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RAF Proves Worth in Falklands Crisis

February 20, 2010

RAF Mount Pleasant, Falkland Islands

Updated below.

I often insist that because airpower today is so effective, you can do more with less. Nothing is more glaring proof of this fact as a mere 4 Royal Air Force Typhoon fighters are currently guarding the British Overseas Territory of the Falkland Islands. While the Navy would certainly be on call in force should the unthinkable happen, invasion from the Argentine mainland, the Mount Pleasant Airport, constructed soon after the 1982 Conflict would be the key to the island’s defenses.

Defense of the airbase in the Falklands is currently more important than protecting the sealanes. Today the admirals might point to the current troubles there as a repeat of the last conflict, which saved the Royal Navy from massive budget cuts just in time. Actually, this is more proof of the frugality of a few land based planes, strategically based and deterring war altogether. It showcases the proper use of airpower, used at a decisive point and moment.

 I think the admirals and their supporters are looking for this present unpleasantness with Argentina to turn in their favor, but the budget troubles now are just too much to bear, and the reality that we are in a new type warfare, where land power is predominating. Recently the RAF has been worried its forces would be dispersed to the Navy and Army. Everyone must see, however, the economy a handful of fighter jets on the Falklands is probably preventing full scale conflict, backed by an Army battalion and small RN surface presence.

 These handful of Typhoons are the primary deterrence in the Falklands, and everyone knows this. Even the aging RAF Harriers, not as good as the old Sea Harriers, might still make a difference if the Islands were to fall. We recall that just as the Argentines surprised the British in 1982, so did the effectiveness of this little jump jet even against supersonic conventional planes that outnumbered them greatly.

Given time, Mount Pleasant could expect reinforcement planes from Britain including more Typhoons. Powerful Tornado GR4 strike planes are all-weather planes armed with powerful air-to surface missiles like Sea Eagle and Paveway guided bombs. RAF C-17s and C-130 transport  aircraft will form a supply chain across the Atlantic, with cargo and troops, the latter making an Argentine invasion almost unthinkable. Meanwhile, long range Nimrod patrol planes will cruise for many hours, watching for impending attack and fire Harpoon missiles if needed. RAF tankers keep them airborne for as long as needed.

Meanwhile, the large supercarriers the Navy chose to construct in place of less costly light carriers, as before the last Falklands Crisis, have proved its undoing. Forced to cut deep into its submarine and surfaces forces to afford a few costly decks, it is now maligned as unable to deploy an adequate Task Force to the South Atlantic. Meanwhile the launch of HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales is years away, its expensive aircraft still in an uncertain testing period. The once globe-spanning Royal Navy gambled for time with its irreplaceable ship numbers and lost.

To borrow a phrase from Mahan for my own use:

Those few and far distant Typhoon Jets, upon which the Ejército Argentino never looked, stood between it and the dominion of the Falklands.

*****

Update-Here are a few statements that goes along with the importance of Mount Pleasant to the Falklands. First from Victor at War News Updates via the comments:

At the time of the Argentine invasion/occupation, there was great lament among the chattering class on why did the Falklands lack an airbase. That if only a few fighters with the proper warning stations were positioned there, the Argentine military would never have attempted (from their perspective) such a bold initiative.

And from Think Defence:

Much better to win the fight by not fighting than having to fight to regain the islands.

*****

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46 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2012 10:24 am

    I find it unbelievable and extremely sad that Great Britain is having to justify the cost of defending itself when all the time we hear about huge sums of British tax payers money being given away buy our redicullus and recently proved corrupt government to countries that hate us. It is long past the time that we put the Great back into Great Britain and started puting our own needs as first priority. We need to get payerrid of the over powered human rights bill and get out of the EEC. I have just come back from Spain where I spent a week driving on supurb brand new 4 lane motorways in a country that is almost bankrupt but can build roads with money from EU contributions from us. I have arrived back home to find out that David Camaron has. Come up with the idea of privately funded toll roads which is just great when we are already taxed to death on fuel and road licences with other taxes on our insurances. I think it is time for the Great British public to WAKE UP

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 26, 2010 5:37 am

    agent0060-Thank you for commenting, and I don’t think anyone seriously expects 4 Typhoons to defend the Islands, not even the government. They are there mainly for deterrence, and for defense of the airfield. It is the airfield that is most important, allowing for rapid reinforcement of troops, supplies, and more aircraft as needed.

