The Falklands in Want of Frigates
Some within the Royal Navy who recently called for the dismantling of the Royal Air Force, must be singing the younger service’s praises today. The presence of a handful of Typhoon fighters and especially the potential for Falklands reinforcement by air on the Mount Pleasant Airport there, has reduced the likelihood the Navy would have to deploy another Task Force south as it did in 1982. From the Scotsman, here is Former navy commander Michael Codner now with the Royal United Services Institute on the significance of all this:
“The British have Port Stanley Airport and there are a thousand troops there and four Typhoon fighters. As long as Britain can hold on to Port Stanley Airport they can defend the Falklands by air. The MoD will have dormant plans which could be activated pretty quickly.”
So Britain, as long as it prevents a commando-style raid on its fortified Port Stanley – should hold on to the islands.
The last war was basically a Navy show, with her small fleet of light carriers providing cover for the Royal Marine and Army landing troops. Today it is more about the Air Force, since over the past decade, modernization has wained in the fleet to bring it to its lowest point in centuries. Part of this is because of the ongoing Middle East Wars where the British Army has been in the thick of the fight on 2 major Theaters, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Secondly, it is about the huge investment made in two American style aircraft carriers, the largest such vessels ever built in the country. It was a bold move on the admirals and politicians part for certain, to return some of the prestige it may have felt it loss with the retirement of its last large deck in 1978. In retrospect, and with the major inadequacies the fleet is suffering through, not the wisest choice.
But naval analysts admit Britain would struggle to project a major naval force 8,000 miles into the South Atlantic today. The problem, they say, would be a lack of escort ships.
Sadly, these have been sacrificed on the alter of carrier airpower. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the Royal Navy spent the bulk of its funds on constructing new surface escorts, Since then, with the Fall of the Iron Curtain, the “peace Dividend” of the 1990s, the land wars of the 2000s, plus the search for expensive new aircraft to deploy on its new giant decks, all have forced the Navy to shed off the essential little “cruisers” which traditionally has upheld the country’s interests overseas.
The navy currently has seven destroyers and 17 frigates, compared with 13 and 53 respectively back in 1980. True, its old Type-42 destroyers, some of which saw service in the Falklands, are being replaced by the much bigger and more powerful Type-45 vessels currently being built on the Clyde.
The navy, unlike the Argentines, can carry out amphibious assaults. It has a helicopter carrier, four landing ship docks and two landing platform docks. But they would have to get to the Falklands safely.
Meaning the impressive new carriers and the essential troop transport won’t be able to leave port if it isn’t protected from enemy submarines plus missile armed surface ships and aircraft. As one of our commenter’s Arkady Renko pointed out “The RAF are proving their worth, but at the same time, the dependence on the RAF shows the overall weakness of the British military.” In other words, Thank God for the RAF, but where is the plan B if the Argentines decide to go all out?