Gibraltar

What Is British Forces Gibraltar?

Despite its size, all three services of the UK Armed Forces have a presence in Gibraltar.

There has been a military presence in Gibraltar for more than 300 years and as Brexit appears to have reignited Spain’s territorial claim over the British Overseas Territory, Forces News has met the Armed Forces based there.

Gibraltar is tiny - in fact, it is just 2.6 square miles in size - yet all three military services have a presence there.

"Gibraltar is a strategic place," Commodore Tim Henry, Commander British Forces Gibraltar, told Forces News. 

"The Fortress of Gibraltar, the Rock of Gibraltar, is a place where the military can come to and rely on, as they operate either past here or from here.

"That stands as much now as it did 300 years ago."

While there are no aircraft permanently stationed at RAF Gibraltar, they are ready to assist when needed.

RAF Gibraltar also doubles up as the international airport, as well as the main road to the Spanish border.

RAF Gibraltar February 2020 CREDIT BFBS
RAF Gibraltar is also used as the territory's international airport.

However, there are also issues and challenges.

Pilots have to navigate touching down next to the Rock of Gibraltar, while military aircraft are required to avoid prohibited Spanish airspace.

Meanwhile, in the sea, there also tensions.

The Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron patrols the territory’s coastline, escorting visiting ships and submarines.

They challenge vessels from other militaries, neighbouring Spain included, who might act inappropriately in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW).

As well as the Navy and the Air Force, the British Army also has a presence in Gibraltar.

The Royal Gibraltar Regiment is the only formed Army unit in the territory.

Known as the 'Barbarians', the Royal Gibraltar Regiment is a light role infantry battalion.

Royal Navy personnel on patrol in Gibraltar February 2020 CREDIT BFBS
Royal Navy personnel on patrol along Gibraltar's coastline.

"A lot of the Regiment are bilingual," said Major Timothy Cumming.

"The majority speaking English and Spanish very well, and some Portuguese speakers, which gives us the opportunity to do a number of defence engagement tasks in Chile.  

"I deployed a couple of years ago, as an example, to train some Chilean marines prior to their deployment to some UN missions in Haiti and South Africa.

"So, we have that unique ability to do that."

Alongside operations, the Regiment also carry out ceremonial duties, including using the 105 light gun.

More than 34,000 people live in Gibraltar which is self-governing, except for defence and foreign policy.

It has been under British rule since 1713 and its border with Spain is just over a mile long.