Tag Archives: falklands

Falklands 30 – Bomb Alley

HMS Ardent

HMS Ardent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dawn saw 3 Commando Brigade – three Royal Marine Commandos, reinforced by two Para Battalions, and with attached units, ashore and dug in on beaches around San Carlos Water. Apart from the small band of troops at Fanning Head, the landings had been unopposed by Argentine land forces. Given the scarcity of Argentine troops compared to the geography of the Falklands, Menendex had decided that he had to first and foremost guard the primary objective – Port Stanley. He assumed that the British commanders would land in Stanley, in an American style ‘front door’ attack. San Carlos hardly featured in Argentine planning,  indeed, they had assumed that the British would not land there.

Given the lack of land and sea opposition, the only opposition that would meet the amphibious group in San Carlos water would be Argentine air forcers. The first aircraft to attack the San Carlos landings were actually based in the Falklands. Pucaras from Goose Green took off while HMS Ardent was shelling their airstrip. One of them was shot down by an SAS patrol with a Stinger hand-held anti-aircraft missile near Sussex Mountains. A single Aermacci was sent from Stanley to reconnoitre the reported landings. After attacking HMS Argonaut with rockets, the Aermacci escaped a hail of fire from sea and land. Thereafter confirmation of the landings reached the Argentine command, and long-range attacks were ordered from the mainland.

First on the scene were eight Daggers (Israeli copies of the Mirage). They hit Broadsword and Antrim, but nobody was killed. Antrim in particular had an unexploded bomb very close to her Sea Slug magazine, and had to move in to San Carlos water whilst it was defused. Shortly after the Sea Harrier Combat Air Patrol shot down one of two Pucaras that had attacked a naval gunfire officer directing fire from HMS Ardent onto the airfield at Goose Green.

At 1pm eight Skyhawks were due to attack. Only two arrived, after the rest either suffered refuelling problems or wasted their bombs on an abandoned wreck in Falkland Sound. The remaining aircraft just missed Ardent, and evaded Sea Harriers directed onto them by Brilliant. Immediately the Sea Harriers noticed another wave of Skyhawks appearing over West Falkland. Two of the Skyhawks were shot down. At 2.30pm another six Skyhawks attacked, this time almost sinking Argonaut. The two bombs that hit her failed to explode, but killed two men in her Sea Cat Magazine.

The next wave consisted of twelve Daggers. of the first group of six, two pilots aborted. As the remaining four approached Brilliant vectored in the Sea Harrier CAP, who shot down one of the Daggers. The three surviving aircraft however pressed on and attacked Ardent in Grantham Sound. Her Lynx helicopter and Sea Cat system were destroyed, killing a number of men. Defenceless apart from small arms fire, she headed for the protection of San Carlos Water. However before she reached sanctuary six more Daggers arrived on the scene. The first three aircraft caused light damage and casualties to Brilliant, but the second wave of three aircraft were all shot down by Sea Harriers before reaching San Carlos.

The last attacks of the day occured some half an hour later. Two flights of Skyhawks attacked Ardent, causing extensive damage. On fire and flooding, and with 22 men killed, Commander Alan West gave the order to abandon ship. HMS Yarmouth took off her survivors, and Ardent finally sank the following evening. Two of the Skyhawks were shot down by Sea Harriers. The third was damaged, and unable to land at Stanley, ejected.

Thus ended the dramatic air attacks on D-Day. One suspects that the task force commanders would have probably accepted the loss of one light frigate, in return for the safety of the landings. The Argentine pilots were undoubtedly incredibly brave, in pressing home their attacks over such a long distance and over difficult target terrain, but history has suggested that if they had concentrated on the vital landing ships rather than the warship escorts, the Falklands War may have run very differently. From a morale point of view alone, the loss of a ship like Canberra might have been politically tricky. And, it has to be said, if their bombs had been fused correctly, the Royal Navy might have lost a lot more ships at San Carlos than it did.

Martin Middlebrook’s ‘Argentine Fight for the Falklands’ makes much of the Argentines having a helicopter-ready reaction force waiting around Stanley to take off an oppose any landings. For whatever reason, this did not happen at San Carlos. Certainly, even a small-scale raid might have given the Commando Brigade something to think about. But given that the Sea Harrier Combat Air Patrol was ever-present, and had shot up a number of helicopters around Mount Kent earlier in the day, the Argentines might have thought better of it. With the absence of any opposition on land, the land forces were able to secure a bridgehead for expansion.

Hence, after the Argentine Navy had scurried back to port after the sinking of the Belgrano, the only serious opposition to a British landing on the Falklands came from the Argentine air forces. Despite losing one ship sunk and several others damaged, the landing force had survived a crucial first 24 hours during which they had landed a 5 Battalion size Brigade, plus supporting elements – a significant achievement. The Battle for San Carlos was still far from over, however.

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Refighting the Falklands War (2012): Land Forces

English: 2 para guarding POWs Port Stanley 1982

In 1982, the quality of British troops held out when the task force’s land troops came up against the Argentine Army. Much has changed since 1982, both in the British Army and the Argentine Army. Land Forces would play a pivotal part in any future battle for the Falklands, whether it be defending them, or attempting to retake them.

