Rising tensions in the South Atlantic

In recent months Argentina has stepped up its claim to the Falkland Islands and has persuaded the members of Mercosur, the regional trading bloc, to close their ports to ships flying the Falkland Islands flag. Hector Timerman, the Argentinian Foreign Minister, has accused Britain of increasing its military presence in the South Atlantic.

Argentina claims that the posting of Prince William to the Falklands is provocative, but Britain argues that it is a normal part of his duties as an RAF air sea rescue pilot. The Argentinians made a formal complaint to the UN after Britain sent HMS Dauntless, its most modern destroyer, to the South Atlantic. Britain points out that this is a routine deployment of one of its warships, and that it always has a guardship in the Falklands. Dauntless is a far more powerful and sophisticated ship than those that have been assigned to that duty in the past, but the declining size of the Royal Navy means that Britain has few ships available to send.

Hector Timerman, the Argentinian Foreign Minister, has now claimed that Britain has sent a Vanguard class nuclear submarine to the South Atlantic. Vanguard’s Trident nuclear missiles are capable of destroying a city such as Buenos Aires. Its presence in the South Atlantic  would contravene the Treaty of Tlatelolco for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. The movements of such boats are exceedingly secret and it is unlikely that Britain would send one to the South Atlantic. It is more likely that Britain has sent a nuclear powered but conventionally armed submarine to the South Atlantic. Such a boat would not threaten Argentina’s cities, but would be able to sink an invasion fleet.

It is unlikely that there will be an invasion. There’s been a lot of comment in the UK that Britain could not retake the Falklands as it did in 1982 since it no longer has aircraft carriers. In fact, this has probably been the case since 2006, when the Sea Harrier interceptors were taken out of service, leaving the RN with only Harrier GR9 ground attack aircraft, now also taken out of service. The Harrier GR9 could carry air to air missiles, but did not have the right type of radar to be a successful interceptor. What British commentators often ignore is that Argentina’s air force is obsolete and its navy is not capable of launching an amphibious assault against a garrison that is much larger than in 1982. There are only 4 Typhoon Eurofighters on the Falklands, but it is a far more modern aircraft than any possessed by Argentina.

A recent article in The Sunday Times (no link as it is behind a paywall) admitted that Argentina could not invade the Falklands by sea but postulated that Argentinian special forces could arrive in an airliner and seize Mount Pleasant airfield. It argued that this could succeed because most of the British garrison are not infantry, but it seems unlikely that such a venture could succeed when there are 500 British troops at Mount Pleasant.

Tensions have risen since oil has been found in the South Atlantic. Perhaps Argentina should remember that the safest way to make money from mineral prospectors is to supply prospectors rather than to prospect yourself.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Rising tensions in the South Atlantic

  1. This is the crux of the problem. The British Press have spent so much time bemoaning the staus of our forces, which are going through a difficult transformation process in an era of austerity, that they have ignored the parlous state of the Argentine military. People have become fixated on whether or not we could take back the island when the real issue is whether they could actually take them. The simple detterance effect of the RAF presence, as well a regular RN deployments to the South Atlantic would be enough to deal with any potential invasion attempt.

  2. Look at a map. It is not at all likely that the British would send a conventional submarine to the Falklands. Where would it be based? It is far, far, more likely that they would send one of their nuclear submarines, as they have every right to do, regardless of the Treaty of Tlatleco. The whole Remember “freedom of navigation”?

    It’s also silly to say that four (4) eurofighters are enough to secure the Falklands from air attack. What if one of them has an accident? All of a sudden you’re down to only three.

  3. Why is it ‘silly’ to say that 4 Typhoons are enough to secure the Falklands? These aircraft clealry act as a force multiplier, and are far more capable than anything the Argentine’s have. Their most advanced aircraft is the Mirage III and Neshers. These aircraft are woefully out of date in modern high heat enviroment and would fair well with a modern 4.5 generation aircraft.

  4. All British submarines are nuclear powered. The Argentinians have alleged that Britain has sent a Vanguard class submarine armed with Trident inter-continental ballistic missiles to the South Atlantic. It is far more likely that Britain has sent a Trafalgar class hunter-killer submarine. They are nuclear powered but armed with Spearfish torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles with conventional warheads.

  5. @ Ross

    It would be silly to rely on the availability of four highly complex tempermental, expensive, and easily broken machines for any purpose, let alone warfare. Four is a token force meant to provide symbolic and temporary capability until reinforcements can arrive (which would be prompt). With a squadron of a dozen or so Eurofighters in place, yes, technical superiority would be decisive and enough to secure the Falklands.

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