  3. agent0060 permalink
    March 25, 2010 8:52 pm

    Whilst sounding good, and with all due deference to the capabilities of the RAF Typhoons and their pilots, this is whistling in the wind.

    It is possible, faced only by the 68 combat aircraft of the Argentine Air Force, that the 4 RAF Typhoons could provide a creditable defence. But a total defence? I think not. Assuming no aircraft losses, 100% missile to aircraft kill ratio, the Typhoons might put down 52 Argentines before needing to re-arm. That leaves 16 combat-capable Argentine aircraft.

    And is the Argentine Air Force our only concern? Chavez of Venezuela has been ranting for years, and his air force includes 24 SU-30MKVs and 21 F-16s.

    Find ways to increase the RN and RAF urgently. Otherwise, abandon Overseas Territories and get used to being of no more account than Luxembourg.

  4. Matt permalink
    February 23, 2010 10:03 am

    Jason J. Williams wrote:
    “Shock and awe” did exactly what it was supposed to. Destroy the Iraqi militaries ability to wage conventional war. It was not designed to and never could have anyway, prevent an insurgency from commencing once an occupation of the Country occurred. Does that mean that massive shaping strikes (which is what “shock and awe” actually was) against an enemy is a tactic that doesn’t work? Hardly…”

    Jason – I certainly don’t believe that ‘shock and awe’ could have prevented a complex sectarian insurgency emerging in Iraq. And since I can only hope that no one is advocating that the British invade and occupy Argentina, I’ll just concentrate on the conventional aspects…

    As to whether “shock and awe” strikes were a key contributor to the successful conventional invasion of Iraq — as someone who was actually there in 2003, I have my reservations. The Iraqi military was already in pretty lousy ‘shape’ from the Gulf War. Fifteen years of embargoes, sanctions, and Operations Southern Watch / Northern Watch didn’t help them either. Even with all that, following “shock and awe” the Iraqi national command authority didn’t exactly dissolve – it still found a way to exercise local command and control (C2) and set up a pre-planned localized defense of Baghdad. We still had to go in on the ground and invade Baghdad. Ultimately, it was outdated equipment, poor operational and tactical doctrine, and the Coalition’s rapid and overwhelming ground offensive that doomed the Ba’athist regime.

    My point is that lobbing a few dozen Tomahawks at selected nodes may not be the panacea that some may think – particularly against a low-end adversary. (I’d put Argentina firmly in that category.) Sure you can take out a few critical pieces of his network, but a low-tech foe is less dependent on a sophisticated, centralized C2 system — largely because he can’t afford them! A low-tech foe is more likely to be organized as a series of independent networks with many nodes, scattered over a wide geographic area.

    In my mind, this illustrates a key strength of carrier airpower over ship-launched TLAM. It’s not just the ability to deliver a one-time knock out strike against a given network configuration – it’s the ability to deliver many strikes for many days over a wide geographic area.

  5. February 23, 2010 6:37 am

    Mike your writing is usually intelligent, interesting and accurate but a couple of your recent post on the Falklands are way off the mark. The idea that the RN can be thankful to the RAF is laughable. The Typhoons (at a whopping £88 million each) have been the biggest and most stupid drain on UK defence funds over that last 10 years. Designed to defend the UK they are of virtually no relevance in the modern world compared to carrier aircraft. The Typoons are limited in range and vulnerable on the ground compared to the mobility and flexibility of carrier aircraft.

    http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/articles/2007/11/great-eurofighter-debacle-nemesis-of-rn.html

    The RAF 4 Typhoons at Stanley are currently the Falklands main defence precisely because the RN has been so depleted. When the Type 45s are operational and the 2 carriers and their aircraft finally arrive, the Falklanders can feel much more secure than they ever have done since the last of the RN Fleet carriers decommissioned in 1978.