If the Falkland Islands were threatened, one would imagine that the first reaction of the British Government would be to reinforce the lone infantry Company at Mount Pleasant. This would probably involve flying in another infantry Battalion via Ascension, and some extra air defence in the form of Rapier and Starstreak of the Royal Artillery. An infantry Battalion is usually on standby as a spearhead Battalion to move anywhere in the world at short notice.

If, however, the islands were taken by Argentina, then larger land forces would be required to land and retake them. There are 9 Brigades available to the British Armed Forces for rapid deployment anywhere in the world:

There are also a number of other administrative Brigades, that are not geared up towards active deployment. These are the umbrellas for battalions and Regiments not earmarked for deployments, but which could in times of crisis be called upon. In such a manner in 1982, the Scots and Welsh Guards were deployed after finishing a stint of public duties in London, as they happened to be available.

As in 1982, we would probably be looking to the spearhead Brigades, ie 16 Air Assault and 3 Commando Brigade to bear the brunt of any operations. Realistically, with the shipping available, the likely Argentine Garrison to be faced and the troops available, any mission to retake the Falklands would probably consist of two reinforced Brigades, with a similar level of supporting troops – artillery, engineers, etc – as was seen in 1982.

The fly in the ointment, at present, would be Afghanistan. Currently light infantry and mechanised Brigades serve 6 month stints in Afghanistan, meaning that Brigades such as 16 AA and 3 Cdo have spent up 6 months of every two years in Helmand. Prior to this, they are training up for the role, and afterwards building themselves up again. Of course, if it really came to it, troops arriving back from Afghanistan could be sent down south a week later, but this would hardly be ideal. In an ideal world, 16 AA and 3 Cdo Brigades would both be available. In the next best case scenario it would be 3 Cdo Brigade plus one of the light infantry Brigades, and the least satisactory scenario would be 16 AA plus a light infantry Brigade. 3 Cdo Brigade, of course, would be invaluable due to their amphibious role.

There can be few personnel in the British Army who have not served at least one tour of Afghanistan, and many have probably served more, as well as in Iraq and possibly in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Bosnia for some older sweats. The British soldier of 2012 is much more experienced and battle-hardened than many of his predecessors, and thanks to some early disasters in Iraq, personnel equipment seems to have seriously improved. In 1982, many troops went down with trench foot thanks to having inferior boots for cold weather. Most weapons systems have been updated – for example the SLR with the SA80, the Bren with the Minimi, and Milan with Javelin. A lot of the new vehicles that have been procured for use in Afghanistan to replace Land Rover are great for that theatre, but would be totally unsuitable to peat bogs in the Falklands. As in 1982, Scimitars and others of the CVR(T) family would be very handy.

Ideologically, the British Army is in a strange place compared to 1982. The last ten years have been spent largely fighting counter-insurgency wards against extremist islamic terrorists – firstly in Iraq, and then Afghanistan. To what extent could the Army go from fighting in the sand to fighting in chilly mountain ranges overnight? One suspects so, given the similarity between the Falklands and the Brecon Beacons, for one. Could it summon up the agression for a conventional war, after devoting much of its attention to ‘wars among the people’? I suspect that this wouldn’t be a problem – in 1982 the British Army was geared towards fighting the Russians in North West Europe, and also dealing with terrorists in Northern Ireland, which especially provided very good training for junior leaders. And unlike 1982, most British troops are not already commited to NATO.

The Argentine Army abolished conscription after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1983. In 1982, the Argentine Garrison consisted of two strong Brigades, which consisted of 8 Regiments, the equivalent of a British Battalion. The Argentines also had many support troops, in terms of artillery, engineers and armoured cars. But as has often been written, in 1982 the Argentines had to keep their best troops in South America to guard against a possible Chilean attack. As a result, most of the troops deployed to the Falklands were inexperienced conscripts, and many were from warmer parts of the country, not suited to fighting in the cold and wet Falklands.

In 2012, the Argentine Army has 10 Brigades in total – two armoured, three mechanised, three mountain, one paratrooper and one jungle. In particular, a Rapid Deployment Forces is built around the Paratroop Brigade. The Argentine Marines consists of 4 Infantry Battalions with supporting troops. With the addition of dedicated Mountain Brigades, the Argentines could probably provide a better garrison for the Falklands than they did in 1982.Of course, what we do not know is how well trained their troops are – although the Argentine Army does seem to have benefited from increased international co-operation. In addition, friendly relations with the rest of South America means that Argentina would not have to leave units behind to guard her own frontiers.

But, as with the British Task Force, the Argentine’s real problem would be getting their troops to the islands in the first place. With one sole amphibious ship, and the tricky prospect of taking Mount Pleasant intact, they might have a bit of trouble actually getting them to the Falklands in the first place. But if a re-run of 1982 was to be experienced, but with modern forces, I would expect a British land force to edge it based on experience and training.

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Refighting the Falklands War (2012): Aircraft Carriers and air cover

The Royal Navy Invincible-class aircraft carri...

Image via Wikipedia

In 1982, Britain was able to send two Aircraft Carriers to the South Atlantic – Invincible and Hermes. The Royal Navy was also safe in the knowledge that it had one more aircaft carrier close to completion – Illustrious – and another that could in theory be regenerated in the long term, Bulwark. But even then, it was felt that two flat tops was nowhere near enough.

