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UK Refights Falklands War

December 29, 2009

How timely was James Daly’s recent series of articles concerning whether or not Great Britain could mount another Falkland’s style operations in the modern era! The UPI reports on a recent exercises which seeks to learn just that:

British forces mounted a warfare exercise involving navy and air force personnel in the Falkland Islands, scene of a 1982 conflict between Argentina and Britain and more recently of intense oil and gas exploration activities.
The two-day operation, code-named Cape Bayonet, simulated an enemy invasion in which the British air force’s Typhoon multi-role fighter and navy ships took part, MercoPress reported.

The British and the Islanders have good reason for continued vigilance:

Some estimates have put the Falkland Islands’ undersea oil deposits at 60 billion barrels, drawing speculative investment from London’s financial district. More cautious analysts say that, although potentially huge, the Falklands’ hydrocarbon deposits may be expensive to extract and commercialize due to lack of key infrastructure connecting the islands with world markets…The military exercises took place during a tour of the Falklands by British forces ahead of the start of drilling in the basin in February 2010.

The MercoPress article has further interesting details:

British forces have been taking part in a major warfare exercise in the Falkland Islands, where hundreds of servicemen died during the 1982 conflict. The Highlanders (4 Scots) joined the Royal Navy and RAF in a two-day operation after an “enemy invasion” on the islands, 8,000 miles from the UK, in the South Atlantic…

The exercise saw 100 Highlanders picked up by state-of-the-art protection vessel HMS Clyde at Mount Pleasant and transported overnight to San Carlos, scene of a major British amphibious landing during the 1982 conflict…two Typhoon jets, the RAF’s most modern multi-role fighter, were called in to join the exercise offering unrivaled air support to the troops on the ground.

 It was vital that all three services worked in unison to defeat the enemy. The exercise is seen as important training in the planning and execution of tactical manoeuvres which the forces will experience in the battlefield.

The Highlanders are headed for the Afghan soon, so the operation was equally timely for them. Concerning James Daly’s excellent series “Falkland’s then and now”, here is another exert:

Falklands then and now: Frigates and Destroyers

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt permalink
    December 31, 2009 4:16 pm

    According to RN website on Atlantic Patrol Task (South):

    “The Task Group is responsible for maintaining British sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, including South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It is supplemented, on occasion, by a nuclear attack submarine. A Destroyer or Frigate is present in the Falkland Islands area for the majority of the year – including throughout the southern winter – and is at a maximum of 14 days notice from the Islands for the rest of the year.”

  2. Jed permalink
    December 31, 2009 4:01 pm

    Matt said: “the RAF det on the Falklands would be an organized force of state-of-the-art Typhoons with a sophisticated radar / C2 system, going against 1960s vintage fighter-bombers.”

    Ahhh yes, BUT, the sole RN patrol asset in the area is not equipped with sonar as far as I am aware, so what is to stop the initial attack utilizing all 3 SSK assets to land special forces, who could take out radar, destroy or at least damage Typhoons and maybe blow the fuel / bomb dumps before the small Army garrison and the Port Stanley reservists could kill or capture them???

  3. Matt permalink
    December 30, 2009 4:32 pm

    The difference is that Malta had a scratch force of obsolete Sea Gladiators, going against large numbers of slightly less obsolete Italian aircraft. In contrast the RAF det on the Falklands would be an organized force of state-of-the-art Typhoons with a sophisticated radar / C2 system, going against 1960s vintage fighter-bombers.

    A more apt (but historically inaccurate) WW2 analogy would be replacing Faith, Hope, and Charity with flight of Spitfires and emplacing a GCI radar site. I think the RAF would’ve had a field day for a while – but in the end attrition still favors the Italians.

