The Royal Navy’s most powerful warship deployed to the Falklands. Prince William dispatched ahead of schedule. Accusations of colonialism, of blockade. As the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War approaches, tensions over the far-flung isles are running menacingly high. Whether or not this feud will escalate to full-blown warfare remains to be seen; dramatic gestures and sabre-rattling are one thing, military action is quite another. Nevertheless, we must accept that there is a potential, however negligible, for armed conflict, and this begs the question; could the British win the Second Falklands War?
In an interview with The Telegraph, retired professional head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, claimed it would be “impossible” for the UK to recapture the Falklands, should the Argentines succeed in establishing a foothold and taking Mount Pleasant Airport. Although the Royal Navy has undergone numerous changes since 1982, the main reason for General Jackson’s fear is undoubtedly the loss of the infamous Harrier ‘jump-jet’, which recently fell victim to defence cuts, leaving Britain without a carrier-borne fighter until perhaps as late as 2020.
It is hard to overestimate the role of the Harrier in the 1982 war, and its loss would certainly be felt keenly. Lord West, retired First Sea Lord, told the Daily Mail “it would be totally impossible for this country, even if it has an Army of ten million, to do anything about (an invasion).” Although it must be remembered that the 1982 victory was felt by many contemporary observers to be an impossible one, it does seem far-fetched that the Navy could launch a successful amphibious assault, not just without air superiority, but without any covering fighters at all. Of course, the new Type 45 air-defence destroyers remain an unknown quantity; could they clear the skies, whilst helicopter and missile elements engage Argentine vessels and ground targets? We can also add into the equation the submarine arm of the Royal Navy. It is widely-believed that a Trafalgar-class nuclear submarine has been deployed to the region in response to the crisis, but of more potency is the new Astute-class hunter-killer; thought to be among the least detectable boats in the world, it has the potential to annihilate the Argentine fleet, as well as tackle land targets with cruise missiles. If David Cameron is prepared to endure General Belgrano-style headlines, he has the means to cause tremendous damage to the Argentinian navy at relatively little risk to his own forces, which might translate into political pressure and force an occupation force to withdraw. Granted, a recovery would be risky and unconventional, but perhaps not as unlikely as Lord West and General Jackson have concluded.
However, this scenario presupposes a successful Argentine invasion, which UK policy hinges upon being able to prevent. Here, the situation looks favourable. The Eurofighter Typhoon fighters, recently-dispatched HMS Dauntless Type 45 destroyer, and likely submarine presence stand a good chance of being able to shred any Argentine force. Furthermore, it would be a particularly reckless move, even by Hugo Chávez’s standards, for a Mercosur nation to join Argentina in attacking such an entrenched defensive position.
In conclusion, should war break out, some of the pessimism of senior military figures can reasonably be blunted. Whilst a 1982-style recapture would need rethinking, the Royal Navy remains a force to be reckoned with. Moreover, it is very difficult to see the Argentinians overcoming some of the British military’s most effective units to make a successful landing without undergoing horrendous casualties. President Cristina de Kirchner can gesticulate to her heart’s content; to actually invade would be a catastrophic decision, which is why it will almost certainly not happen at all.
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