Fast forward thirty years, and Britain is in a very perilous situation when it comes to the provision of naval air cover. The on-duty strike carrier role was retired in the SDSR, leading to the decomissioning of HMS Ark Royal, and the re-roling of Illustrious to LPH. This effectively means that Britain is unable to project air power by sea.

Retaking the Falklands without air cover would be problematic to say the least. Even if Mount Pleasant and Port Stanley runways were disabled – either by under runway munitions or Tomahawk strikes – the Islands are still well within range of Argentine jets flying from the mainland. And even though the Argentines did not replace their considerable losses in 1982, and for the most part are flying outdated airframes, their air presence would still present a considerable threat to any task force in the South Atlantic without air superiority.

The interesting thing is, that in 1982 the task force did not gain what you might term complete air superiority prior to the land campaign. The Harriers gave a very good account of themselves against anything that the Argentines could launch, but they were not able to completely prevent attacks on the landings at San Carlos, nor Exocet strikes such as that on the Atlantic Conveyor. In that respect, the 1982 campaign did show that you can win a land war without air superiority. Not that such an approach is advisable, of course.

So what alternatives are there to carrier-based air support? The Type 45 Destroyers have been much vaunted for their anti-air capability, and whilst I am not completely au faix with their technology, most commentators describe them as being very capable. The Sea Viper system could probably provide very effective defence against Argentine aircraft. Although designed as an aircraft carrier escort, without a carrier to play goalkeeper to, they could be freed up for picket duty such as the Type 42 Destroyers were in 1982. Not to digress, of course – we’ll look at Destroyers in more detail later.

We are told that Ark Royal is technically at ‘extended readiness’, but believe me, it would be a miracle if she sailed again – practically all of her fittings have been ripped out. And the Dockyard really doesn’t have the workforce the make her ready with any kind of urgency.  Added to which, the expertise and experience to operate a carrier at sea would be lacking, not to mention the fact that only a handful of Sea Harriers are in storage.

By the turn of the next decade, however, things could change dramatically. IF they come in on time and on budget, the Queen Elizabeth class carriers could be a real game changer – I wouldn’t fancy being an Argentine pilot with a naval air wing of F35′s floating in the South Atlantic, technologically far in advance of anything that the Argentines can offer up. But until then, any planning has to take place on the basis of not having carriers. In that respect what options are available? Much has been made of defence co-operation with France, but I find it hard to believe that the French would lend us Charles de Gaulle to provide air cover for a Task Force. I just can’t see French Rafale pilots risking their hides for a war that really isn’t theirs. In the same respect I cannot see the Americans getting involved to the extent of lending us a carrier.

One option that has been mooted – and it really is an outside bet – is the possibilty of somehow getting together a carrier air group from Sea Harriers in storage at Culdrose, and other Harriers that haven’t yet been sold or stripped down. In all honesty, I don’t know enough about how many there are, and how feasible this is. But I know it is something that has been discussed elsewhere, as has the possibility of Britain somehow acquiring second hand Harriers from elsewhere – perhaps India – as an interim measure if the need arose. Interesting thought, but I’m not sure its something that we could rely on. It would require a protracted conflict to give the time to get a carrier up to speed, whether that be Illustrious from the LPH role, or re-comissioning Ark Royal.

New intensity has been shed on the aircraft carrier situation by recent events since the SDSR, particularly in Libya. Although Britain managed to contribute to the NATO operation quite effectively – with air assets flying from Britain and Italy, and ships in the Med – you can bet that there will have been more than a few curses in Whitehall that we couldn’t send Ark Royal loaded with Harriers. According to unconfirmed reports, the RAF even requested the use of an Aircraft Carrier to cut down on flying time and operating costs. Whilst land-based aircraft are nice to have, they are subject to basing costs and air space and overflight issues. An aircraft carrier can go wherever it is wanted or needed. And whilst we managed ok without one, France and Italy – both much closer to Libya – still deployed theirs. In other situations,

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Refighting the Falklands War (2012): The political dimension

Before we embark on a look at whether a Falklands War could be fought in 2012, I want to add the caveat that here, we are not merely attempting to fight the last war. The Falklands is just a convenient yardstick for judging a fundamental responsibility of Government, our national ability to defend ourselves and our interests. It is, unless the French invade the Channel Islands any time soon, probably the only case in which Britain might have to act unilateraly on the world stage. What we are doing is assessing change over time, comparing 1982 to 2012. In many ways the world has moved on since 1982, so it would inevitably be a very different conflict, much the same as there is hardly likely to be another Battle of Britain any time in the forseeable future.

Any operation at such a distance is inevitably going to be a joint, ‘purple’ operation. In our discussions, I don’t want us to become too centric on any particular Arm or asset. I have no time for single-service narrowmindedness; at some point people need to grow up and consign the spectre of services attempting to out-maneouvre each other to the history books. When armed forces squabble there is only ever one winner – the Treasury.