    I think you’d likely see the same outcome in Falklands 2 – particularly considering how doggedly determined the Argentinian flyers proved to be in ’82. 4 Typhoons vs. 30+ Skyhawks and Mirages equals a whole bunch of splashed Argies but utlimately the Argentinians prevail unless the RAF can rapidly reinforce. Quantity has a quality all its own.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 30, 2009 3:36 pm

    Matthew S says “Those 4 Typhoons are a huge deterrent. ”

    Anyone recall the aircraft “Faith, Hope, and Charity” at Malta 1940?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloster_Gladiator#Malta

  5. December 30, 2009 1:05 pm

    “Considering there wasn’t any opposing air force to fly against, this goes without saying. And since when has the Typhoon been configured for CAS? Air superiority/dominance … that I would buy, since the Typhoon was designed for air-to-air combat. But air-to-ground, as implied by the verbiage here? What were those Typhoons doing? Strafing runs on enemy positions?”

    Typhoon is multi-role. Where the RAF would struggle with strafing runs is the absence of gun. The gap in the capability is the lack of an ASM. Typhoon can carry Harpoon and Penguin. But I don’t think the RAF have the former……………

  6. Heretic permalink
    December 30, 2009 11:29 am

    The exercise saw 100 Highlanders

    Who not only recaptured both islands, but also killed and captured every single member of the non-existent invasion force.

    two Typhoon jets, the RAF’s most modern multi-role fighter, were called in to join the exercise offering unrivaled air support to the troops on the ground.

    Considering there wasn’t any opposing air force to fly against, this goes without saying. And since when has the Typhoon been configured for CAS? Air superiority/dominance … that I would buy, since the Typhoon was designed for air-to-air combat. But air-to-ground, as implied by the verbiage here? What were those Typhoons doing? Strafing runs on enemy positions?

  7. James Daly permalink
    December 30, 2009 10:21 am

    The 4 Typhoons would indeed have a strong deterrent effect initially in terms of technical superiority, but 4 them might be overwhelmed. If I was an Argentine planner intent on retaking the Falklands taking out RAF Mount Pleasant would have to be the first priority, as it is also the only way that reinforcements could be flown in quickly. Could it be rendered inoperable to fast high-performance jets, a la the Black Buck raids?

    We’ve discussed the Argentine fleet too, Destroyers and Frigates armed with Exocets would be a serious threat to any tast force. The RN no longer has the numbers of SSN’s to keep them bottled up in port like in 1982 either, so one option might be a surface action group of Harpoon equipped Type 23’s to take them out first.

  8. Matt permalink
    December 30, 2009 9:36 am

    When examining if the UK could pull off Falklands 2, it’s worth pointing out that the enemy (in this case Argentina) still has a vote:

    This is from Wikipedia:
    – 4 MEKO 1660 DDG armed with Exocet
    – 6 MEKO 140 FFG armed with Exocet
    – 3 modern SS (2 Santa Cruz, 1 209) armed with HWTs.
    – 11 long range MPA (S-2 and P-3)

    It doesn’t look like their naval air service or air force made good on their losses from ’82 but are still able to field quite a few figher/figher attack aircraft – albeit sorely outdated.
    – 30 A-4
    – 4 Super Etendards
    – 10 Mirage III
    – 16 Mirage V/IAI Finger
    – 36 Pucara

    I think the fight would hinge on those 4x RAF Typhoons. If the Argies found a way to quickly neutralize them (or better still knock out the airfield), I don’t see how the RN could maintain local air superiority. The elimination of the FAA Sea Harrier force means that the RN air defense capability is a shadow of what it was in ’82.

  9. December 30, 2009 6:34 am

    I think oil would trump all other issues. The question you are not asking is how Brazil-US nexus would influence US actions.

  10. James Daly permalink
    December 30, 2009 6:16 am

    B.Walthrop,

    thats a very interesting point. One of the provisos I placed on my scenario is that an Argentine invasion of the Falklands is very unlikely, given the radically different political situation in that country. In 1982 it was quite a complex geo-political equation, with Argentina being a key US ally prior to the invasion. What level of support the UK got from the US, NATO, EEC etc is open to debate, but certainly the use of Ascencsion and facilities there, extra sidewinders etc from the US, coupled with embargoes against Argentina, were crucial.

    One would hope that given the UK’s participation in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has at times been very unpopular with the UK public, we could expect assistance if something in the manner of the Falklands occured. What level that would be on would depend on the manner of the crisis, I expect. Even ‘covert’ contributions such as satellite imagery, surveillance flights etc would make a big difference.

