Planning considerations to recapture the Falkland Islands - or why the sky isn't falling on our heads today...
Following on from the earlier piece about the diplomatic issues surrounding the Falklands, Humphrey now wants to take a look at the reality of the challenge facing any potential aggressor, and to show the planning considerations that any J5 planning shack is going to have to think about when looking at a successful attack on the islands.
Firstly, a mild disclaimer - unlike many Falkland Island commentators (FI), Humphrey has actually been to the Falklands, and has a very good understanding of the military structure and capability on the islands. Because of this, the author is not going to discuss some specifics, and may seem vague in other areas. This is because he is one of the few people left who think that PERSEC isn't a dirty word.
Secondly, unlike some websites / publications, Humphrey has no time for the concept of 'ORBAT Porn', by which he means the lining up of two paper ORBATS between two countries, and deciding that as X is greater than Y, Y wins. It's pointless, silly and as seen in countless wars over the years, almost always an inaccurate means of predicting the outcome of a crisis.
For the purposes of this article, Humphrey is looking at the current balance of power as it stands NOW. Not in 10 years, not if Argentina gets new LPDs, not if the UK gets CVF, and not if the Death Star parks in orbit and uses its super laser to wipe out all penguins.
The first part of this article looks at wider planning considerations that need to be taken into account when considering an invasion. The next part will look at specific considerations relating to the islands defences.
The first, and most critical question that must be asked when considering an invasion is 'why'? The Falklands serve as a useful lightning conductor to Argentine leaders - whenever distracted by political problems at home, they can quickly rally support around the concept of the Falklands issue. Invasion not only removes this as a lightning conductor, but also opens up a range of longer term problems - a quick invasion without bloodshed followed by Argentine occupation is a good idea in theory, but a leader would have to be certain that this could be achieved. Failure would result in them losing office, power, and probably liberty as well.
Whenever considering the Falkland Islands, one has to ask 'what does the President of Argentina personally gain from an invasion'? The reality is that unless they have the most successful invasion in history, it's likely to be the end of their presidency. Few people willingly relinquish power until they have to - it is hard to envisage circumstances where an Argentine leader would do so over the Falklands.
But, assuming the go ahead was issued, then the first planning consideration when considering the invasion of the islands is what is the defined Argentinean end state? In other words, what is their view of campaign success? In 1982, the Argentines arguably defined their end state as the initial occupation of the islands militarily, and did not plan, nor assume any requirement to fight beyond this point. The author would argue that any future Argentine plan needs to define its end state as 'the successful capture of the islands, followed by the mounting of a sufficiently robust defence as to prevent their recapture in perpetuity'.
One of the problems with looking at this potential conflict is that everyone assumes that if Argentina invades, then the UK will immediately turn around and launch 'Task Force 2', followed by a short bloody war in which the UK either kicks Argentina off the islands again, or is sent home humbled and never again enters the South Atlantic. Humphrey would suggest that this is unwise to consider - after all, UK planning is based on holding the islands for perpetuity (where perpetuity means 'for as long as the Islanders want us to remain'), and that if Argentina seeks to capture the islands militarily, it needs to be ready to defend them in perpetuity as well.
So, the first thing to ask is whether Argentina has sufficient military capability to not only invade the islands now, but also defend them in the long term without a major increase in defence spending.
The next issue when planning such an invasion is the level of violence and casualties one is willing to inflict upon an enemy force to achieve mission success. In 1982, the Argentine attack was predicated on landing roughly battalion sized forces to take out a sub company (barely platoon) sized formation. Its often forgotten that Argentine SF made a deliberate attempt to destroy the marine barracks, presumably hoping to take out the marines in their beds, rather than have a fight.
The world has changed dramatically since 1982 and the arrival of 24/7 media coverage, global news and analysis and the internet & other social media means that any attack or use of force will be questioned. To force the UK defending forces to surrender will mean either denying them the ability to fight or to sustain, or inflicting sufficient casualties to make the ground commander decide further resistance is futile.
Let's put this in context for a moment. The FI are garrisoned normally by up to 1500 military personnel, and supported by a range of logistics and infrastructure that will enable the garrison to continue fighting for a considerable period of time without requiring external support. For an Argentine attack to put the UK garrison in the position where it has to surrender due to an inability to sustain itself, we have to assume the loss of air and maritime resupply for a prolonged period of time, backed up by an aggressive land campaign which reduces stocks. This would seem to require a maritime and air presence beyond that which the Argentines currently possess.
Similarly, to put the defending force in a position where it has lost sufficient casualties that it feels it has not option but to surrender, one would need to inflict realistically more casualties than the UK has lost in Iraq & Afghanistan combined in over 10 years of fighting, and inflict them in a time scale probably measured in days. This would again require a very aggressive campaign, and one which would be quickly portrayed in global media as an exceptionally aggressive and brutal attack by Argentine forces.
The reality would be for Argentina that any attack has to be done in such a manner so as to force a surrender, without causing a massacre. Unless this occurs, then global opinion will swing firmly against Argentina, and it is likely that UNSCRs, or even possible military support from allies may be offered to the UK in any attack. Argentina has to be seen to be a liberating force in the manner of the Indians in Goa in 1961, and not the Iraqi 'annexation' of Kuwait in 1990. In other words, a short military attack, limited resistance and then general global apathy, despite anguished pleas from the defending power (in this case Portugal, which the author understands still technically claims Goa is a part of its empire).
So, even prior to the launching of an invasion, Argentina is faced with a series of high level policy & political challenges - these can be summarised below:
a. What is their justification for war?
b. What is their desired end state?
c. How do they recapture the islands using minimal force?
d. How do they hold onto the islands in perpetuity?
e. How do they manage international reaction to the invasion?
f. Can they afford an international crisis / incident on this scale?
g. Is it really worth it?
The next part of this article will look in more depth at how an Argentine commander would need to consider options, based partly on their ORBAT, but also partly on the defensive considerations