One aspect that I neglected in my 2009 review, was that of politics – both domestic, regional and international. As Clauszwitz said, war is the pursuit of politics through other means, and this is particularly true of international crises that require military intervention. Very rarely in history have wars been fought for wars sake alone; invariably they are motivated by some kind of politics. Witness the 1982 invasion by Argentina. As this broad spectrum of politics would determine if, when and how a war might be fought, and its potential outcome, it seems only sensible to consider these important factors.

Buenos Aries

In 1982 Argentina was ruled by a military junta. Fighting a brutal internal war and locked in territorial disputes with neighbours, the Malvinas provided a suitable release valve for serious internal problems. Ostensibly, much has changed since then. But has it? Argentina is led by a person whose chief virtue is that they are the widow of the last President (Democracy, love it). Not only that, but Christina Fernandez-Kirchner has developed a reputation not only for tasteless flirting at international summits, but also  coming out with some inflamatory remarks in recent years. Althought it is tempting to think that whilst Argentina is a democracy military action is unlikely, this underestimates the importance of the Malvinas issue to the Argentine psyche – it has the ability to reduce perfectly sane people into a blithering mess. With the global economy in the situation that it is, and with the potential for social and economic unrest, the Malvina’s option is never going to be completely off  the table for Buenos Aires.

South America

In 1982 Argentina was pretty much isolated, as military dictatorships invariably tend to be. Locked in territorial disputes with neighbours, she had to retain most of her best troops to stave off a threat from Chile. In 2o12, the scene is quiet different. As a democracy Argentina is very much in from the cold, and recent years have seen something of a South American love in, with characters such as Lula and Chavez supporting Fernandez-Kirchner’s rantings. Whilst much of this is motivated by the popularity of anti-imperialist rhetoric, there have been several cases of latin american countries denying British ships access to facilities, ostensibly at the behest of Buenos Aires. This regional support would extremely unlikely to deter Argentina.

Yet, if Argentina were to unexpectedly invade the Falklands, as an agressive act without provocation, we might see support from South American countries fall away. Britain has defence links with Brazil, and whilst Chile and Argentina are getting on a lot better nowadays, again, Britain has strong links with Chile. The Argentines and Uruguayans also have underlying issues. Thus, whilst Argentina might not be as isolated as she was in 1982, an invasion would not win her any allies.

London

The current Government clearly believes that there is no threat in the South Atlantic. When posed questions in Parliament about the possiblity of another Falklands War, the Prime Minister simply replied, in a naive Rumsfeldian manner, that as Argentina is a democracy this would be unthinkable.

Putting aside the economic reasoning, the SDSR was, effectively, a 1920′s style 10 year gamble on the part of the Government. That for at least the next ten years, Britain would not have to act on her own militarily, without the aid of allies. Whilst in some respects that is true –  invariably Britain acts as part of an alliance, whether it be EU, NATO or otherwise – all the time Britain has interests around the globe, you can never quite discount the need to intervene on your own. Whilst the British Empire is no more – indeed, empires have had their day - there are still Brits around the globe who want to be British, and who deserve our protection. The problem is, that defence cuts rarely deter threats. Quite the opposite.

Crises rarely tap you on the shoulder to give you fair warning just before they explode. Even when they do, you cannot always rely on your Foreign Office to deal with them properly (ahem, Carrington). That is exactly what I am trying to get across here- in an uncertain world, the only certain thing is that you can expect the unexpected. Who foresaw the Arab Spring, and Lybia in particular? No one predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And what about the first Gulf War? The moral is very much that you cannot plan for international crises, but you can at least try to put yourself in a position to respond to most scenarios as best you can.

Any Government faced with an invasion of British territory – or any other gross affront to British interests – would be hard pressed to survive. The British public might not be quite the flag waving rabble of Charles and Di’s wedding, but I doubt very much whether any administration surrendering the Falklands would survive. Given the support for the armed forces in recent years, any pictures of  being made to lie prostate on the ground would provoke outrage. In 1982 Thatcher was able to turn things around by hook and crook, but whether that would be possible in 2012 is another matter.

Port Stanley

In 1982 the issue was very clear - the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands were British, and wanted to remain British. In that sense, Britain was acting to defend their rights of self-determination, to live under the sovereignty of their choosing. Virtually all of the Falkland Islanders are of British descent, and whilst there are allegations of Imperialism, in many cases Falklands families have been living there longer than Spanish-descended Argentines have been living in South America. Any Government abandoning the Falkland Islanders to Argentina against their will could expect to be relegated to the opposition benches pretty sharpish, particularly given the place that the Falklands holds in British culture after 1982.

The issue of citizenship, sovereignty and self-determination still remains, yet since 2009 a huge new issue has arisen – that of black gold. Huge fossil fuel reserves have been discovered in the South Atlantic off the Falkland Islands, and ownership of the territorial waters brings with it the right to explore for gas and oil. It might be a coincidence, but Argentine bluff and bluster since the discovery has increased considerably.

Lucrative natural resources have had the ability to cause war more than any other factor in the past 25 or so years. And with the global economy in the doldrums, any means of making money is going to be sought after. Any businesses looking to drill for oil in the South Atlantic will exert considerable lobbying pressure on the UK Government, and indeed on other Governments. The Government might also be more inclined to act to support oil companies, more than it would for a few thousands kelpers. The same goes for fishing rights, albeit on not such a money-spinning level.

