The Falkland Islands and Our Pants
Some interesting and recent comments on other blogs and in posts on Think Defence about being able to defend and/or retake the Falkland Islands from an Argentine attack and invasion.
The Falkland Islands and surrounding smaller ones are sovereign territory, we have a clear obligation and mandate to protect them from aggression. Any operation there would not be a war of choice and we must not forget that Argentina has not relinquished her claim to the Islands.
The Argentine authorities have declared that any shipping that wishes to travel between Argentina and the Falkland Islands (including South Sandwich and South Georgia) must seek permission. This is a gradual upping of the general tempo around an issue which has never been fully resolved, i.e. Argentina continues to refuse accept that the Falklands are the Falklands and not the Malvinas.
What of the claims and counter claims about defending those islands down south?
The first thing we must be very clear on is that the defence of the Falkland Islands is based on a strategy of graduated readiness and scalable response, when the threat level increases ‘things happen’
The UK maintains a very close eye on the political and security situation within South America in general and Argentina specifically so military readiness on the islands is matched to observation and analysis. It is judged that currently, there exists a relatively low but tangible threat from Argentina and maintaining an appropriate defence and deterrent force is the right strategy.
Should this change and a more belligerent government come into power that matches sabre rattling with the buying of real sabres, then calculations would change and so would force levels and capabilities.
If we look at the actual capabilities of the Argentine forces to mount a combined arms amphibious operation to retake the islands, sustain an occupation against experienced and well armed dispersed defence forces and resist an operation to retake them then again, it is quite clear that fantasy does not meet reality.
They can huff and puff all they like but the piggies are quite safe, sitting in hardened aircraft shelters and 100m below sea level thank you very much.
So lets assume that MI6, GCHQ and the combined intelligence capability of the UK, plus of course Jane’s and Shepard Defence, have all completely missed a change in Argentine intentions and military capability to such a degree that the alert state on the islands remains low, no reinforcement having taken place and jogging is continuing to be carried on normally. We might also assume that intelligence and security relationships with our NATO and EU allies have also completely broken down and no product has been forthcoming from them either.
To lend credibility lets make some more Captain Fantastic assumptions, the internet has been disinvented and and the thousands of expats living in Argentina, defence contractors and Argentine press are doing their very best hear no, see no, see no and type no evil.
In short, all the vast array of instruments of intelligence at our disposal in a globalised world and interconnected defence economy have completely failed.
For Argentina to have built up a capable force and prevented it’s discovery would be a deception on a par with that perpetrated by the allies before D Day but again, lets suspend reality for the sake of the argument and assume that they have the intention and means to do something about it, poised ready to attack, crouching tiger style.
Lots of assumptions here.
How might an attack proceed?
That of course depends on what they want to achieve, if it is a limited operation designed to make a statement, force the issue onto the worlds agenda and gain some recognition then a limited special forces attack might be chosen.
This limited special forces attack might also be a precursor to a more substantial attack designed to occupy the islands and force a negotiated settlement.
For the government of Argentina to attack the territory of another nation, however it might see things differently, would be incredibly foolhardy. They have done it once before and the prospect of the UK handing them their arses a second time around would weigh heavily on the minds of the military, national embarrassment is difficult for any nation, let alone one in South America with all that latin machismo.
The objectives would have to be very clear and capabilities well matched to those objectives.
Of course it is feasible to land a small scale special forces team on the islands, there is a long coastline and the islands are sparsely populated. If Argentina manages to bring into service a credible submarine force then yes, it would be possible, if Argentina manages to approach the islands under some sort of false flag type cover then a small force is eminently possible.
Who knows, perhaps there is one there now, shitting in plastic bags, but I doubt it.
But, there is a world of difference between getting sand between your toes and doing anything militarily useful.
Attacking Mount Pleasant Airfield and disabling the multipe air defence radar installations on the islands would be the obvious first task if such an operation was a precursor to a full scale invasion but how likely is it that a small team of swarthy underwater knife fighters will be able to completely destroy a large military airfield, disable multiple radar locations, deny the widely dispersed hardened aircraft shelters, disable the 4 (ish) Typhoons that might be there or might not be (they could of course be in the air), destroy the 10,000 foot long reinforced concrete airfield at key points, get the fuel facilities to go up in smoke, navigate the worlds longest corridor and generally create all sorts of mayhem while the garrison stationed in and around MPA were enjoying a quite night in by the fire with a penguin curry, avoiding stagging on, watching the TV or out on a sheep safari.
Once the attack starts they would also have to move about what is actually a very large place dodging the personnel who would of course not be standing to, executing pre-arranged drills and getting on top of the situation but instead be running about, Captain Mainwaring style, telling everyone not to panic.