    Big carriers are expensive (and we could build lots more ‘motherships, light carriers etc instead) but the tiny air group of Invincible/Hermes only just managed to win in 1982 by the narrowest of margins (mainly because the Argentines were hopeless in air-air combat). With a large fleet carrier, with a decent air group and AEW it would have been a much safer operation and it remains true to day. Small carriers generally mean compromised sortie rates, aircraft performance and overall power. Although it it a lot of eggs in one basket, the power of the fleet carrier remains and that is why countries that aspire to global power are all building them. They are not just toys for Admirals stuck in the past as you imply so often, but relevant, flexible and immensely powerful.

  6. February 22, 2010 1:55 pm

    Rambling on I forget to make my point re TLAM.

    In my example if we loose one aircraft (leaving aside the other costs as I said) we are already down the cost of one aircraft.

    I think the Argentines had 8 airfields in Falklands range. Even if we had a super carrier we couldn’t attack all these fields and defend the islands, rigs, sea space. Now I admit there may be good reasons not to attack the fields. But…………

  7. February 22, 2010 1:44 pm

    Like a most here without years of professional training (indoctrination?) and perhaps it could be said free of the knowledge of some of the practicalities I do let my tiny mind wonder.

    Yes TLAM can only blow stuff up. But isn’t this what war is about? Imagine a 12 aircraft (I won’t use the more correct term ship to save confusion) attack on an airfield. Lets say each aircraft costs £/$ 50 million each (lets leave other costs aside.) Now I should imagine 50 TLAM would put an airfield out of action. Which is more cost effective? What if putting that field out of action saves an escort or a trooper?

    I am not arguing against manned aircraft. All I am saying is that against some targets a massed TLAM attack is the best option. At a million pound each I don’t think they are expensive.

    For airfield feel free to substitute dockyard, barracks, stores depot for airfield.

    Somebody commented about the UN. Whatever the Brits do the Third World will complain. What the majority forget is that Argentina was a colony. The Falklands are still a colony (loosely speaking.) The thing both have in common is that these are settled territories. Geographical proximity is a flawed argument. It should be remembered that the Argentines have tried to grab territory from both Chile and Uruguay. The Third World should wonder who they are defending in the UN and read their history books to see the fate of South America’s indigenous peoples at the hands of the Spanish.

  8. Jason J Simonds permalink
    February 21, 2010 8:55 pm

    “Shock and awe” did exactly what it was supposed to. Destroy the Iraqi militaries ability to wage conventional war. It was not designed to and never could have anyway, prevent an insurgency from commencing once an occupation of the Country occurred. Does that mean that massive shaping strikes (which is what “shock and awe” actually was) against an enemy is a tactic that doesn’t work? Hardly…

    The reason I brought up TLAM’s was precisely the effects that the initial “shock and awe” campaign was designed to provide. The Argentinian military, just like other 3rd tier military forces have proven, would be virtually helpless in the face of strikes by these weapon systems, with concurrent military operations conducted by whatever forces the UK mounts in the Falklands at that time, simply adding to the effect.

    Besides, any overtly threatening behaviour by the Argentinian forces WOULD see a British reaction prior to hostilities actually commencing. Does anyone really doubt the UK’s ability to deploy 12x Typhoon or say an addition 8x Typhoon and 4x GR4 Tornado strikers to Mt Pleasant, plus increased SAM coverage and ground forces within a couple of days? A naval task force would take some additional time to organise I agree, but I have no doubt UK submarine capability could be within range in a very short space of time and if necessary could most definitely begin the “shock and awe – minor” campaign, utilising only conventional weapons.

  9. Matt permalink
    February 21, 2010 6:55 pm

    My point exactly. Precision strikes to decapitate leadership and disrupt infrastructure failed miserably in OIF. If I recall correctly we pretty much turned the lights out on the first night…

    I’m thinking that a couple dozen TLAMs thrown into Buenos Aires are much more likely to intensity civilian support for a regime campaign to retake the Falklands. Argentinians have a demonstrated history of being the most intensely nationalist peoples in South America.

