By Ben Brockschmidt
It has been over a month since Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called for the U.K. to give up the Falkland Islands to Argentina. While this could have been nothing more than an attempted distraction by President Kirchner from a multitude of domestic issues, the dispute over the islands is constant background noise for both countries. In the meantime a referendum on the future sovereignty of the islands is scheduled for March. What this latest uptick allows is an opportunity to look at the logistics of fighting on the other side of the world and the role of aircraft carriers in modern conflict.
During the Falkland Islands conflict in 1982, the UK deployed two aircraft carriers and a sizable fleet to the South Atlantic. Since then, the end of the Cold War and shifting priorities have changed the composition of military forces for both Argentina and the UK. There is ample research comparing the naval forces of 1982 with those of today, but the lack of a British aircraft carrier remains of particular concern. This disadvantage was evident during the intervention in Libya. The absence of a mobile platform to launch aircraft contributed to a more expensive conflict as RAF sorties were flown out of airfields in Southern Europe. The result was longer flight times, fewer missions, and higher rates of fatigue.
With the exception of the facilities maintained in the Falklands themselves, the region is as far away as the U.K. can get from its bases, and it won’t have the benefit of friendly airfields and support sites nearby. While the U.K. has significantly increased the units deployed in defense of the islands, its airfields are known targets.
During the gap between carriers (The first of the two new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers isn’t expected to undergo sea trials for at least a year), questions remain about the functionality of the future ships. The carriers in development lack capabilities that existed during the first Falklands conflict, such as aerial refueling, that are essential for lengthy engagements.
What turns aircraft carriers into a truly formidable force are the carrier strike groups and support craft. By themselves, carriers are offensive weapons and have limited operations. Strike groups combine a carrier with a mix of frigates, destroyers, supply ships, and other vessels. These ships ensure non-stop air operations while protecting the carriers from land-, air-, and sea-based threats. Under its current makeup the Royal Navy, while smaller than it used to be, still maintains a modern and efficient force with all the pieces of a carrier strike group in place, minus the carrier.
The next round of predictions on the Falklands Islands won’t start until after the referendum in March. Until then, the UK needs to identify how it plans to projects its power and defends its interests abroad – both while short a carrier, and in view of the carriers’ limitations.
A 2006 graduate of Illinois State University, Ben Brockschmidt moved to Washington, D.C., on a whim in 2007. Concurrent internships in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, Ben worked for Congressman Tim Johnson of Illinois (retired) who was a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I). He is a 2012 CDE graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and today is the Executive Director of the Infrastructure Council and Director of Federal Affairs for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
This article appeared in its original form at TheRiskyShift.com
Read more with LT Kurt Albaugh’s examination of the effects the Falklands’ “Tyranny of Distance” had on the outcome of the war.