United Nations and global opinion

The policy of the United Nations – Security Council and General Assembly – has been unequivocal in its policy on the Falklands – Britain and Argentina should resume negotiations towards a peaceful settlement. Quite how these negotations should come about, what should be negotiated and what a peaceful settlement would comprise, has never been elaborated. Thus the UN, sadly as usual, is as intransigent as it could possibly be.

Any un-mitigated invasion of the Falklands would no doubt be brought before the Security Council. Of the 5 permanent members, the UK would of course vote for action, the US and France would probably be swayed towards the British cause, however China may prove more difficult. And with the current frosty state of relations between Britain and Russia, help from that direction can probably be discounted. The chance of any resolution going through without a veto from one of the permanent 5 members seems unlikely. When we consider the rest of the membership, it is also unlikely that all of them would vote for Britain – anti-colonialism is hot political currency these days, and the non-aligned movement has gained influence in the past few years.

As a key member of the EU and NATO, Britain could in theory call on support from these quarters. However, as in 1982, I would find it hard to believe that France would lend us Charles de Gaulle, or that the US would provide AWACS for us. The best we could probably hope for is sanctions to be placed on Argentina, covert assistance with supplies and basing, and help in covering for our standing patrols, such as in the Gulf or off the horn of Africa, in order to free up slack for a Task Force. We might find ourselves in need of more Tomahawks at some point, in which case we would have to go cap in hand to the US.

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The Falklands Then and Now… AND Now: initial thoughts

Soon after starting my blog, I ran a series looking at the 1982 Falklands War. As a long-term resident of Portsmouth I have always had a very strong interest in the conflict, and wanted to do something of an annual ‘Open University Lectures’ style series over Christmas to give us all something to do. I didn’t really expect anyone to read it, but thanks to a plug from Mike Burleson (proprietor of the now-ceased New Wars blog) things snowballed and my hit ratings have never quite been the same since!

Much has changed in two years In the winter of 2009 we were looking ahead to a closely fought general election, under the spectre of a massive economic crisis. In the years since we have seen a new Government, a swingeing Defence Review which has radically altered the picture of British defence planning and capability. No strike Carrier, No Harriers, half the amphibious ships, less escorts, less everything really. Since 2009 tensions have also arisen with Argentina pulling various diplomatic strings to unsettle the British presence in the South Atlantic. Coincidentally, since the discovery of oil reserves in the South Atlantic.

With much change since then, and also with the 30th Anniversary of the war coming up next year, I think it is the ideal time to revisit the ‘Falklands: Then and Now’ series. Over christmas and the new year period I will be re-examining my original conclusions, and trying to find some sort of assesment as to how the Falklands War might feasibly be re-fought in 2012.

In 2009 I looked at the following:

  • Aircraft Carriers
  • Amphibious
  • Escorts (Destroyers and Frigates)
  • Submarines
  • Auxiliaries
  • Merchant Navy
  • Land Forces
  • The Air War
  • Command and Control
  • The Reckoning

If there is anything that I should add, or if anyone would like to make suggestions, please feel free to comment or email me via the ‘Contact Me’ bar above. If anybody would like to guest on any of the sections, please feel free to get in touch.

As I’m sure you can see, it is very sea-orientated, but then again as the Falklands are Islands 8,000 miles way then that is always bound to be the case. I remember also getting some pretty snobby comments in the past, about it being ‘hardly rocket science’. Well, that’s exactly the point – we need ordinary people to support our military, and we won’t do that by getting excited about the screws securing the sprockets in a Sea Wolf missile’s motor.

Suffice to say, only the most deluded of commentators will find this a positive exercise, but it is an opportune time to assess the declining state of Britain’s defence capabilities, and to use a historical yardstick to illustrate how we are incapable of defending those who wish to live under British citizenship.

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Royal Navy to replace Endurance?

HMS Endurance (A171) in Portsmouth

HMS Endurance in Portsmouth (Image via Wikipedia)

Today’s Portsmouth News contains an unconfirmed report that the Royal Navy is looking to replace the stricken Ice Patrol Ship HMS Endurance with a Norwegian Icebreaker for next years South Atlantic Patrol. Endurance, one of the most famous and recognisable ships in the Royal Navy, almost sank in 2008 when her engine room flooded. She has been laid up in Portsmouth since arriving back in the UK in early 2009, whilst the Navy and the Ministry of the Defence decide what to do with her.

During 2010 HMS Scott, an ocean-going survey vessel, deployed to the South Atlantic. This is not seen as a long-term solution, as she has no icebreaking capability and cannot operate helicopters in the same manner as Endurance. Also, she has her own duties to attend to. Militarily, the case for a South Atlantic Patrol Ship is not a priority for the Navy itself, but politically it would be seen as a major sign of weakness if the UK were to withdraw such a presence in the region. Earlier this year Argentina attempted to garner support from fellow South American countries for its stance over the Falklands. A proposed cut to the previous HMS Endurance precipitated the 1982 war.