  10. B.Smitty permalink
    February 21, 2010 6:30 pm

    Mike said, “ Your statement sounds very similar to what the US tried to do in the opening stages of OIF. I think we all know how ‘Shock and Awe’ worked out.

    I hardly think a couple dozen TLAMs will ‘Shock and Awe’ anyone.

  11. Matt permalink
    February 21, 2010 5:07 pm

    Mike B. wrote:

    “Admittedly, they are not cheap, but so much more practical. It is so difficult these days in the deployment of manned naval airpower, even in the US Navy. With a Tomahawk, you can fire them from a destroyer or frigate, and ideally from a submarine. They are not as efficient bombers as the manned jets, but they may be good enough, plus they are getting smarter.”

    So — a $1 million missile that can do one thing (blow-up large, fixed objects) one-time is much more practical than a manned aircraft?

    I believe you’ve stated numerous times before that manned sorties can accomplish several strikes in a sortie, which to me strikes me as eminently more practical when you’re dealing with a foe with a relatively large number of geographically-dispersed targets.

    A Tomahawk can only go after one target area at a time — meaning you’d be throwing “golden bullets” all over the place. In contrast, a manned a/c with sufficient radius of action can attack one target, transit to another target area, and attack another target, etc.

    Another point is that a combatants Tomahawk locker isn’t very deep. A DDG-51 Flight II has 90 x VLS tubes. It’s unlikely more than half would be TLAMs. Once those are gone, they can’t be refilled at sea. A carrier air wing typically has enough ordnance for days of sustained sorties, and can be replenished at sea.

    As to BSmitty’s comments that “…turning the lights out in Buenos Aires might bring the war home to the civilian population and leadership…” Your statement sounds very similar to what the US tried to do in the opening stages of OIF. I think we all know how ‘Shock and Awe’ worked out.

  12. Jed permalink
    February 21, 2010 4:14 pm

    Bottom line is the airfield may be an ‘unsinkable’ carrier, but it is not a flexible one, it cant move, cant hide and even though there are some SAM’s as Arkady has already mentioned, if the Argentines really, really wanted to close it, they could.

    Mores to the point, with 3 subs, 14 major surface units, and their air force enforcing a complete blockade of the islands, how long til the army battalion and the locals are starved out ?

    How would UK break the blockade ? Can’t go throwing TLAM’s about, that would be an escalation and not look good in the UN ! I guess it would be similar to last time, get the SSN’s to start sinking their fleet units.

    This proves nothing about how useful the RAF is, but it does take us back to cold war arguements on how vulnerable fixed airbases are.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 21, 2010 2:27 pm

    Mr X said “Sometimes I wonder what the impact on UK defence thinking/strategy would be if we purchased a 1000 TLAM a year”

    Admittedly, they are not cheap, but so much more practical. It is so difficult these days in the deployment of manned naval airpower, even in the US Navy. With a Tomahawk, you can fire them from a destroyer or frigate, and ideally from a submarine. They are not as efficient bombers as the manned jets, but they may be good enough, plus they are getting smarter.

  14. B.Smitty permalink
    February 21, 2010 2:12 pm

    The best use for limited TLAMs, IMHO, would be to hit selected high value targets such as power, communications and leadership. Turning the lights out in Buenos Aires might bring the war home to the civilian population and leadership. Hitting the residences of a few senior military leaders might erode their support for hostilities.

  15. February 21, 2010 10:25 am

    I can’t see TLAM in penny packets making much of a difference. Many Argentine airfields have long taxiways etc. that can be used instead of main runways (which are long anyway.) I don’t think knocking out control towers would be a show stopper etc. etc.

