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"Winston Churchill dispatched 1,700 troops to the Falkland Islands in 1942 out of concern that the Japanese were planning to invade the territory and interfere with critical sea routes in the South Atlantic"[1] according to a report published by the Telegraph.co.uk on December 9, 2014. "Documents held at the National Archives, cited by Kyodo News, indicate that Churchill realized the strategic importance of the islands to Britain's war effort after Japan's attack on US forces at Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941", states the same source.

The Islands were at stake in many international conflicts, the most recent being the one between Argentina and the U.K. in 1982. But the story is not over yet.  The recent discovery of huge amounts of oil and gas in the islands’ area added to the strategic importance a new advantage for their owner. But if a new violent conflict starts, will the two countries be ready for war, from military point of view?

In the past[2]

Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, official historian of the Falklands War wrote that “on the eve of the invasion, there were about 70 Royal Marines stationed on the islands - twice the usual number due to a changeover. They were, in theory, backed up by about 120 local reservists, although only a small proportion reported for duty. HMS Endurance, an Antarctic ice patrol vessel, was the only ship based in the South Atlantic at the time. And there were no fighter jets - none of the island's airstrips were long enough. The only planes that could land before the war came from Argentina. Supplying the Falklands by sea from Britain took two weeks.”[3] Argentine Marines were ordered to capture the islands without killing any British soldiers, a maneuver that they accomplished. The Argentine navy was well equipped with Dassault-Breguet Super Etendard strike fighters, which destroyed several British ships with Exocet missiles. Other planes used by the Argentine military included Aermacchi MB-339s as well as Skyhawks and Mirages.

Great Britain has in the Falkland Islands in 2014, one infantry company of 1,500 men, one air defence detachment with Rapier Missile battery, one fighter flight with 4 Typhoon FGR4, one Search and Rescue squadron with Sea King humanitarian assistance HAR-3/3A, one tanker/transport flight with C-130J Hercules. United Kingdom has on patrol since August 2007 in waters around the Falkland Islands, HMS Clyde, the first ship build in the last 40 years in the naval base Portsmouth, the fourth ship from River class, and the first of a lengthened variety with a larger displacement of 2,000 tones and a 30 mm Oerlikon KCB gun in place of the 20 mm gun fitted to other River-class ships. The ship will be sailing around the Falkland Islands until 2018. In the last years there were few incidents related to the ship: in 2011, Brazilian government denied the access of the ship in Rio de Janeiro out of solidarity with Argentina. It is not the only incident, on the 20th of September 2010 the government of Uruguay denied the access of Gloucester Ship in Montevideo as a consequence of the Falkland Islands sovereignty dispute. The Ship HMS Gloucester D-96 requested to enter in Montevideo and was stopped by the Uruguayan National Army, at the order of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Defense Ministry. According to sources, “authorities banned the vessel from entering for the Foreign Minister did not consider it correct to do so.”[4]

Military spending

“The Global Firepower website ranks Argentina in lowly 55th place, behind the likes of the Netherlands, Belarus and Ukraine. And despite its ongoing economic travails, the UK remains among the world’s leading military powers thanks to the $53.6 billion its spends on defense, compared to Argentina’s $4.3 billion. Moreover, the UK’s helicopters, aircraft and submarine capabilities significantly outnumber and outclass their Argentine equivalents. To further compound matters, Argentina’s armed forces are still equipped with outdated technology from the 1970s and 80s, whereas the UK has significantly improved its quality and capabilities since 1982. UK forces are also significantly battle-hardened from recent conflicts in the Middle East and Asia.”[5]

The latest Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Military Expenditure Database[6] states that during the era which included the Falklands conflict, Britain's military budget represented around four percent of GDP - something which the conflict itself helped to increase. The U.K.'s spending had been the subject of major cuts during the late 1970s, which, ironically, would have meant that a number of the vessels involved in the war would not have been in service if Argentina's military junta had delayed the decision to invade with a few months.

Now cuts are once again on the agenda, with defence spending now accounting 2.7% of GDP and, in the wake of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, they are to face a five percent reduction - £1.72 billion in real terms – for 2013/14. Nonetheless, Britain's military budget still ranks fourth in the world.

In case of Argentina, while the SIPRI figures show the proportion of GDP spent on defence “has fallen slightly - from 1.4% then to one percent today - that masks the increase in actual cash terms driven by the growth in the country's economy.”[7] Argentine military expenditure in 2009, at constant 2009 prices and exchange rates, was $2.7 billions USD and in 2010, it reached up to $3.3 billion. A recent report from Strategic Defence Intelligence predicted that Argentina's defence budget will have an annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.87% from 2011 to 2015, reaching a final total of $5.5bn. “In respect of the Argentine Naval allocation, the authors forecast it will increase from the average of 25.3% of the country's total defence budget between 2006 and 2010, to 25.5% over the years to 2015.”[8]

British and Argentine naval forces

In the late '80s, the Royal Navy had two aircraft carriers, seven amphibious ships, 13 destroyers and 35 frigates. Nowadays Britain has 19 active major combatants, 6 destroyers and 13 frigates. More than that, seven vessels are currently under development- the two Queen Elizabeth-Class aircraft carriers, the last of the Type 45 destroyers and four Astute-Class submarines. In addition, there are two landing platform docks and a total of 11 nuclear powered submarines, of which four are ballistic missile submarines and the remaining seven are conventionally-armed, fleet submarines.

