The Falklands v2.0- Getting There


Pretty quickly in doing research on the recently increased tensions between Argentina and Great Britain, I realized one of the biggest problems Argentina would have in any notional conflict would simply be getting to the islands.  Getting ashore would just be the first problem. Defeating the current defenses would be another.

Let’s take a look at the current Order of Battle for both sides.

Given the vast increases in British defense resources in the Falklands since 1982, any Argentine attempt to seize the islands would have to take a much different approach than the 1982 amphibious invasion, and would be a much wider scale operation, with much greater risks.

Argentina no longer has a credible ability to deploy more than a single battalion of expeditionary forces. Facing a reinforced rifle company in the defense with such a small force is just within the realm of feasibility, but facing one with air superiority over its own territory would be futile.

Argentina could land a token force of special operations somewhere in the Falklands to “show the flag” for domestic political consumption. Such a force could be landed by fishing vessel, or conceivably by Argentine submarine. Such a force would likely not be able to maintain station on the islands for more than 48 hours before British forces hunted them down. Since such a mission would be strictly for domestic purposes, the capture or destruction of such a team would be highly counterproductive, and great pains would be taken to plan for the retrieval of the team.

Other options short of an outright invasion are open to Argentina. Harassment of fishing vessels in Falklands waters, denial of landing rights to civil aviation from the Falklands (or even Great Britain), denial of port entry to ships making landfall in the Falklands are all options.  Other than being about 300 miles from Argentina, the Falklands are in the middle of nowhere, and some level of outside trade is critical. Actions by Argentina that are short of outright combat can persuade some commercial interests that it isn’t worth it to trade with the remote outpost.  We can expect Argentina to continue to do as much as possible to make the Falklands as expensive an outpost of Great Britain as they can, in hopes of reducing British support for the Falklanders continual claim to be under the protection of the Crown.

Should Argentina seriously try to seize actual control of the islands, they would first have to seize control of the air. The only way to do this would be to attack RAF Mt. Pleasant, and render its runways inoperative, at least for a few days. With any strategic warning at all, Great Britain could reinforce the standing force of four fighters with fairly large numbers of fighters, strike aircraft, and tankers.  With that in mind, Argentina would have to strike “out of the blue.”  A mass raid by as much of the A-4AR fleet as can be made operational would have a fair chance of success of damaging both runways. But if RAF Mt. Pleasant has as little as five minutes warning of the incoming raid, Argentine losses would be very heavy, both from ready alert Typhoons and Rapier surface to air missiles.

Let’s assume that such an Argentine raid has been successful. While denying Great Britain use of its airpower (at least temporarily) is a condition for any chance of success, such a raid would certainly alert ground forces to a possible landing.  Rehearsed plans to defeat any Argentine landings would be initiated. Whether Britain would attempt to defeat such a landing on the beaches or inland is an open question.

Any Argentine landing would have as its prime objective to seize RAF Mt. Pleasant. Failure to do so would give Britain time to repair any damage, and potentially allow reinforcements to flow in via an air bridge.  To defeat the British Army garrison quickly, the Argentines would need to land more than one battalion of their own Marines. But they lack the amphibious shipping to do so. They would have to press into service merchant vessels, themselves ill suited to serve as troopships. Worse, this procurement would have to take place prior to any hostilities. Such an action could very easily come to the attention of Britain, and serve as strategic warning of an impending attack.  Indeed, an large scale preparations by the ARA to ready more than a usual number of ships for sea is likely to attract British attention, and lead to reinforcing the islands.

But let’s assume, for the purpose of our discussion, that Argentina somehow manages to both suppress RAF Mt. Pleasant, land two or more battalions on the Falklands, and seize RAF Mt. Pleasant, and destroy or capture the garrison.  What could Britain do in return?

Much as Argentina would need to change its approach, with the absence of sea base airpower, and with a much smaller navy (and RAF, and army) Britain too would have to resort to different methods.

We’ll take a look at some possible courses of action in our next installment.

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10 Comments

Filed under Air Force, war

10 responses to “The Falklands v2.0- Getting There

  1. LT Rusty

    I was particularly struck by one thing here.

    You mentioned that an attack by a battalion-sized force against territory held by a company-sized force would be suicidal without the ability of the battalion to gain air superiority. However (comma) you also mention that the RAF has only 4 aircraft on site, plus a Rapier battery. How many Argentine aircraft does that neutralize, assuming a(n almost certainly unobtainable) PK of 1? Stalin’s quote seems particularly relevant here …

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    • The Argentine Skyhawks would again be operating at the very ragged edge of their combat radius. And they have no medium range air to air capability. At most, they might have ten minutes station time over the islands. The Typhoons, on the other hand, would have up to 90 minutes on station time. And they carry a large missile load. And have an outstanding air to air radar, far better even than the APG-66 radar of the A-4AR. Any raid, massed or small, would be meat on the table for any airborne Typhoon. The Typhoon may not get all the Skyhawks in a raid, but would likely inflict unsustainable losses on any raid. The likelihood of any raid knocking out both runways and denying RAF Mt. Pleasant is pretty small, especially absent any dedicated anti-runway or precision guided munitions. And in a pinch, Mt. Stanley airport would still suffice for lightly loaded Typhoons.