    How TLAMS are used is interesting. Sometimes I wonder what the impact on UK defence thinkng/strategy would be if we purchased a 1000 TLAM a year (about the same cost of running the nuclear deterrent or the cost of a few Typhoons or two esorts or so.) Though not an answer to terrorism etc. a large scale TLAM attack would seriously damage most 2nd and 3rd tier militaries.

  16. Jason J Simonds permalink
    February 21, 2010 8:48 am

    Thanks Mike,

    The Tomahawks are a powerful capability, no doubt. I’m glad Australia has recently seen sense and decided to acquire same or similar for all our future warship acquisitions.

    In relation to the F-3′s, I’m pretty sure they’ve all left the island. I remember seeing pics of them with no wings, being transported back to the UK…

    There certainly is some nonsense about this about the place. The Argies are in a worse position militarily now then they were 30 years ago. There will not be a war and even if there was, it will be even shorter and bloodier (for Argentina) then it was last time…

  17. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 21, 2010 6:07 am

    Jason, glad you brought that up about Tomahawks, since I am a big advocate of more dependence on TLAM warships. Imagine the Vulcan bomber from 82, but launched from submarines, more accurate, and more numerous! It would have the same effect. Still, I think it more a political decision to not bomb the Mainland in the last war.

    Peter, historically the SSBN subs have been only effective in deterring other nuclear powers. Even in the US, as we know, it hasn’t prevented us from participating in numerous ruinous wars. The deterrent don’t deter much.

  18. William permalink
    February 21, 2010 5:07 am

    There is some speculation that the 4 Tornado F3′s might still be on the Islands (if they haven’t been returned to the UK), although wether they are in a flyable condition remains to be seen.

  19. Peter permalink
    February 21, 2010 3:56 am

    The UK’s best deterrent against an Argentine invasion are its nuclear attack subs. There’s probably at least one lurking in the South Atlantic now that the Argentines have made a fuss.

  20. Jason J Simonds permalink
    February 21, 2010 2:30 am

    The Royal Navy possesses a capability it never had during the Falklands, namely: Tomahawk Land Attack missiles, that would be highly relevant in these scenarios and no-one has even mentioned them.

    Any attempt by Argentinian air power to strike Mount Pleasant air base, would be countered almost immediately by repeated UK strikes on Argentinian air bases within range of the Falklands. This was considered during the original war, but the extant capabilities to do the job at the time (Special Forces, Vulcan bombers etc) had varying attributes that made them unsuitable and contained a high element of risk of both A) mission failure and B) a politically embarrassing loss of personnel and equipment. Not so with Tomahawk.

    Please bear in mind also, that the Argentinian Air Force, by and large is operating the same aircraft and capabilities as it was in 1981 and the UK has a demonstrated ability to reinforce it’s presence in the Falklands with infinitely superior combat capabilities than they had present in 1981…

  21. February 20, 2010 10:19 pm

    Mike, this is an excellent post, and the comments from your readers reminds me of the debates that I had with my father on this very same issue almost 30 years ago.

    At the time of the Argentine invasion/occupation, there was great lament among the chattering class on why did the Falklands lack an airbase. That if only a few fighters with the proper warning stations were positioned there, the Argentine military would never have attempted (from their perspective) such a bold initiative.

    Sighhh …. 30 years later this debate continues.

    Another sighhh …. you just gave me the excuse to have a shot of some Johnny Walker Blue and remember my father and the great discussions that we had of this conflict. Thanks.

  22. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 20, 2010 8:07 pm

    ” Mt. Pleasant is important, because the UK really doesn’t have a good plan B. ”

    OK, I think I understand you better now. Perhaps there is an false sense of security there, that they don’t have to maintain a strike back capability because of the land fighters. A good point. Everything seems to hang on a thread with UK and US defenses these days. Maybe if we can quit these Mid East wars, we can see to other defenses that are equally important.

    As it is, with everything on a shoestring, Mount Pleasant is like the RAF’s Gibraltar in the South Atlantic. So, with the RN in such bad shape, the airbase is still the key. Not a perfect solution, but still a solution.

  23. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 20, 2010 7:57 pm

    Yeah, Patriots! We sold them to Tawain.