In 1982, Argentine's core fleet, at the beginning of the Falklands conflict  was comprised of six destroyers (two of them Type 42s), three corvettes, one cruiser, one ex-Royal Navy Colossus-Class carrier (the former HMS Venerable) and a submarine Type 209 and, a submarine from WWII, vintage Guppy-type. Argentinean maritime lost in the conflict one cruiser, one submarine, four cargo vessels, two patrol vessels and a spy trawler. After the war, the main fleet was transformed, with modern Meko 360 and 140 type vessels replacing the antiquated Fletcher and Gearing Class destroyers, and two Thyssen TR-1700 Class vessels being acquired in the place of the single Guppy submarine.

Today's Argentine Navy boast two amphibious vessels (one command ship, one cargo ship), four destroyers, nine corvettes and three submarines, but like the UK, no carrier. The Falklands-era ARA Veinticinco de Mayo was decommissioned in 2000.

In 1986, the BBC Horizon programme underlined the vulnerability of surface ships to anti-ship missiles and submarines, the challenges of co-coordinating logistical support for a long-distance projection of power, and confirms the role of tactical air power and the use of helicopters.

Much has also changed in strategic terms. Professor Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute says that in case of an attack the islands can be won back through long-range air power. The lack of carrier aircraft is an impediment for the United Kingdom.

Conclusions

Many analysts hold Argentina’s special-forces in high-regard and believe that they are capable of launching covert strikes against the Islands. Yet, even if such strikes were to succeed, it would still be extremely difficult for Argentina’s armed forces to hold the Islands and, indeed, reinforce and resupply them. Given the parlous state of Argentina’s navy especially, this idea makes no military sense. But as a public relations gesture to rally regional support for itself against Britain, a clash could easily be presented as a moral victory.[9] Regarding a covert strike, Professor Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute, stress out another important element: the evolution of intelligence. If in 1982 this area was poorly handled, the presence of Mount Pleasant base and the electronic monitoring that now takes place from there changed the situation. Also, there is the ability to response quickly. [10]

According to Gareth Jennings, head of the air desk at IHS: while, numerically speaking, the Argentines would be able to take in battle field a larger number of aircraft than the UK in any future war, the important thing to remember is that Argentina has not purchased a single new combat aircraft since before the war in 1982. Essentially, it has the same air power it had back in 1982 minus the aircrafts that were shot down. They didn't manage too well against the Sea Harriers then and they'd be torn apart by the Typhoons today.[11]

We also have to keep in mind that United Kingdom has fought in since 1982 in eight wars and Argentina in one. The experience gathered on combat field by United Kingdom army can make a big difference in the outcome of a potential conflict.

The tension may sharply increase in tension because of the economic position of Argentine and the possible interest of other countries in this issue. It’s interesting how an event in one place of the world can reactivate tensions in another place: the crisis in Ukraine stimulated a statement from the president of Argentina and the involvement of Russia in reopening the discussion concerning the Falklands islands. Also, the new oils discoveries in the area may transform the Falklands in “the treasure islands” from an economic point of view. The evolution of the situation is strongly linked to the dynamics of the international scene and the position of various state actors regarding the matter in discussion.

 

[1] Julian RYALL,"Churchill sent troops to Falklands to ward off Japanese", Telegraph.co.uk, December 9, 2014 at the Internet address http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/falklandislands/11281584/Churchill-sent-troops-to-Falklands-to-ward-off-Japanese.html

[2] see the second part of the paper “A comparative analysis of Falkland: from 1982 to present”, by Ioana Corina JULAN presented at STRATEGIES XXI Conference: The Complex and Dynamic Nature of the Security Environment, November 25-26, 2014, Centre for Defence and Security Strategic Studies from the "Carol I" National Defence University, Bucharest, pp.238-240

[3] “Could the UK still defend the Falklands?”, BBC, September 8, 2014, at the Internet address http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17157373.

[4] “Uruguayan gov’t bans British heading-to-Malvinas vessel from entering Montevideo’s port”, Buenos Aires Herald, September 8, 2014, at the Internet address http://www.buenosairesherald.com/BreakingNews/View/45724.

[5] Neil THOMPSON, “What Threat does Argentina Currently Pose to the Falklands?”, The International Relations and Security Network (ISN),  September 8, 2014, at the Internet address http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail/?id=181854.

[6] "SIPRI is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. Established in 1966, SIPRI provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public. Based in Stockholm, SIPRI also has presences in Beijing and Washington, DC and is regularly ranked among the most respected think tanks worldwide", more details at the internet address http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex/measuring-military-expenditures

[7] Gareth EVANS, "Falklands War – UK and Argentine naval power then and now", Naval Technology, September 8, 2014, at the Internet address http://www.naval-technology.com/features/featurefalklands-war-uk-navy-argentina/.

[8] Ibidem.

[9]Neil THOMPSON, "What Threat Does Argentina Currently Pose to the Falklands? – Analysis",  Eurasia Review, September 8, 2014, at the Internet address http://www.eurasiareview.com/22072014-threat-argentina-currently-pose-falklands-analysis/.

[10] Michael CLARKE, "The Falklands: The Security Equation in 2012", Royal United Services Institute, September 8, 2014, at the Internet address https://www.rusi.org/analysis/commentary/ref:C4F6324444BE2E/#.VBE7yPmSwtQ.

[11] Tim RAYMENT, "Can we still defend the Falklands?", The Sunday Times, September 8, 2014, at the Internet address http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/focus/article860698.ece.

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