Refighting the Falklands War (2012): The Reckoning

So, we’ve looked at the various elements that might constitute a re-run of the 1982 Falklands War – the political dimension; the naval war (Aircraft carriers, naval aviation, amphibious warfare, escorts, logistics, submarines); the air war; and the land battle.

I think the key points to emerge are as follows:

  • Lack of carrier-borne air cover MIGHT not preclude a succesful task force, but it would be useful
  • We have JUST enough amphibious capability to effect a landing if need be
  • We have some very high quality Destroyers and Frigates, but nowhere near enough of them
  • We are perilously short of auxiliaries, and would need much assistance from the Merchant Navy
  • Our submarines are very capable, but far too few
  • The four Typhoons at Mount Pleasant would be crucial
  • Any landing force would be battle-hardened, thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan
  • The Argentines forces, although more professional, are outclassed equipment wise

As we can see, there are a lot of ‘might’, ‘just’. Which is hardly ideal when planning to embark on a military operation. The theme that seems to emerge is that the British Armed Forces – in terms of inventory and personnel – are very high quality, but few in number. This situation is not likely to change any time soon, given the economic situation – in fact, it is likely to get worse before it gets better. And if future defence cuts prune back – salami slice – ship numbers, for example, then we would go beyond the point where an operation ‘might’ be possible, to a point where one would be foolhardy.

Politically, the Falklands/Malvinas issue is unlikely to disappear any time soon, and certainly not after the discovery of natural resouces in the seabed of the South Atlantic. The current Argentine President is continually spouting ‘route-one’ politics, ie fooling the population away from domestic problems by targetting an external bogeyman. The current period of South American love-in has also emboldened Kirchner, it seems. How long this might last is anyones guess, given the fickle nature of Latin American politics.

1982 taught us that signs of weakness, such as cutting vital and sometimes symbolic assets, can be the first domino in causing unsavoury types to play their hand. Any possible savings that might have been gained from retiring HMS Endurance in 1982 were completely dwarfed by the costs – human, financial and materiel – that were incurred after Argentina took it to be a launchpad for war. As such, cost-cutting can be short-sighted – cutting a ship might save a few million, but will it cost us much more in the long run? Defence does give traction on the world stage. It was this lack of co-ordination between defence and diplomacy that caused such problems in 1982.

Is it narrow-minded to think solely about the Falkland Islands? After all, history is full of examples of forces and leaders who prepared to fight the last war, only to find that they were hopelessly stuck in the past. Aside from extremist terrorism, and perhaps Iran in the straights of Hormuz, Argentine threats to the Falklands are the most serious threat to British interests today. And we would be sensible to plan accordingly. All the time the Falkland Islanders wish to remain British, we have a duty to defend them.

Also, we should be aware that any ignominious outcome in the Falklands would have big domestic and international repurcussions. If the Argentines were to reclaim the Falklands, what is to stop the Spanish applying pressure over Gibraltar? We might find that we also put other nations in sticky positions over their far-flung possessions. And for Britain to be defeated by a second-world state would be embarassing to say the least – losing wars and surrendering territories does nothing for your international standing. In 1982 the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact cannot have failed to note that the British Armed Forces punched very hard. Showing that you will not be pushed about will surely make other enemies think twice about having a pop.

In 2012 the Falklands could be defended, and retaken if necessary. Just.

 

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17 Comments

Filed under Army, Falklands War, Navy, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines

17 responses to “Refighting the Falklands War (2012): The Reckoning

  1. Brian Iddon

    I think our saving graces are that the argentinian political situation is more stable (at the moment) and their armed forces are in an even worse state than ours.

    • James Daly

      They are in a very poor state – no major naval assets, inc no carrier and one LST type amphib; a few obsolescent aircraft; and although their army is now professional, I doubt it could stand up to 16AA and/or 3 Cdo pound for pound.

  2. x

    I shall break out into numbered paragraphs, very MoD……

    1) If there is a next time the Argentines won’t waste effort transporting a large force to the islands. Two battalions plus SF plus some specialist support (air traffic control etc.) would be sufficient if the garrison got no warning (unlikely.)