  24. tps permalink
    February 20, 2010 7:42 pm

    What would really help the base would be a battery of Patriots. Perhaps we could loan them one or two?

  25. Alex Mk.2 permalink
    February 20, 2010 7:25 pm

    Mount Pleasant has facilities to support a full squadron which with the help of a couple of Tristars would be moved in overnight if ARA/FAA start probing defences/increased activity in the area.

    We should’ve established the fact that the front-door isn’t wide open this time even should Argentina try there is a 0% chance of success, tensions will be closely monitored, not ignored and the facilities to protect the islands from any possible Argentine threat are in place.

    - Alex.

  26. ArkadyRenko permalink
    February 20, 2010 5:34 pm

    Mike,

    My point was a bit nuanced. The high dependence upon RAF Mt. Pleasant highlights the structural weaknesses of the UK military. Namely, if the Argentinian Air Force closes Mt. Pleasant, then the British will face an incredibly difficult task.

    Mt. Pleasant is useful, and I suspect (hope) that the RAF has plans to surge another 12 to 24 Typhoons down there if tensions rise.

    However, as the numbers I quoted show, if the Argentine Government does a “bolt from the blue” all out attack on Mt. Pleasant, its unclear if the airbase can remain open. The presence of the 4 Typhoons makes the Argentine job much harder, the Argentine military either has to go all in or not try at all.

    I agree with you, the Typhoons are a deterrent, but only against a limited war. If the Argentine government really wants to close that airbase, they can do so. It’ll gut their top fighter units, and leave the military dependent upon Skyhawks and Pucara’s, but the British won’t have a way of responding. Imagine, how fun will it be to conduct an amphibious assault without air cover.

    Finally, my comment about Chavez’s SU-30s should have been a bit more general. The overall point is, the current military balance in the region is very fine and it is entirely dependent upon RAF Mt. Pleasant. As you and I know, the British Naval Air Arm is emasculated after all these years.

    Here is where the SU-30s come in. If the Argentinians close the airbase, they’ll probably lose their top line fighters doing so. But, if they get any reinforcements, just 15 to 20 new fighters, then they’ll be able to counter the remaining British carrier and whatever old Harriers are aboard. Especially if the reinforcements are advanced fighters.

    My point boils down to this. Mt. Pleasant is important, because the UK really doesn’t have a good plan B. Thus, the dependence upon Mt. Pleasant is a sign of weakness, not strength. If the Royal Navy kept up a working carrier force, then the Argentinian government could not gamble it all on the destruction of the airbase, and war would be even better deterred.

  27. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 20, 2010 4:10 pm

    Arkday said, “the dependence on the RAF shows the overall weakness of the British military.”

    That is fascinating to me since the RAF is apart of the British military! Before in 1982 the Falklands only had a company of Royal Marines for defense, so the RAF base is a huge leap forward from then.

    The military says its mainly about deterring war. Fine. Which is more effective then, the planes on Mount Pleasant or a carrier 5000 miles and a week or two away? Again it isn’t so much the 4 Typhoons that is key here but the ability to keep the airport open for reinforcement. How many planes would that be in a war alert? Scores? A hundred?

    So it isn’t so much about the 4 Typhoons as it is about Mount Pleasant. This is why the Germans initially went after the British airbases in 1940, because without bases your air force is useless and your defenses greatly eroded.

    Also, minimizing the abilities of the Harrier carriers is interesting since they have done all this before, at a great price for certain, but proven effective against a much larger Argentine force back then than today, as the number below show us.

    Smitty, again you assume that in case of war the 4 Typhoons would be all alone for a sustained period, that there would be no war alert. Also, I still say the importance of the current aircraft is for keeping Mount Pleasant open and less to stop an invasion.

    Bringing Chavez into the mix is also assuming the government would stand idly by without resupplying the base there. Waiting instead for the invasion and launching another Task Force would be foolish, if the RN is in bad shape as we are told.

