Refighting the Falklands War (2012): Amphibious Warfare

Presuming that the Falkland Islands have been taken by an Argentine assault, as in 1982, the raison detre of a Task Force would be to deliver an amphibious landing on the Islands, with a view to defeating the Argentine land forces and effecting a liberation.

The Falklands War, and the focus that it gave to amphibious warfare, led to the Royal Navy developing strong assault ship capability. The Albion Class, replacements for the Fearless Class, were a significant improvement, as are the Bay Class RFA ships which replaced the Round Table LSL’s. Yet, the recent SDSR decided to mothball one of the Albion Class ships, and to sell one of the Bay Class ships to Australia. This effectively leaves the Royal Navy with one first line Landing Platform Dock and three follow-up Landing Ship Docks.

In order to assess what kind of amphibious assets might be necessary, we need to establish just exactly what kind of force they might be expected to land. Given the Argentine land force levels and their amphibious ability, planning should probably assume to land a spearhead Brigade, followed up by a second Brigade once the beach head has been secured – much as in 1982. Fearless and Intrepid between them carried 8 Landing Craft Utility (LCU) and 8 Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP). Even with the addition of a motley collection of other craft such as Army Mexefloats and Rigid Raider boats, this proved to be very few Landing Craft, and necessitated much toing and froing on D-Day in San Carlos. This suggests that you can rarely have too many amphibious platforms or too many Landing Craft.

In 1982, only HMS Fearless was immediately ready for deployment. The date for the land assault effectively hinged on when HMS Intrepid, her sister ship, could reach the South Atlantic, after a round-the-clock effort by Portsmouth Dockyard regenerated her from being in mothballs – destored, de-ammunitioned and with minimal crew. The same situation would be faced in a hypothetical Falklands War of 2012 – Bulwark would be available immediately, Albion might take some time to get ready. Performing an amphibious landing with just one LPD really wouldn’t be advisdable. Reports suggest that Albion is being kept in ‘high-readiness’, with £300,000 a year being spent to ensure that she is available to be regenerated quickly. How long this would take I am afraid I do not have the knowledge to suggest.

Whilst the Bay Class are a marked improvement on the the Round Table Class LSL’s, we now only have three of them. I am a big fan of them, but is three really enough? For their utility they are among the most useful and important ships in the Royal Navy – they have been used for diaster relief, as minesweeper and submarine depot ships, and for general patrolling in the absence of escorts. In fact, they have been used for pretty much anything other than their intended role! Having only three of them, the likelihood is high that at least one would be in refit, or on deployment somewhere. Getting two available for a task force would therefore be pretty good going. They can operate in much the same manner as the Albion class with a well dock, only with slightly less capacity. They do not carry their own Landing Craft but routinely use Mexefloats. As such the Bay Class could carry troops and equipment to the amphibious area, but would need use of Albion or Bulwark’s Landing Craft to ferry troops to shore. The Royal Logisits Corps has 7 LCL’s, some of which could theoretically be used, if they could be transported south somehow.

Of course one thing that the Albion and Bay classes lack is aviation facilities. Whilst both can transport and operate helicopter up to and including Chinook size, neither have hangars – some of the Bays have a tent like aircraft shelter. Thus far the Amphibious group’s transport appears mainly to comprise transport by sea. If the lessons of 1982 are to be borne in mind, any task force could never have enough helicopters, in particular heavy lift airframes such as Chinook. The only options I can think of are perhaps using something like Argus as an aircraft ferry, or using a container vessel such as Atlantic Conveyor.

On paper, an amphibious group of the two LPD’s and two LSD’s would have a lift capacity of 1,300, potentially twice that in overload conditions. With the addition of HMS Ocean this could rise to over 2,100. As in 1982, more transport -probably requisitioned or chartered – would be required to get two Brigades into the area of operations and onto land. Roughly, the plan would be to get the spearhead Brigade – probably 3 Commando Brigade if available – on shore to secure the beachhead, and then once secure bring in the follow up Brigade and any vehicles – AFV’s, support units etc, using the Landing Craft from the first wave.

Whether HMS Ocean could be used purely as an Amphib would depend on exactly what role we wanted her to play – if we wanted to load her up with Apaches as flying artillery, this would preclude space for troops. There is perhaps a need for a smaller LPH style vessel to operate sections of Apaches in support or amphibious operations, or an ability to deploy Apache on escort vessels as the US Navy did in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980′s. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles could perhaps be operated in a similar manner, but to my knowledge this isn’t something that the Royal Navy has done thus far. But let’s not digress.

In terms of Amphibious Vehicles the Royal Marines possess a good number of BvS10 ‘Viking’ tracked all terrain vehicles, which represent a considerable improvement on the transport available in 1982. The Vikings would give an amphibious assault a lot of firepower that it would otherwise lack, not to mention durable mobility.