Executing a neat shimy, Strictly Come Dancing style, our scenario also forgets that the roulement infantry company, detachment of Short Range Desert Group (Shemagh and Shades optional), Falkland Islands Defence Force, RN presence and various other capabilities basically sit on the sideline with a note from mum, excusing them anything strenuous.
The RIC will of course all have various shades of sun tan from their extensive world tour and therefore likely have ten times more actual combat experience than the forces ranged against them.
But none of this matters does it.
Filed in the ‘not relevant’ section of the scenario is the inconvenient fact that UK forces have been doing nothing for the last 30 odd years except planning for and rehearsing such an attack on MPA by Special Forces, I mean, whoever would have thought of that!
Credible so far?
If any of the Typhoons are in the air or launched within this initial attack , remembering there are more HAS than aircraft, each one could carry up to 8 air to air missiles and it is acknowledged to be one of the most potent air defence aircraft in the world.
It just does not add up to any sort of credible threat but lets assume there is another means of attack.
The Argentine Air Force wakes up one day and finds Santa Clause has delivered a fleet of fighter bombers, the support infrastructure and training necessary for an attack against one of the worlds premier air dominance fighters and slip on shoes champions 70 odd years running and decides to go for an attack. Against 4 Typhoon it could be a numbers game, probing and feints might sap the endurance but this scenario assumes that yet again, the UK has decided not to bother swinging into action with the very well planned reinforcement plan that would see multiple Typhoons tanked south along with an E3 Sentry or two.
Yet again, the whole deception by distraction idea has never once been thought of, the RAF are complete chumps (stand fast at the back) and these scenarios have never been tested, ever, once, not ever.
Meanwhile various naval vessels and an amphibious force would be on their way, UK C17 and C130 fleet would be flying South full to the brim with every high readiness unit at the UK’s disposal, all of course taking the time to plan, receive intelligence whilst inbound, slap on a fetching shade of cam cream and get busy styling their luxuriant facial hair accouterments.
In very short order we could reinforce the Falkland Islands with a serious force, on top the very serious force that already exists.
Any operation to invade the islands would therefore be an issue of timing, Argentine forces would need to destroy the ability of Mount Pleasant before the UK could reinforce it.
If Argentine forces want to use MPA for themselves then a small team of special forces would have to overwhelm the entire station and assume complete control, if they want to deny it to us, this would be a suicide mission and require a force of such capability and numbers that it would need significant means of transport, where is this coming from.
Stepping forward into our fantasy scenario, MPA has been denied to both sides so this only leaves a follow on approach by sea.
Acting on a tip off, we now know that Tom Clancy has been sacked and a dose of realism injected into the plan, the attacking force would now require amphibious assets to mount an attack either over the beach or using one of the few port facilities, Mare Harbour or Port Stanley for example. Yet again, this assumes that they have completely neutralised the Falkland Islands Defence Force and other UK forces on the island because to mount an amphibious assault (with equipment they don’t actually have) against a force armed with Javelin missiles, and organic ISTAR capabilities that leaves very few places to hide for example, would be rather risky, or suicidal depending on how you see these things.
So far so good, the Argentine forces have been able to change the political process in their country, build a credible force under the noses of the worlds intelligence and defence economy community, launch an attack against a hardened and well defended island, subdue vastly more experienced and better equipped forces and consolidate their gains with a handful of personnel, what next?
Forgetting the political and diplomatic angle, the occupying forces would have to reinforce and establish logistic support to sustain an occupation. If they have denied MPA they would have to effect repairs and/or use somewhere else and these somewhere else’s are in rather short supply.
The UK would immediately declare an exclusion zone that would extend to the Argentine coast and anything that was moving towards the Falkland Islands, naval or transport would likely find themselves bailing water in short order as the on station SSN was joined by several of her sisters, each desperate to fly the Jolly Roger when they get home. These would likely launch Tomahawk strikes against key locations such as airfields. Special forces would be flown down to join the submarines and would start infiltrating the islands or even mainland, things would really kick off then.
Assuming that sea movements became a non starter the only means of reinforcement and logistic sustainment would be by air.
I wonder how many transports would be downed by MANPADS armed Special Forces or key facilities at MPA and other locations denied by those .50cal Accuracy International Anti Material Rifles we seem to have a few of?
Things would become very difficult, very quickly, for any occupying force and that is before a task force could be assembled and sailed South. Admittedly we are in reduced circumstances at the moment but we are not that shabby either and using our newly signed Lisbon Treaty we might even expect those very nice chaps over the English Channel to wade in and go windmilling down south.
This is why our pants will never be around our ankles again, a sensible force structure against credible threats with a realistic reinforcement and deterrent plan
Much better to win the fight by not fighting than having to fight twice to regain the islands.
We should not be over confident though because over confidence and hubris leads to complacency, however, the notion that Argentina poses an imminent and credible threat might make a good novel, but is not realistic so lets not pretend otherwise.
Penguins, this is as close as Argentina is going to get