    2) The asymmetric threat should be considered. As I have said ferries beached onto Stanley waterfront carrying a few thousand ardent Argentine nationalists (perhaps with SF elements in their number) and members of the media (TV crews with satellite uplink) dispersed around Stanley would cause the authorities a real headache. Or a commercial airliner with a disabled undercarriage sitting in the middle of MPA’s runway. Note how the Palestine Peace Flotilla story was played out.

    3) I make no apologies for being fond of fixed defensive works. The land war in 82 was a story of infantry assaults on entrenched positions. MPA is far too open and needs berms and defensive positions building. The latter may exist. I am not asking for a Maginot Line. Similarly the Stanley peninsula and airfield needs works too. The town is defensible. The town is the centre of gravity for the campaign. It won’t be a fluid modern infantry battle. There are few places to defend, the enemy can’t bypass them as that is all there is, and so anything that gives the home side an advantage
    should be done.

    3a) The FIDF costs FIG £400,000pa. If we can give Brazil £14million in aid I am sure money can be found to get the FID some better vehicles (Viking or surplus Panther,) supplies of and training on Javelin (to take care of enemy transports entering Stanley Harbour or other targets of opportunity,) and anything else extra they deem they need.

    4) As Brazil presence on the world stage grows it will find it can’t act like a banana republic any longer. There will be pressure from the international community to act responsibly. There is a difference between electioneering and populist rhetoric and doing what needs to be done to run a country. Given the history between Brazil and Argentina and Brazil and the UK, if you ran a country with an expanding economy and with it a need for oil who would you rather have as your next closest source of supply? An oil field ran by Argentina or an oil field ran by the FI with British backing?

    • James Daly

      Hopefully we can rely on Brazil as a moderating influence. I think chances are they will become the major power in South America, and as you state, if you want to be a major power then you can’t run things like the local pub team.

      Don’t know if anyone else has heard, but BAE Systems agreed a deal today to sell the three OPV’s built for Trinidad and Tobago to Brazil for £120m. Let’s hope that builds us some bridges, no matter how small.

      In terms of defensive works, we only need to look at the effect that simple, rudimentary defences had at Goose Green, and in the battles in the mountains. As has often been stated, trench systems and sangars using the lie of the land can turn 19 year old conscripts into veterans.

      • x

        I am happy about the OPV sales. They look to be lovely ships and I hate to see ships wasted. God speed and fair winds!

        I will labour the point once more about defensive works. :)
        This isn’t going to be a rolling campaign. The war would be fought over known geography. I don’t want to turn Stanley into Albania. I just imagine the FIDF in their Vikings with Javelins and .50 cals being able to spread out over the Stanley and airport peninsular. Being able to put their vehicles into ready made “hull down” camouflaged positions with good fields of fire. They are a motivated, tough, and competent team. But they are civilians. I see the vehicle as a force multiplier. The warm place to sleep between watches. The thing that allows them to cook and brew. The thing that allows them to keep their equipment clean and allows them to carry more stores than man-packing. I know the area around Stanley isn’t vast. But imagine a period of rising tensions. The FIDF deploy to the field. What if they are there a week? Or two? I suppose they could take turn and turnabout and return to Stanley. (I exaggerate slightly, again.) But with such a small force surely their place is as that the front. And staying there as long as possible. You can’t do that from a trench. I said somewhere else if it happens again it will be a 2 dimensional affair and will be more akin to a “police” action than war. (Can I say a contact that would involve 50cal is a police action?) Um. What I mean it is likely to be special forces trying to infiltrate lines not a Cold War Fulda Gap style assault. I see it more in terms of security and presence and demonstrating resolve than a proper infantry battle. I am rambling I will stop…….

  3. x

    5) Typhoon has no anti-ship capability. Limited or austere air-to-ground capability. And won’t get Storm Shadow for 2 years or so. They do have a cannon but that means getting a bit close. If I were the Argentines I would buy MANPADS for the invasion “fleet” and not bother putting anything in the air. Renders Typhoon a bit toothless and a fair slice of the 700 or so RAF personnel surplus to requirements. Remember he biggest cost of the garrison is manpower and the garrison only has one company group of infantry. 150 maintainers or 150 infantry men………

    6) HMS Clyde possibly isn’t enough. Perhaps she needs replacing with something like the Spanish BAM.