  11. B. Walthrop permalink
    December 30, 2009 5:21 am

    Given the UK efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, would it not be reasonable to expect a little USN support if that situation ever played out again? I’m pretty sure the US has a marker or two out to some of the coalition of the willing.

    V/R,

  12. James Daly permalink
    December 30, 2009 4:29 am

    Mike I’ve just been researching the Submarine issue recently. In short in 1982 they had an influence out of all proportion to their size, whereas in 2009 we simply dont have the numbers to have that kind of effect. Of course the one big difference is a big difference – Tomahawk.

  13. Matthew S. permalink
    December 30, 2009 12:41 am

    So there are 4 Typhoons, 1 C-130, 1 VC10, 2 Sea Kings and a Rapier detachment at RAF Mount Pleasant. For the RN, there is the HMS Clyde which is a patrol ship with a 30mm cannon. Those 4 Typhoons are a huge deterrent. I would imagine they could wreck havoc on a much larger force of Skyhawks and Mirage aircraft.

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 29, 2009 8:50 pm

    James, any plans for the submarines of the Falklands. A short but decisive campaign there.

  15. Jed permalink
    December 29, 2009 8:28 pm

    Yep the Army is much better equipped, prepared, trained and even combat experienced. Of course the RN could not possibly get them to the Islands unscathed anymore, and could not supply them nor protect even to the levels of 1982, even if it could land them from its lovely posh amphibious ships. In fact the RN is now so lean, it has basically lost the capacity to be mean :-(

  16. James Daly permalink
    December 29, 2009 7:25 pm

    I’ve just been working on my land forces article, and – whilst not wanting to pre-empt what im going to write – compared to 1982, on the whole the British Army is more geared up for ‘out-of-area’ ops. Back in 1982 the call was for ‘Paras and Marines’, as everyone else was committed to NATO in Germany, or in Northern Ireland. Now most Battalions have seen action in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, some of them having done 3 tours. The average line infantry Battalion, such as 4 Scots, would, I think, be more capable of taking part in a Falklands campaign now than they were in 1982. There is still an overstretch, with Afghanistan and the cutting of units and mergers, but the Army is leaner and meaner, I think.

  17. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 29, 2009 7:02 pm

    And I think the Highlanders will fine the terrain not exceptional different in the Afghan. Perhaps not quite as cold?

    I thought the article and timing was interesting nonetheless. If all or most of the British armed forces go through such regular deployments, even over time they will be well prepared.

  18. James Daly permalink
    December 29, 2009 6:38 pm

    If the UK really wanted to test its capabilities of fighting another Falklands War, it would be looking at a Taurus 09 style deployment of the Amphibious group with Commando Brigade embarked, plus carrier strike group and associated escorts. Which would have Buenos Aries jumping up and down diplomatically. I think as tangosix suggests the Cape Bayonet exercise is a regular, low-level programme based on the Garrison forces already in theatre. Still prudent none the less though.

  19. December 29, 2009 4:35 pm

    Hello Mike Burleson,

    this appears to be yet another example of journalistic hyperbole.
    Cape Bayonet is a routine (every six weeks) small scale exercise involving the Falklands garrison forces.
    It has nothing to do with finding out if the United Kingdom could mount another Falklands War style operation.
    If they wanted to find that out they would have sailed a task group the 8,000 miles from the United Kingdom to the Falklands and had them spend six weeks at sea simulating amphibious operations.

    See here:

    http://www.navynews.co.uk/news/402-manchesters-fully-charged-battery.aspx

    Also here:

    http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/operations-and-support/surface-fleet/patrol-vessels/fishery-protection-squadron/offshore-patrol-vessel-helicopter/hms-clyde/news/hms-clyde-demonstrates-the-latest-addition-to-her-capability-upgrade

    Here is the MercoPress article covering the same exercises from earlier this year:

    http://en.mercopress.com/2009/03/16/destroyer-hms-manchester-in-falklands-forces-exercise

    tangosix.

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