With the current HMS Endurance laid up in Portsmouth and needing repairs believed to run into millions of pounds, it is likely that the Navy will seek to lease an existing icebreaker, probably from a Scandinavian source. This has been done in the past, when in 1967 the Navy purchased the MV Anita Dan from a Danish shipping line and renamed her HMS Endurance, and in 1991 when the Norwegian MV Polar Circle was chartered for eight months. She was later purchased outright and became second HMS Endurance. Leasing a ship before purchase enables the Navy to evaluate its suitability, especially for service in the ice. Any merchant vessel, however, will need to be adapted to Naval damage control standards, and will have to be able to operate helicopters.

Officially nothing has been decided, and it is likely that  an announcement will come as part of the soon-to-be-released Strategic Defence Review.

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Submarine deploys to Falklands

According to the Portsmouth Evening News a Royal Navy Submarine has deployed to the South Atlantic. HMS Sceptre, a 5,000 ton Swiftsure Class nuclear-powered attack submarine, has been sent to the region after speculation that oil has been found.

British Submarines such as HMS Sceptre are able to fire Tommahawk land attack missiles, which have a range of up to 2,500km. Thus a submarine such as Sceptre could launch strikes on strategic targets at any location in Argentina, whilst being up to 1,000 miles away. The effect is very similar to the Vulcan Black Buck raids of 1982. Reportedly only certain Submarines are able to operate Tommahawk, but as the details of exactly which have not been made public, the Argentinians will have to assume that Sceptre can. Sceptre can also fire Sub-Harpoon anti-ship and anti-land missiles, with a range of up to 140 km. In addition she is armed with conventional Spearfish Torpedoes.

Sophisticated monitoring equipment will also enable Sceptre to monitor movements in the seas around the so-called Conservation Zone, where drilling is underway.

It is believed that Sceptre sailed south from around the coast of Southern Africa sometime in February. The Royal Navy has issued a pointed ‘no comment’ as is usual for submarine deployments, but the ‘neither-confirm-nor-deny’ policy will leave Buenos Aries in no doubt as to the fact that a submarine is lurking, hidden, within range. The Argentinian Navy will be well aware of how HMS Conqueror sank the Belgrano in 1982.

Sceptre is the oldest commissioned vessel still in active service with the Royal Navy and is due to decommission in December. Thus this South Atlantic deployment is likely to be her swansong.

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Latest Falklands News: naval encounter and sub deployment

Something new crops up regarding the latest Falklands crisis every day, so until the situation calms down I ‘m going to give a daily analysis of the news.

It has emerged that on 28 January HMS York, the Royal Navy’s South Atlantic guardship, intercepted an Argentinian Navy Corvette that was approaching the area where exploratory drilling has recently started. The Drummond, a veteran of the 1982 Falklands War, apparently made an ‘innocent navigation error’, 10 miles inside the oil exploration area. HMS York radioed across and ‘encouraged’ her to change course. This incident can be seen in two ways – either the Argentine Navy’s seamanship is very poor, or they are acting provocatively. Much as Soviet and now Russian jets test UK airspace, perhaps Argentin was hoping to provoke a flashpoint?

In other navalnews, the Royal Navy today confirmed that a submarine has been deployed to the South Atlantic. Normally Submarine deployments are kept secret, so this news will have been made public as a clear signal to Buenos Aires. In all likelihood it is a Nuclear Attack Submarine carrying torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles. In 1982 the Black Buck Vulcan raids demonstrated to Argentina that British forces had the ability to strike at any point in Argentina. Only with Tomahawk there is much less risk and more precision. And the Argentine Navy will remember very well how after HMS Conqueror sunk the Belgrano their ships were virtually bottled up in port.

In political news Argentina’s Foreign Minister met today with the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, to press for support over the Falklands issues. Although the Foreign Minister emerged from the meeting uttering the same soundbites as other Argentinian leaders have recently, there has been a telling silence from Ban and the UN. Hopefully he is far too clever and impartial to be drawn into what is essentially South American power-play politics.

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More bluff and bluster over Falklands

Reportedly Argentina is seeking a meeting with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, over the Falklands Oil crisis.

The Argentinian Government has been conducting an aggressive diplomatic offensive in recent days, every bit as aggressive as their 1982 invasion. To seek to talk to the UN Secretary-General rather than put the issue before the General Assembly or Security Council is underhand. The fundamental principle of the United Nations is self-determination, the right of people to choose their own form of Government. The people of the Falkland Islands choose to be British. Until the change their minds, to agigate against their wishes is aggression.

A summit of South American leaders urged Argentina and Britain to “renew negotiations in order to find in the shortest time possible a just, peaceful and definitive solution to the dispute”. Funnily enough, it was Argentina who walked out of negotiations, only to cause a fuss now that it suits her. Argentina’s track record over the Falklands cannot be ignored, even since 1982 there has been the shadow of Argentinian threats to regain the Islands. All the time these exist, how can negotiations take place?

Brazilian President Lula da Silva, normally one of South America’s more sensible leaders, excelled himself with “What is the geographic, the political or economic explanation for England [sic] to be in Las Malvinas? Could it be because England is a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council [where] they can do everything and the others nothing?” Aside from referring to the UK as England, and showing a Janet and John level of understanding of the relationship between the UK and the Falklands, Lula’s comments have more to do with Brazil’s desire to be seen as a serious world power herself. There is a reason why the UK is a permanent member of the Security Council – aside from a few notable examples (Suez and Iraq spring to mind) the UK has by and large been a force for good in the modern world.

