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.