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Preventing the Second Falklands War (Nov 2016 edition)

[Ed: This is the first part of a two part article; part two will be published later this week.]

The exclusive British maritime economic zone of the 778 Falklands islands contains an estimated 30 billion barrels of oil reserves worth (assuming 20% wastage and $50 per barrel), £520 billion pounds after extraction costs of £680 billion pounds so £1200 billion gross.

The UK should take steps now to ensure that Argentina (or, say, Russia), £520 billion potential profit notwithstanding, knows that invading the Falklands will not pay in the late 2010s or 2020s.

I estimate the United Kingdom spent £340 million (£110 million on naval defence, £110 million on air defence, £26 million on army defence and £94 million on support) defending the Falklands in 2014. It almost might as well have spent nothing.

The last line of defence of the Falklands are the 120 soldiers of the British army infantry company group there (the other circa 1,080 military servicemen and women, although the 140 Royal Engineers might disagree with me, are largely non-combat personnel).

260 combat personnel may be sufficient to act as a trip wire but a trip wire did not prevent war in 1982.

In the spring of 2015 Michael Fallon announced a £180 million upgrade to the islands’ forces focused on improved command, control and communications facilities. A better use of less money would have been the approximately £90 million annual expenditure required to beef up the infantry company group already there to battle group strength of circa 1,000 infantry and artillerymen. Such a force would be disproportionately potent as it would include, which the company group does not, organic artillery. A battle group would have a fighting chance of delaying any Argentine attack from capturing Mount Pleasant for long enough to allow reinforcements to arrive and could deploy a force to contest for the West Falklands too. A company group has no such chance.

The Argentine army has a front line strength of 70,000 so even a battle group will not be able to defeat a determined landed Argentine attack indefinitely.

Evidently the current plan for defence of the islands does not rely on the army, so how does the second line of defence shape up? The second line of defence of the islands is the flight of four Typhoon Fighters operating out of RAF Mount Pleasant. This constitutes circa 3.7% of the RAF’s front line combat aircraft. At any time one or two of these four Typhoons will probably be in refit, maintenance or repair. Assuming a flight ratio of two pilots to one plane this would mean that each aircraft not in refit or repair could be airborne (assuming 5 hour shifts) for about 40% of the time. In other words, with a single flight stationed on the island, unless the ratio of pilots to planes is much higher than two, often only one, and occasionally zero British warplanes would be in the air. Whatever the pilots position this puts an alarming degree of reliance on the islands’ ground based radar systems (which are vulnerable to special forces attack) to detect an aerial attack in a timely fashion.

In 2014 Argentina attempted to acquire 20 Mirage F1 fighter jets from Spain, considered a deal to lease 12 Sukhoi Su-24 long range bombers from Russia and sought18 Kfir fighter jets from Israel. British diplomacy, and other factors, stymied these three deals but at the time it appeared that Argentina wanted to triple its interceptor force (from 14 to 44) and perhaps create a bombing force, too. By January 2015, Argentina had established a working group with the People’s Republic of China with a view to replacing the existing interceptor inventory with 14-20 Chinese FC-1 (called JF-17s when manufactured in Pakistan) or J-10 multirole war planes. Of the two the J-10s would be the more modern and potent. Mere replacement of the 2015 inventory would still leave Argentina able to engage the RAF at odds of three to one but unlike the old Mirages the Chinese planes are of a more recent design than the British Typhoons. The Typhoon probably is stronger than the FC-1 but the gap if Argentina acquired FC-1s would be narrower than it was in 2015 and if they acquired 20 J-10s and deployed them against the Falklands the Typhoons would have little chance even if all four were airborne at the time of attack.

Unlike in 1982, The UK has no means, until 2019 or 2020 (when HMS Queen Elizabeth, whose sea trials begin in February and whose flight trials begin in July 2018, should complete working up its combat planes), to deploy air power for any campaign to retake the Falklands.

To defend the Falklands in a proportionate fashion, by which I mean without recourse to strategic assault, we must have more than a trip wire defence.

Given the weakness of the infantry company it is plain that the defence chiefs have determined that it is in the air that the Falklands will be lost or won. But the current air defence does not shape up. We should increase the flight of four combat aircraft there to a squadron of twelve Typhoons. Permanent deployment of a strong squadron to the Falklands would cost circa £220 million per year more than the current spend (circa £110 million) on a single flight but this would be a fraction of what it would cost to try to retake the Falklands if they were lost.