  28. February 20, 2010 4:09 pm

    “The Few kept the Germans away during the Battle of Britain. ”

    No strategic and tactical mistakes by the Germans, RAF’s CCCI (thanks RADAR!,) and a small organization called the Royal Navy.

    I am not happy with the Few being used as a synonym for the RAF. It overlooks the foreign pilots, FAA, and RM (yes RM) pilots.

  29. Alex Mk.2 permalink
    February 20, 2010 2:01 pm

    One more word on the Falklands situation, Argentina are due an election in a year and the government is unpopular, this situation is born out of desperation for support and that’s as far as it is ever going to go but speculating over outcomes that were never on the cards has been interesting to say the least.

    - Alex.

  30. Alex Mk.2 permalink
    February 20, 2010 1:57 pm

    Ironic that Mike should bring up Faith, Hope and Charity, not sure whether it was intentional but after the Gladiators no.1435 Flight was raised, becomming a Squadron when it received it’s Spitfires, No.1435 Flight is currently based at RAF Mount Pleasant, the four aircraft are named Faith, Hope, Charity and Desperation.

    BTW: There’s also a VC-10 tanker, a Hercules, 2 Sea Kings and a Rapier detatchment on the islands.

    - Alex.

  31. ArkadyRenko permalink
    February 20, 2010 1:47 pm

    I’d like to amend my comment with another observation.

    I’ve rechecked the Wikipedia numbers and it appears that the Argentine Air Force nominally has 41 ‘jet fighters’.

    They are as follows
    Mirage III – 9
    Skyhawks – 20
    IAI Finger – 6
    Mirage V – 6

    Those numbers may be inflated, actual availability will be different, but it appears to be enough to overwhelm the only 4 Typhoons on the island. Those 4 airplanes are nominally outnumbered 10 to 1. (Though actual fighters available for a combat mission will probably be lower, due to spares, maintenance, etc.) A 10 to 1 ratio will do in any fighter group, if the air fields are within range of those fighters. The Typhoons will run out of missiles before the Argentinians run out of planes, if the Argentine government goes all in against RAF Mt. Pleasant.

    Just to make things worse, imagine if Chavez loans his Sukhois to his “revolutionary brothers.” 24 Su-30s would clearly outclass the Typhoons on the Island and make any counter attack all but impossible for the Royal Navy, even if they had a bunch of “light carriers.”

    If the Argentinians get to use the Su-30s from their revolutionary friend, then the UK will need the super carriers, the large, expensive ships of the USN, to have any hope of recapturing the islands.

    The current situation is enough to deter war-lite, its not enough to deter a serious attempt on the islands.

  32. B.Smitty permalink
    February 20, 2010 1:15 pm

    Mike said: “I often insist that because airpower today is so effective, you can do more with less. Nothing is more glaring proof of this fact as a mere 4 Royal Air Force Typhoon fighters are currently guarding the British Overseas Territory of the Falkland Islands

    It is hardly proof of anything other than budgetary realities and perhaps the size of the airfields. Numbers still matter.

    Four aircraft can be caught on the ground in a surprise attack. It’d take all four to just keep one airborne 24 hours a day, and they still may not be able to keep that up very long. With just four aircraft, the Argies could play games with running a flight of Mirages or Skyhawks up close, to force the alert Typhoons to take off, then turn away. Do this a few times and the Typhoons will all be grounded for maintenance or refueling. Then they’re easy pickins.

  33. ArkadyRenko permalink
    February 20, 2010 11:23 am

    Actually, RAF is only useful in a very limited sense here.

    They make sure that the Argentine military has to go “all in” to retake the islands. But, look at it this was.

    The Argentinians have about 9 Mirages and 20 Skyhawks (from wikipedia). That constitutes the ‘modern’ part of their air force. They also have about 36 Pucara light attack aircraft.

    The question about the RAF here is this. Can the Argentinian military take out the airfield before the modern element of their air force, the approximately 30 jet fighters, are annihilated. Because, if the Argentine military achieves that, they the British have only a very limited capability of retaking the island by themselves. They would have minimal air support.