On first impressions it appears that we have much less amphibious capability than when we last looked at the situation in 2009. We have immediately to hand one LPD, and three LSD’s, probably two in reality. Another LPD is in high-readiness, while the shrunken Bay Class fleet isin constant demand. On paper, an amphibious assault on an Argentine-occupied Falklands might be possible with 2 Albion LPD’s and 2 Bay Class LSD’s, as each of these ships are more capable and have more capacity than their predecessors, but the amount of hulls is fewer. On the other hand, amphibious operations have been much practiced in the Royal Navy in recent years. Not impossible, but by no means straighforward either.

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9 Comments

Filed under Falklands War, Uncategorized

9 responses to “Refighting the Falklands War (2012): Amphibious Warfare

  1. x

    How many Argentines are we going to fight?

  2. John Erickson

    A question, for James or X (or anybody else, for that matter). What is the “helo-of-choice” equivalent for our H-60 Blackhawks in your forces? I’m aware of Merlin, though I thought those were older, and I know of some models of Eurocopters, especially Lynx, but not sure if my data is up to date. What would amphibious forces use to land, below the size of Chinook?

    • James Daly

      It’s pretty well agreed in British military circles that we haven’t got enough capability in medium to heavy lift helicopters. The Falklands proved that you can never have too many helos, as there is always a task somewhere that needs rotary assistance. Yet you CAN have more Eurofighters than you need. An example of service ideologies and the impact on procurement…

      • x

        In Amphibious Assault Falklands Clapp gave a breakdown of how many SeaKing lifts it took to move the 29 RA light guns forward plus ammunition.

        Illuminating until you consider 3Cdo’s role at the time which leave me wondering why they didn’t have tracked tractor for such work. Though fjords of Norway do make movement difficult I should wager that towing is used more than flying.

        • James Daly

          I got the impression from Thompson’s book that a lot of 3Cdo’s tracked vehicles were left in storage in Norway, given their NATO northern flank role and annual training exercises there.

          Light tracked vehicles do seem to have worked well in 1982 – THE CVRT variants, for example. Perhaps something like Viking would do well?

          • x

            I have seen pictures of 29 RA light guns being towed by BV206. But I am not sure they belonged to 29RA or were RM vehicles. The tractor for light gun was FC101 Land Rover.

            I know sensibly that 42 had that 3C wagons with them in the Falklands. And I can understand why the rest were left behind; the plan being to move forward by helicopter.

            But taking 8 BV206 as tractors plus another 8 BV206 to act as limbers for ready use ammunition would have been sensible.

            Perhaps I need to go to check who took what as my memory is a bit clouded? :)

  3. x

    Sea Kings. At some point in theory the RAF’s Merlins will be transferred to the FAA. The FAA will then have Lynx for its small ‘copter and Merlin as its large ‘copter. Leaving the RAF with Chinooks and for the time being Puma.

    As for Blackhawks well there is a myth that is sometimes perpetuated around the UK defence blogging community that these are as cheap as chips and the UK armed forces could have 8 zillion extra air frames if we had just gone American. This is bull pucky. Like a lot of myths this has some basis in fact in that apparently a British Apache costs twice as much a Boeing built example all in the name of keeping jobs in Britain. If memory serves the defence blogger Lewis Page has pointed that the UK could have bought twice as many Apaches, laid everybody at the factory off with a million pound payment each, and still saved a billion.

    There is another myth, well I say myth because nobody has ever pointed me to a source, that the Blackhawk falls foul of a gentlemen’s agreement between the RAF and AAC over airframe weight. Apparently the RAF fly everything over a certain weight and the Blackhawk would fall into their parish. The RAF wouldn’t want the Blackhawk but they don’t want the AAC to have it either. further some say it just doesn’t fit British needs. And then there is a myth that the RAF don’t like helicopters; I believe that one!!! ;)

    Simple me would let the AAC fly all the land helicopters. The so called RAF Army Co-operation Squadrons spend all their time flying the Army around so it sorts of makes sense to me. In fact AAC built around Blackhawk and S92 makes a lot of sense.

    • James Daly

      I would probably do the same x, re land support helicopters. I would hazard a guess that Chinooks, for instance, spend 90% of their time in army support, so why not cut out an un-necessary link in the command chain, and let the Army fly them anyway? I dare say then they would that they could be tasked more meaningfully anyway.

      One of the problems many have identified with the RAF is that it want’s to be the sole arbiter of anything that flies, but then only really prioritises the air assets that justify its own existence. Hence army support and naval aviation tend to take a hit.

      • x

        Well this when those with an eye to promotion and job security starting flying the purple flag and say everybody is working towards the same effort so cap badges don’t matter. At which point I say exactly so lets move the helicopters to the AAC. The second biggest airforce in the world is the US Army with a budget of £7.5billion give or take. I am a fan of the USMC model of everybody is marine first (even their FJ pilots have cammo helmet covers) because being a marine first means you have knowledge of being on the ground. Anecdotal evidence suggest that most RAF (however good at their primary trade) lack that understanding of being on the ground. I would humbly suggest that anybody capable of combat flying could do the infantry course very well.

        (Though I am also lead to believe through my reading and contacts that FAA junglie pilots know no fear and in Ulster pulled off some amazing flying. Just saying. ;) )

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