As I have frequently commented, the effects of Empire are all over South America. Is President Lula feeling guilty about how his Portuguese ancestors came to Brazil? The British Empire no longer exists, and the UK Government clearly has no desire to ‘hold on’ to any territory that wants independence – witness the withdrawal from Empire post-1945, and the handing back of Hong Kong in 1997. Frankly, the attempt to whitewash Britain as an Imperial power does not wash.

The sad thing is, it seems that South America’s leaders are behaving more imperialistically than Britain has for many years. The Falklands issue has found itself hijacked by the bigger issues of South American power-play.

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Argentina claims regional support over Falklands

Argentina has claimed to have gathered support from other South American countries for its stance over the Falkland Islands, according to BBC News.

At a regional summit in Mexico a document has reportedly been drafted giving Argentina unanimous support. No official statement has been made, but the President of Mexico has reportedly said a document had been drawn up offering Buenos Aires full support in its territorial dispute with London. This regional support is hardly surprising, and has come with the usual anti-imperialist soundbites.

Cristina Kirchner, the Argentinian President, has apparently said that “I think the important thing is that we have achieved very strong support, something that legitimates our claims fundamentally against the new petroleum activity.” How somebody who happens to be the wife of the last President can claim any kind of legitimacy or expect to be taken seriously is beyond me. Also, it hasn’t been made clear exactly what international law has been violated by Britain.

Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, said “Mrs Queen of England, the empires are over”. Clearly Mr Chavez’s grasp of history, british politics and indeed of democracy are slightly weak. The British Empire ended years ago. The people on the Falkland Islands want to be British, how they got there is immaterial. Is Mr Chavez going to hand Venezuela back to the Indigenous Venezuelan Indians?

The majority of people in South America, and certainly those who find themselves in power, are the descendants of the Spanish Empire. If they are advocating that the Falkland Islanders should be shipped home, shouldn’t they all go home to Spain too? Like it or not, the effects of Imperialism are a reality, and the make up of modern South American is exactly the same.

One cannot help but feel that the rumblings coming from Buenos Aires are being caused by two factors. Firstly, the economic and political situation is leading the Argentine Government to exploit the age-old Falklands factor to divert attention away from their own domestic failings. Secondly, Buenos Aires is unhappy about having to eat humble pie over the oil issue. They may make noises about Britain not negotiating or acting unilaterally, but in 2007 they withdrew from talks over the sharing of oil revenue. Now, when it seems that there is money to be made, they want a slice of the pie. I cannot help but think that this recent crisis is not so much about the Islands per se, but about Argentinian domestic factors and oil. Argentina is being less than altruistic in this.

Given the staunch support of the UK for recent US Foreign policy, including unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it might be expected that the US Government will support the British stance. However, with Barack Obama’s somewhat cooler approach to the special relationship, and a desire to engage more with regional governments, the UK might not be able to expect as much support as it received in 1982.

So where does this leave Britain? Clearly, in a very dangerous position. Argentina will feel emboldened by the support they have received from their neighbours – they are not as isolated as in 1982. But economically and militarily, Argentina is unlikely to act. All the same, it is important that the Foreign Office works hard to garner support, particularly from the US and the EU countries.

Theodores Roosevelt’s adage ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ still holds firm – it might not be a bad idea, if possible, to send an extra warship or two down south to patrol the drilling area. We might not have many ships available, but the deployment of one or two now might save a bigger headache later. The biggest mistake the British Government made in 1982 was not acting decisively over the South Georgia incident.

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British Forces in the Falklands

With the amount of press recently about the latest Falklands crisis, I thought it might be timely to take a look at the British Forces that are currently deployed on the Falklands. Notice I say currently – despite the Sun’s screaming headline, all of the warships below are already ‘down south’, none have sailed south as any kind of task force. The Navy, Air Force and Army deployments below are all standing deployments.

HMS Clyde is the Royal Navy’s Falklands Patrol Vessel. She displaces 1,850 tons and has a crew of 36. It has a flight deck that can accommodate Merlin-sized Helicopters. Armament wise Clyde is hardly bristling, with a 30mm Gun, two Miniguns and 2 GPMG’s. Her real value is in giving a presence in the South Atlantic, and being able to transport boarding parties. HMS Scott is very much a stand-in. An Ocean Survey vessel, she is deployed in the South Atlantic to cover for the damaged HMS Endurance. She weighs in at 13,000 tons, and although she carries no armament and cannot operate helicopters, she does provide a presence in some of the further south parts of the Falklands area. HMS York is a Batch 3 Type 42 Destroyer. although rather old she does carry a 4.5inch Gun, Sea Dart Anti-air missiles and a Lynx Helicopter. Type 42′s were used as advanced radar pickets in 1982. RFA Wave Ruler is a fast fleet tanker of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and is on station to replenish warships in the area.

4 Eurofighter Typhoons are based at RAF Mount Pleasant to provide Air Defence. They are far in advance of anything that the Argentine Air Force can offer. To support them a VC10 tanker is also based at Mount Pleasant, which means that the Typhoons can spend longer in the air. A Hercules is also on station to provide transport and patrol functions. 2 Sea King Search and Rescue Helicopters complete the air line-up.