      RAF Mt. Pleasant would only have to hold for about 24-48 hours for any runway repairs to be completed. And for reinforcements to arrive. If the first strike doesn’t ground the Typhoons, the Skyhawks are out of the game.

      And the Daggers and Neshers? Less a factor than the Skyhawks.

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    • LT Rusty

      What I was getting at wasn’t so much the idea of the FightingHawks – or the Daggers / Neshers – actually being able to win in the air, so much as 4 Typhoons plus a Rapier battery not having enough ammunition on board to take out all of them at once, if the Argentines were willing to soak up the casualties all at once, or could arrange some sort of drone capability – I know one of your favorite books is Red Storm Rising, so consider that scenario – in order to force the British to waste their ammo, leaving them unable to effectively counter the real raid. Or at least swamp them with targets, forcing them to dramatically reduce their PK, to the point where some of the AG munitions – PGM or not – can damage the runways to a substantial degree.

      The Typhoons have to land and rearm / refuel sometime. If the runways could be damaged while they’re in the air, then in one stroke the Argies will have attained air superiority.

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  2. NaCly Dog

    Any Argentine attack has to have strong OPSEC in planning and training. Any wiff of an attack caught by the excellent UK intelligence system could lead to reinforcements being sent from the UK, or a SSN sent to augment the on-station destroyer.

    There are low probabiity ways for Argentina to cause trouble. Special Ops forces could start the “out of the blue” attack. A Halo approach to a site within hand-held SAM range of the runway end would be the first step. This would be from a transport, with fighter support as a decoy to keep the RAF away from the C-130. The RAF aircraft are the key to the defense of the Falklands.

    The Royal Army has one infantry company and one militia light infantry company on the island. I would expect that the four aircraft revetemnts (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Mount_Pleasant_Airport_-_Donald_Morrison.jpg) would be well protected. The remainder of the personnel are air defense, supply, maintenance, engineer, and electronic warfare, so given warning, base defense would be strong. A raiding party would not be able to hit the aircraft on the ground ala 1941 SAS in North Africa.

    An alternative is a coup de main from one of the commercial airlines that land at RAF Mt. Pleasant. As none of the commercial aircraft board in Argentina, this is even more unlikely. Chile or Uruguay are not that friendly with Argentina.

    The Argentine subs do not appear to be able to deliver a raiding party or even operate from their ports to the Falklands. The runway ends are a long way from any swimmers deployed from subs.

    The main targets for any attack are the sole tanker for the RAF, the unreveted fuel tanks, and the fuel bowsers. Smart bombs could be used for the fuel tanks.

    In the unlikely event the attack succeds, then the ARA Hércules (B-52) can unload their complement of 238 marines, and dash back for more troops. Lift for army troops is entirely lacking, and would need to be commercial vessels, or vessels “loaned” by someone “cough” “cough” Venezuela.

    Given the leadership of the UK forces, even 3:1 odd of Argentine to UK forces will not be enough. I would expect an attack to fail, as it would require more synchronization and effectiveness than the Argentine forces possess to win.

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  3. UK needs to start sending “tourists” to the Falklands as they stockpile war gear for the tourist to use if Falklands is invaded.
    You could fly them in coach and save money.
    Lots of crates designated heavy construction equipment could also be sent slowly over a period of time.

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    • NaCly Dog

      The RA and RAF have the needed weapons, equipment and provisions staged in the Falklands already. The RN does not have a good repair facility there, and I do not know if AAW missles are prepositioned.

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    • I think I forgot to mention that there’s always an RFA logistics ship on station to support the deployed frigate/destroyer, and it would presumably have some reload weapons.

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  4. Buck Buchanan

    Wouldn’t surprise either if a C-17 load of AMRAAMs arrived from CONUS.

    Also could see an RN SSN launching Tomahawk strikes against the home airfields to reduce follow on attacks.

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  5. elizzar

    considering the recent capsizing of the argentine destroyer whilst in port (well done sbs … ahem!) isn’t there also an argument that even if an invasion flotilla set sail, it might never even make the islands? it would be darkly humourous for them to flounder half-way and have to ask the brits to come rescue them …
    the low standard of maintenance and training could well be reflected across all services – i don’t know if you have any air force details on this – further reducing effectiveness. for instance in the 1982 conflict, the air-force technicians didn’t know how to re-set their bomb fuses properly, which probably saved several ships / many lives. is there any indication standards have improved / stagnated or got worse (i’d suggest the latter).
    cheers for the article(s), thought-provoking.

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    • I didn’t find much on the Argentine AF (in English anyway) other than some basic order of battle stuff. But I strongly suspect they still suffer from the poor maintenance that has long plagued the Argentine forces.

      And for the record, I really don’t think the SBS* sank the ARA Santisma Trinidad. She’s been “in reserve” since 2004, mostly serving as a source of spare parts for the other Type 42. In other words, she was really just a hulk. Why would the SBS target such a ship? They would have been better served targeting the sole amphibious transport in the fleet.

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