RAF Proves Worth in Falklands Crisis
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.