It would also be prudent to deploy a second surface to air missile battery (ideally the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile system not another Rapier) at RAF Mount Pleasant to better defend any planes on the ground from surprise attack from the air. A Rapier surface to air missile battery (3 x launchers) can engage about six incoming targets simultaneously. With 14-20 Chinese multi-role war planes in mind a second battery is in order (as might be a third to a secondary base in West Falklands were a base to be established there).

Photo by D-Stanley

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About Aidan Powlesland (9 Articles)
I am an entrepreneur. I stood for parliament for UKIP in the general election in Harrow East in 2015 the year in which I became funding Officer for the Suffolk South constituency.

8 Comments on Preventing the Second Falklands War (Nov 2016 edition)

  1. How would Argentina get its troops to the islands? Has UK got a submarine down there?

    • Aidan C U Powlesland // December 7, 2016 at 1:22 pm // Reply

      Dear Peter,

      The Royal Navy has (see Part II of the article) a warship and/or a submarine there from time to time and a patrol boat all the time. Although the uncertainty as to whether fighting ships (the patrol boat is not well armed) are there allows an aggressor to be deterred, potentially, all the time you could argue, in the opposite direction, that the uncertainty might encourage a gambling aggressor. Certainly when the RN warships are in the archipelago they sometimes make a song and dance of it.

      In 1982 Argentina started its operation against the islands with a small landing of 14 special forces of the tactical divers group off the submarine Santa Fe (scuttled 1985) on the afternoon of 01-Apr-82. This path-finding operation was followed by the landing, on 21 assault craft, of 84 commandos deployed off the destroyer Santisima Trinidad (recently refloated to become a museum ship) and then of 20 amphibious armoured personnel carriers with circa 400 marines off the tank landing ship Cabo San Antonio (no longer in service).

      The amphibious assault inventory of the Argentine Navy today consists of the Hércules, a modified destroyer with a complement of 238 marines, 2 x helicopters with a 4.5 inch (114 mm) gun to support and the Bahia San Blas which is a modified cargo ship designed to deploy landing craft, or vehicles directly if it can find a suitable quay, and which can possibly carry about 700 troops. There are also three auxiliary cargo vessels.

      Sailing back and forth between, say, Port Stanley and Puerto Santa Cruz an Argentine task force consisting of the two amphibious support ships, the three cargo ships and, say, two of Argentina’s four destroyers (with 160 commandos on board) could probably deploy about 1,100 men every, say, three to four days including embarkation and debarkation time.

      Argentina has a paratroop brigade (circa 3,000 men) that could be air dropped.

      Were an Argentine force able to take Mount Pleasant (and secure the area) the vastly improved (since 1982) runway would enable Argentina to fly reinforcements in rapidly.

      Yours faithfully, Aidan Powlesland

  2. I fear I must challenge your assertion that only 2 aircraft would be available owing to “refit, maintenance or repair”. The maintenance of military aircraft is organised much like your car’s maintenance schedule with infrequent “depth” maintenance, usually in 2 tiers, the main one perhaps every 6 years (on which any refit would be carried out and might take 2-3 months) and then perhaps an annual maintenance lasting 1-2 weeks. I speak from my knowledge of past operations, but there is no reason why it is any different today, in that aircraft (and indeed sea and land equipment) will be rotated with the UK main base within these nominally annual maintenance periods, achieved through air-to-air refuelling via Ascension – all good training for tanker crews too.

    So, the aircraft on deployment would have minimal scheduled maintenance downtime. When defects occur, yes they would be fixed if the facilities and spares are available, but there may be some occasions when spares are required from UK, or an unplanned replacement sent out, all of which are possible within a matter of days.

    On top of this, in periods of heightened tension (one would hope that Military Intelligence would detect these), aircraft would be denied any scheduled maintenance whatsoever, maintenance events extended, and many defects just “signed-off” as acceptable deferred defects or even limitations, with the agreement of the Senior Engineering Officer and the pilot. Nor do I think that with a 2:1 pilot ratio there would be any issue with pilot availability in time of war, that is quite ample – in the Cold War I went on operational deployments where we had one shift of pilots and one shift of engineers, and we managed quite well, if quite “kn*ckered” at the end of it.

    There is also a story that in theory the Typhoons could fire their weapons from the ground (or at very least overhead at Stanley) and hit Argentinian targets 200 miles out. Whether this is true or not I cannot say.

    However, I agree that the deployed strength there is minimal. We could do with a full squadron (of 12 ac), another fighting ship (of the precious few our Navy has now) and at least a small all-arms battle group – and the Falklands would certainly make an excellent training ground for our troops out there.