    Imagine, now, that the Argentine military actually spent some money on fighter purchases, and snapped up a few J-7s or other cheap fighters on the international markets. In that situation, the British military, even with the vaunted “light carriers” couldn’t do a thing.

    I know that the blogger here believes that super carriers are a waste against land based air. But, think of it this way. If the British were faced with this choice. 2 light carriers with harrier jump jets, with only a 15 minute time on station at a ‘safe range’ and no AEW or a single expensive super carrier with even just Hornets and a Hawkeye. I’m pretty sure that the British would have preferred the more capable aircraft.

    If the British could have established a working CAP over San Carlos Water, the number of ship casualties would have been radically lower.

    Back to the current situation. The RAF are proving their worth, but at the same time, the dependence on the RAF shows the overall weakness of the British military.

  34. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 20, 2010 7:52 am

    Protecting and utilizing Mount Pleasant is a WHOLE LOT easier than launching a task force of a hundred ships, deploying thousands of sailors and troops, and the inevitable loss of life that comes with sea combat.

    The point being deterrence is better when it works. The Royal Navy is not building their new carriers to fight but for deterrence, as the oft repeated mantra from the last Falklands conflict “if the RN had deployed an American style carrier, the Argentines would never have invaded”. But what if she had managed to purchase more Exocets, fixed the problems with her bomb fuzes, cozied up to the Soviets?

    Such are the “what ifs” of history. I don’t see this as a discrepancy. The Few kept the Germans away during the Battle of Britain. Faith Hope and Charity protected Malta from invasion by the Italians, and later Spitfires and Hurricanes.

    The point being technology is often decisive but it can’t win wars on its own. If you spend all your funds on high tech and deterrence they is very little left when the inevitable war comes.

    Every service plays its part. Here is the RAF’s moment to prove itself.

  35. Matt permalink
    February 20, 2010 7:27 am

    I don’t know much about the relative infighting benefits of the RAF vs. Fleet Air Arm. I’m guessing it’s similar to that between USAF and USN air.

    As a former USN flyer, we used to operate out of many locations that the USAF would consider appalling. We knew that the mission took priority over everything — that’s just something that the USAF has a hard time grasping, although they are getting better.

    My guess is that if it was a USAF detachment of 4 x F-15 being sent to the Falklands — they wouldn’t show up until the base commander guaranteed to build a new golf course, officers club, base exchange, and guaranteed that they’d receive hardship duty pay.

  36. February 20, 2010 7:16 am

    “How does the situation in the Falklands prove the value of the RAF? There is virtually no chance of it happening, but wouldn’t the islands be as well defended if the Typhoons were operated by Fleet Air Arm pilots flying from RNAS Mount Pleasant?”

    Super! Absolutely super!

    {Though with it being an RAF station there is probably four times the number of maintainers, dozens of snowdrops, and countless other ancillaries who can a rifle should crap hit the fan. If RNAS there would be only two maintainers, no crushers, and one cook to keep the entire station running…….}

  37. Matt permalink
    February 20, 2010 6:51 am

    Mike,

    1) Any historian will tell you that it’s awfully hard to prove why something didn’t happen. The calculus as to why Argentina chooses to attack or not attack the Falklands is probably a lot more complex than the 4 x Typhoons. For instance, I’d think the fact that the US would almost certainly come to the aid of the Brits in the event of a flare-up probably has something to do with it as well.

    2) Still, it seems like your post contradicts your general preference for capacity over capability. The reason those 4 Typhoons are such an effective deterrent is because they are light-years better than anything the Argentinian Air Force can field.

    Matt

  38. February 20, 2010 6:38 am

    How does the situation in the Falklands prove the value of the RAF? There is virtually no chance of it happening, but wouldn’t the islands be as well defended if the Typhoons were operated by Fleet Air Arm pilots flying from RNAS Mount Pleasant?

Trackbacks

  1. Falklands crisis | Zydra
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  5. Oil Row Revives Falklands Tensions Between The UK And Argentina (News Updates For February 22, 2010) « Read NEWS
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