    7) Perhaps the FIDF need a maritime group. A simple ship pottering around West Falkland and the Sound for presence.

    • James Daly

      Typhoon without anti-ship is a worry, as you state at present they could only strafe. Actually that is an interesting strategic conumdrum, how the superiority of Typhoon could force them to come by see, but then Typhoon not being able to deal with that.

      I wonder if the Falklands could do with an enhanced patrol vessel capability? A few smaller things pottering around the littorals?

      • x

        In 82 there were no helicopters or Hercules on the islands. So getting eyes out to the more remote areas is a lot, lot easier. I bet if a farmer reports something suspicious on West Falkland it would only be hours before a Sea King is dropping a patrol in for a look see. And don’t forget there are two RAF reporting posts on WF too. I can’t see the need for a permanent RN patrol vessel. But seeing as the FIDF does have some maritime responsibilities I can see a role for a small boat again to reinforce presence about the coasts and aid the RN in times of tension; HMS Clyde can only be in one place. RAF are trained to observe to phenomenally high standards. But there is much to be said for being on the ground (or sea) and observing at a slower pace. The other big change of course is the growing road network and the ferry between Port Howard and New Haven. This perhaps allows vehicles to patrol the coast with great easy. Um. I would base the boat on the Sound and not in Stanley. Perhaps at times I am bit too anchor faced…….

        • x

          This is the company that operates the ferry across Falkland Sound.

          http://www.workboat.co.fk

          Check out the MV Concordia Bay. It appears per man the FIDF has greater amphibious lift than the UK! FIDF definitely needs Vikings…….

          • James Daly

            interesting, so the Falklands has a stronger amphibious capability than many an average sized nation! Not only that but I wouldn’t mind betting the crew have a very good knowledge of the coastal areas of the Islands, boatmen tend to get to know all the creeks and inlets etc.

            • x

              I should imagine the entire FIDF and all its vehicles
              could fit into the MV Concordia Bay.

              If they have surveyed other beaches I wonder if they have had any specialist help from an organisation fond of green hats?

          • James Daly

            As an aside, the ferry between Gosport and Portsmouth is actually owned by the Falkland Islands Company – you couldn’t make it up!

  4. James Daly

    I’ve always found it funny that in 1982 we were relying on the hydrographic notes of a maverick RM Major. One would hope that nowadays every inch of the islands have been charted and surveyed. A lot of the planning assumptions for the Falklands pre-1982 turned out to be false, ie the suitability of various landing beaches.

    • x

      “Reasons in Writing” is a superb book along with “Beyond Endurance” both give a good view of the lead up to conflict by serviceman who appreciated the island’s people and its circumstances.

  5. Ben

    Typhoon could recce argentine fleet or even use SIGINT via GCHQ to provide targeting for SSN if it wasn’t already trailing invasion force. Realistically if ordered one astute could sink the entire fleet. Engage stand off with tomahawk then close and finish with spearfish. Night night.

    Also, typhoon uses brimstone and paveway, both of which would have good effect on target.

    You have failed to assess the role of UK intelligence services. It is unlikely that UK would be unaware of any Argentinian preparations. Therefore the retake the Falklands scenario you have suggested is unlikely. SIS has access to tech today we had no concept of in 82. Preparations would be noticed and I bet we could deploy a commando via air quicker than they could deploy a battalion to Falklands against maritime and air opposition from Falklands defences.

    I think a full scale 3 cdo bde amphibious assault excersise should be mounted on Falklands, inc CAS from ascension and apaches from Ocean to demonstrate that an invasion would be a bad idea

    • x

      No Brimstone yet only dumb 1000lb and Paveway. Tranche 1 Typhoon has an austere air-to-ground fit out. Oh and there is also the gun.

      If the balloon did go up, or more accurately if there was warning the balloon was going up, I imagine HMG would have to rush another 8 or so Typhoon south. 4 just wouldn’t cut it. If all 4 went up it wouldn’t be enough to shove anybody off the beach; they would then need a day or so maintenance. 1 in the air at one time would be a nuisance but not a show stopper. So…

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