAF aircraft being deployed to the Falklands."
The French-built Mirage F1 has a range of 500 miles - the Falklands are 400 miles east of Argentina.
At present, Britain has only two Eurofighter Typhoons on the islands, based at Mount Pleasant.
But a Mirage can't hold a candle to a Typhoon, experts insist.
Meanwhile insiders believe it will be months before the Mirages are fully operational. That includes the time it will take to crate them up in Spain, ship them over the Atlantic and train new pilots from Argentina's 6th Air Brigade.
A source said: "It could take six to eight months and only then may we get an indication of their intent."
The Mirages will be a huge contrast to the lumbering turbo-prop plane that currently makes up the bulk of the Argentinian air force.
The FMA IA 58 Pucara putters along at 311mph and although it bristles with guns it can't carry bombs or missiles.
Mirages - which went out of production in 1992 - are fitted with lethal 30mm cannons, laser-guided bombs, missiles and hi-tech recce systems.
They were made by Dessault, who built the Super Etendard warplanes that became notorious during the Falklands War after Argentina invaded the islands on April 2, 1982. The jets fired the Exocets that sank the destroyer HMS Sheffield and supply ship SS Atlantic Conveyor.
It took the British task force 10 weeks to liberate the islands, which Argentina calls Las Malvinas.
But by the time the invaders surrendered on June 14 in Port Stanley, 255 British troops, three Falklanders and 655 Argentinians were dead.
One of the biggest single British losses was the bombing of Sir Galahad in Bluff Cove, killing 48.
firstname.lastname@example.org Yours for PS68.9million EUROFIGHTER TYPHOONPrice: PS68.9m Length: 52.4ft Wingspan: 35.9ft Height: 17.3ft Loaded weight: 35,000lb Maximum speed: 1,320mph Armament: one cannon, five types of air-to-air missile, five types of air-to-surface missile, laser-guided bombs, flares, spying equipment Top speed of 1,453mph MIRAGE F1Price: PS7.2m (secondhand) Length: 50ft, 2.5in Wingspan: 27ft, 6.75in Height: 14ft, 9in Loaded weight: 24,030lb Maximum speed: 1,453mph Armament: two cannons, eight rocket pods with 18 rockets each, bombs, reconnaissance pods Array of missiles: sidewinders, anti-ship, laser-guided
FLY IN THE OINTMENT A Mirage F1 jet and, above, Sir Galahad on fire in Bluff Cove
SUPERJET: Better than a Mirage
DEFIANCE: President Kirchner
VICTORY: Falklands troops in 1982