The main ground fore consists of an Infantry Company, which is rotated regularly. An Engineer Squadron is also based on the islands, along with other supporting troops, such as Signals and Logistics. A Royal artillery Rapier Detachment is based at Mount Pleasant and will be crucial – based permanently on the islands, their radars will be well-adjusted to the conditions. Finally, the Falkland Islands Defence Force is a local, volunteer force of Falkland Islanders.

The Ministry of Defence maintains a Joint Rapid Reaction Force for quick deployment to trouble spots globally. Any reinforcement of the Falklands would come from this pool. The Navy maintains a Frigate or Destroyer at high readiness, and several more would also be available. An Aircraft Carrier, currently HMS Ark Royal, is normally earmarked for quick deployment. And although submarine deployments are routinely kept secret, an SSN or two in the South Atlantic would severely hamper the Argentine’s room for manoeuvre. Air reinforcement would include extra air defence assets. The air bridge via Ascension would enable more Infantry and Air Defence Artillery to be deployed very quickly.

Given the political-economic situation, it is unlikely – but not impossible – that the Argentinians would risk another full-scale war. But we live in uncertain times, and as I have commented recently, any struggling Buenos Aires Government looks to exploit the Falklands as a diversion. Initial problems are likely to be possible interference with oil drilling and with British ships in the Falklands Islands waters. Ships will need to patrol confidently to ‘stake out’ possible areas of conflict, and patrol vessels are far better suited for this than Destroyers. The typhoons are a serious deterrent, but the defence of their airfield will also be crucial. In conclusion, there are probably enough forces on and around the islands to deter the Argentines from risking a conventional invasion.

Therefore it seems likely that the role of the armed forces in the present crisis will be low intensity in nature – protecting the integrity of territorial waters, and providing enough of a ‘big stick’ to back up diplomatic moves.

No doubt the heads of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will attempt to make great capital out of this current crisis. Whilst we have to look on this favourably as something that will inform debate, the risks are that the Admirals in particular will take things out of context. At this point the oil crisis seems to make a case for smaller, hard-hitting patrol ships.

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Pressure builds over Falklands Oil

The discovery of huge oil reserves under the seas around the Falkland Islands has raised tensions between the UK and Argentina, according to the Sunday Express. Argentinian authorities have prevented a ship, the Thor Leader from leaving the port of Campana last Thursday. It was carrying a cargo of 7,000 tonnes of steel tubes to be used for drilling, which the Argentinian Government allege has been ‘illegally promoted’ by Britain.

Argentinian objections are believed to centre around UN resolutions which call for the two Governments to renew talks on sovereignty of the Islands. Quite how the Argentines can complain about this is interesting, as recently President Cristina Kirchner has vowed to regain the Islands. And in my opinion the UK Government is quite right in that as long as the Islanders themselves want to remain British, there is nothing to discuss. Therefore it is slightly mischievious of the UN to call for negotiations.

Geologists estimate up to 60 billion barrels could lie beneath the sea bed, potentially the second largest oilfield in the world. Argentina is facing an economic crisis, and ratcheting up pressure over the Falklands is an age old resort of Buenos Aires. It will not have gone un-noticed that British forces are severely stretched in Afghanistan, and the Royal Navy is much smaller than it was in 1982. The upcoming Defence Review is bound to cut the Armed Forces even further.

The Islands themselves are better protected than they were in 1982, with air defence missile systems, Typhoon Fighters, an infantry company and several Royal Navy vessels on station. But although the tripwire is stronger than in 1982, that the UK’s military’s forces are so much smaller are bound to have an impact on diplomacy.

That a signifcant oilfield is in UK sovereign territory has to be taken into account in the Defence Review, as Britain could not rely on international support should Argentina keep raising the pressure.

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Navy considering future of HMS Endurance

HMS Endurance

HMS Endurance

The Royal Navy are seriously considering the future of HMS Endurance, Britain’s specialist South Atlantic patrol ship and icebreaker, reports Janes Navy International.

Endurance was seriously damaged by flooding in late 2008, and is currently laid up in Portsmouth while it is decided what to do with her. With the repair bill being estimated at £30m, it is not surprising that the Navy are looking at alternatives. At 19 years old, would it be cost effective to repair her? Or might it be more prudent to replace her with a leased ship?

HMS Scott is currently performing Endurance’s role of patrolling the South Atlantic antarctic area. HMS Clyde is also based semi-permanently in the Falkland Islands, and there is usually a Frigate or Destroyer on station in the South Atlantic too. Whilst it might be argued that cutting Endurance from the fleet would signal to the Argentinians that the UK is not serious about the South Atlantic, even without Endurance we have a much more considerable presence around the Falklands now than we did pre-1982. And, arguably, the Argentines are in no position, politically or militarily, to take any action over the Falklands.

Endurance also carries out scientific surveys in the Antarctic area. Whilst this is no doubt useful and interesting to scientists, is this a priority for the Navy? The British Antarctic Survey has its own research vessel, the James Clark Ross.

Endurance is a special ship, no doubt about it, but in hard times maybe the Navy needs to be looking to cut its cloth.

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