    • Aidan C U Powlesland // December 6, 2016 at 6:52 pm // Reply

      Dear Brian

      Thank you for your informed commentary on part I.

      I wrote “one or two” which you took as two. But the refit time I had in mind was closer to one than two. It was derived from the A to D check cycle for American civilian aircraft. A involves 5.3% down time, B 0.9%, C 1.4% and D 2.7% for 10.3% in total. I built in 50% more time when planes became unserviceable (because of lack of parts) and 50% yet more for greater complexity of the task in military planes. The issue between my figures and your commentary distills down to the two 50% modifiers, and the A checks time which, for civilian aircraft, is circa every 500 flight hours, or 27 days, and I presumed involved two shifts of seven mechanics doing 105 man hours a day for 36 hours. On the basis of your testimony I accept that my 50% modifiers may have been in error. Taking down time to be 10.3% instead of 27.5% would make it one in repair 40% of the time and none 60% of the time and moderates my criticism of the air defence.

      One always in the air, given their radar range of circa 160 miles, could provide early warning even if the ground radars were knocked out by a ground attack. Nonetheless, as you say, and even though I over-stated the case, one plane in the air is not a strong defence and could be shot down (by a men portable ground-to-air missile) at the same time as the ground radars and planes were surprise attacked.

      On the matter of serviceability the RAF has 141 Typhoons in service but the Royal United Services Institute suggests that of these 15 are not operational. Of the 126 operational 50 are not 1st line. This essentially means they are stored. Of the 76 1st line Typhoons 36 are not readily available either because they are in refit or repair or because they are used for training or are in reserve (on a low use schedule). The 40 that are readily available for action include the 4 in the Falklands. My mistake was to make provision for planes in the Falklands not being readily available when in fact, although this is a major issue for the RAF in general, it is not for the flight at Mount Pleasant.

      Yours faithfully, Aidan

  3. As I understand it the oil is in deep water and not viable for extraction yet but it will be and that is why Argentina wants the Falklands

  4. I was keeping my fingers crossed that this whole Malvinas thing by Argentina was going off the boil now that Kirchner has gone. I do think that Argentina’s claims are ridiculous, given that the country wasn’t even in existence when we colonised the islands. The Falklands are 400 miles off the Argentine coast, it’s like us claiming to own Iceland because it’s so close to our shores (ok it’s a bit further.

    I’m very fond of Argentina and have often spent time there, I’m thinking about going to live there. I have permanent resident’s status in several South American Countries, including Argentina.

    Another war with Argentina would be a tragedy. Kirchner was a tragedy for Argentina, the country deserves better.

    • Aidan C U Powlesland // December 6, 2016 at 8:23 pm // Reply

      Dear Flyer,

      I am optimistic about the new Argentine government not least in comparison to the governments of the two Kirchners.

      Given my optimism it might seem odd for me to propose a £580 million p.a. increase in defending the archipelago. I thought I would take a few words here to put this in context. I would like to see government spending reduced by £148 billion per year with an additional £15 billion per annum of revenue raising measures. One of the three reasons I want to see this £163 billion p.a. improvement in the books would be to provide for a 100% increase in defence spending from £33 billion to £66 billion. In the context of a larger defence budget spending £0.6 billion a year more on Falklands defence would be less open to the charge of ignoring bigger threats.

      My proposal would be harder to justify if spending was kept at £33 billion. If we had to improve the defence on the existing budget I think I would suggest removing the navy (saving circa £100 million if just the patrol ship remained) and spending the extra £90 million to increase the combat infantry from 120 to a 1,000 strong battle group. This force could guarantee both to repulse special forces surprise attacks on Mount Pleasant (so the air force could act) and to deploy a company to contest for West Falklands.

      Brian (above) mentioned that increasing the infantry would give them a good place to train. My suggestion in part II for an underwater submarine base where the ocean floor steeply slopes, is offered in the same spirit, namely, of taking advantage of the location. The Falklands could provide the UK with a alternative base for fleet, including ballistic missile, submarines removed from our likely strategic enemies and better placed than Scotland to support any operation in the Pacific or Indian Oceans and their littorals.

      I feel warmly towards Argentines too (and am particularly glad that their tourists to the UK do not need a UK tourist visa) but the issue is not as off the boil as it could be. The United Nations ruled in March that Argentina’s 200 mile exclusive economic zone from its east coast should extend a further 150 miles to follow the continental shelf even where it overlaps the Falkland’s exclusive economic zone extending 200 miles from its west coast.

      Yours faithfully Aidan

  5. Aidan,

    Thank you for an interesting and necessary article. I will reserve my comments for Part 2.

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