[Ed:This is the second part of a 2 part article. Part I can be found here.]
The front line of defence of the Falklands islands is the Royal Navy who deploy perhaps 3% of their strength in the South Atlantic in the form of a frigate or a destroyer and a nuclear fleet (hunter-killer) submarine from time to time.
It would be less tempting to a potentially gambling invader if a fleet submarine were deployed in the South Atlantic at all times. This would cost (including amortisation over 23 years), say, £70 million more per annum than is being spent at the moment to be there, say, 30% of the time. It is particularly needed since in the absence of air power and artillery a Trafalgar or Astute class submarine’s cruise missiles (it might be fifteen of them on board) are the only way, should an invading army arrive by air, of providing heavy fire support to any ground forces on the islands conducting a last ditch defence.
The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have their pants down in the South Atlantic. The aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales may not be floated out until 2018 and won’t be fitted out until 2019, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has no combat aircraft and the air force has no combat planes with the range, even with in-flight refueling, to rebase to (or bomb) the Falklands from St Helena island (the nearest alternative base). In the last year the Royal Navy cut back its permanent destroyer or frigate presence and made it occasional.
The Falkland Islands defence is only a trip wire. This is despite the fact that the existing defence is costing roughly £340 million per year. I suggest we increase that spending by circa £580 million per annum; £220 million to triple the number of Typhoons from four to twelve, £70 million to put afleet submarine, and £46 million to put an air-defence destroyer (not an anti-submarine Frigate), permanently on station and £90 million to increase the combat infantry from company to battle group strength. I would further propose £150 million per year to create (hardened and underground) maintenance and repair facilities for at least two fleet submarines. These facilities should have underwater access enabling the Falklands to act as a base, for South Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean operations, from which submarines could come and go unobserved. Possible locations, where the seabed drops precipitously from the coast to below 50 metres depth, would include Volunteer Point (which has the advantage of being relatively close to the airport at Mount Pleasant) or New,Bird, or Beaver, Island (which are more remote). By the above measures we could be confident, firstly, that a belligerent but rational enemy government would be deterred from attack at all and, secondly, that an Argentine government, in particular, that did attack would be defeated.
Since October 2015, the short term air threat from Argentina has precipitously declined. Not only did the Foreign Office stymie the Argentine attempt to acquire the 20 Mirage F1 fighters from Spain, as well as reportedly playing a role in the collapse of the deal to acquire the 18 Kfir fighters from Israel, but in addition on 30-Nov-15, all existing Mirage war planes were de-commissioned on grounds of age and cost. The Argentine government has also changed. The new government is much less adversarial in its foreign policy rhetoric and has not yet acquired the Chinese warplanes (or Russian bombers) that were talked about in 2015. Moreover, in January 2016, with 31 out of 36 of Argentina’s Lockheed-Martin A-4AR Skyhawk jet fighter bombers already in storage, the remaining 4-5 were grounded for lack of spare parts. This leaves the air force with no jet powered fighter or bomber planes.
The Argentine working group with China, however, has not been terminated. According to the US Economic and Security Review Commission’s report of November 2015, the Chinese will construct five 1,800 ton “Malvinas” class corvettes for the Argentine navy. Each one comes with a helicopter, a 76mm main gun, 2 x twin surface-to-surface missile launching cells and 1 x octuple launching cell surface-to-air missile weapon. Potentially this flotilla could shoot down the four typhoons with its surface-to-air missiles, sink any Royal Navy warship on station with its surface-to-surface missiles and use its guns to bombard the islands whose infantry (if only a company is there) would not have the artillery with which to reply. Such a flotilla would still be vulnerable to the Royal Navy submarine but only if it was on station.
The Argentine working group with China has also agreed that the two countries will jointly construct 100+ amphibious armoured personell carriers which could be handy if one was wanting to land a lot of infantry from just off the Falklands’ shores. It is reported that 10% of the uplink time to China’s satellites, from the new space tracking and control station that is being built by China in Argentina to provide China’s satellite network with a southern hemisphere node, will be made available to the Argentine government thus bestowing on Argentina the capacity, independent of borrowing US systems (which in 1982 the USA declined to provide), for observation from space of the South Atlantic by satellites we might hesitate to shoot down.
It is possible that the new Argentine government will cancel its £800 million deal with China for vehicles, corvettes and war planes. If so all the better a breathing space, I would say, to build up a reliable defence of the Falklands archipelago.
The petroleum age may end within 25, or even 10 years, so perhaps the economic value of the archipelago will diminish (though it will increase first). Many must wonder as many, including the Labour party did in 1982, if the islands are worth any blood and treasure at all whether rich in oil or not?
The Argentine writer Georges Luis Borges said, of the 1982 Falklands War, that observing it was like watching two bald men fighting over a comb.
But even if no drop of blood is worth any number of bejeweled isles then all the more reason, say I, to deter from temptation to action those who think differently.