67. Information Memorandum From the Acting Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Blackwill) to Secretary of State Haig 1
- Military Analysis of UK Options in the Falkland Crisis
This memorandum briefly reviews military options open to the United Kingdom, examines their chances of success, and describes their costs. It concludes that the UK naval force could inflict high casualties [Page 120]on the Argentinian Navy and possibly retake some territory, but recovering the main territory of the Falklands would be extremely difficult.
Although British thinking seems to be focusing on Marine assaults, our analysis suggests that the UK’s most viable military option would be to use its fleet to reduce significantly the flow of maritime commerce to Argentina. The objective of this interdiction campaign would be to so damage Argentina’s economy that they would agree to an outcome acceptable to the UK.
In ascending order of difficulty, the British options are:
• Initial Submarine Attacks. The initial arriving units will be nuclear hunter/killer submarines, the first of which should be on station in a week. They could attempt to intimidate the Argentinians with a dramatic early success by sinking the most significant military target found and by attriting the Argentinian resupply effort for the Falklands. Argentina’s anti-submarine warfare capability is considered by our Navy to be one of the best in Latin America, but it is unlikely to be sufficient to locate and destroy the UK subs.
• Retake South Georgia. Our Navy believes the UK’s best option would be a combined amphibious/vertical envelopment assault on South Georgia, following bombardment with naval guns and Harriers. This could succeed in retaking the island. Because it is 900 miles further from Argentina than the Falklands, has a poor airfield, and no economic value, the Argentinians may only lightly defend it. Retaking the island would give the Thatcher government a “victory” that included recovered territory, but which does not deal with the central problem. If the Argentinian Navy attempted to block the assault, it would severely tax any possible air cover and thus increase its vulnerability to the RN Task Force.
• Air/Naval Battle. The CJCS believe that this is the option that the UK would prefer, i.e., to engage the Argentinian Navy in a large-scale sea battle, inflict heavy casualties, and gain control of the waters in the area. It requires the Argentinians to take the bait and it does not, in itself, succeed in regaining lost territory. It might, however, give the Thatcher government a “victory” which could favorably influence the outcome of the crisis. Our Navy believes that the Royal Navy would suffer some losses, but would win a decisive victory if the Argentinians joined battle. The RN’s ASW capability should be able to control Argentina’s three operational submarines, although we cannot rule out the possibility of some RN losses. If the battle occurred within 200–300 miles of Argentina, the Argentinian Air Force (AAF) could contribute significantly. The range of the AAF Mirages and A–4s can also be [Page 121]extended by aerial refueling with Argentina’s two KC–130s, although the limited tanker assets would be unable to sustain a high sortie generation rate. Even if they achieve control of the air, the AAF’s ability to inflict losses on the RN would be limited because the AAF has not practiced anti-ship missions extensively. The RN’s contribution to the air battle is limited to 15 Sea Harriers and SAMs. If the Mirages and Harriers were to engage in air combat, however, the AAF would have the advantage.
• Blockade the Falklands. The RN Task Force is of sufficient size to throw a blockade around the Falklands, but the Argentinians may be able to resupply their forces by air. The UK would have to destroy the airfield to prevent that resupply. The only capabilities to destroy the runway would be the Harriers and they could be engaged by anti-aircraft defenses around the field. It is unclear what scale of fighter operations the Argentinians could sustain on the Falklands over time, but in the next few weeks they are unlikely to have more than a token presence of Air Force assets. (Thus far only 4 light propeller “spotter” aircraft have been deployed.) If the Argentinians attempted to run the blockade, the RN Task Force would dominate what would turn into a sea battle. The major problem for the RN would be sustaining a large naval presence over time because the logistical problem would be immense. The RN Task Force’s refueling capacity is severely limited. Unless reinforced by more tankers, the Task Force’s time on station will be constrained and the cost of establishing a fuel supply train will be high. Moreover, the Argentinian forces will by then be stocked for a long siege.
• Retaking the Falklands. The RN Task Force has limited amphibious assets (4 LSLs and 1 LPD) and is even using a luxury liner to transport Royal Marines. Although they will have upwards of 4,000 Marines, they have little capability to land them. Only the LPD has amphibious landing capability. While all five of the amphibious ships could support assault helicopters, we believe they may have sailed without a full helicopter force. C–130s are transporting helicopters to Ascension Island, probably for on-loading en route.
The combination of naval bombardment and Harrier/helicopter attacks could sufficiently soften a moderately defended area to permit amphibious/helicopter landing of Marines. By the time the RN Task Force could begin an assault, however, the Argentinians could have 7000 troops in place on the islands. If they use their two KC–130 tankers, they might also be able to keep a few of their MIRAGE fighters over the island to bomb the assault force and engage the Harriers. Once the British assault force has been inserted, it will face severe supply problems and a numerically superior force with well established defensive positions. Without larger amphibious forces or airborne capability, the [Page 122]option of retaking the Falklands seems remote. The RAF does not have aircraft capable of conducting paratroop operations with range sufficient to reach the Falklands from Ascension Island, the nearest UK territory.
• Attacks on Argentina. Air or sea attacks on Argentina itself would be the most difficult because the attacking force would lay itself open to the entire Argentinian Air Force of over 40 Mirages and 60 Skyhawk A–4s. Given the size of the guns on the RN ships, coastal shelling would have only a limited effect. Mining is an attractive option, but we are unsure how many mines are on-board UK ships. The most attractive option for the UK, however, is one that is basically similar and relatively easy to conduct. It is to keep its fleet beyond AAF range and interdict as much as possible of Argentina’s commercial shipping, thereby damaging the Argentinian economy. We do not know how long it would take to have appreciable effect. This course would seek to make Argentina pay so high a price that they would agree to an acceptable solution to the crisis.
Finally, a number of other factors make HMG military options difficult:
• There are 1,800 British civilians on the Falklands who are concentrated in the areas where fighting would likely take place.
• The British cannot reconfigure their forces easily. The mix of aircraft and loadout of ships will be difficult to alter significantly, even with the use of Ascension. At present the British have built a balanced force structure to handle both the air and submarine threat.
• The onset of winter near the end of May will make sea operations very dangerous due to formation of pack ice, reduced visibility and a high wind and sea state.
• There will be no readily available facilities to handle repairs, battle damage, and casualties.2[Page 123]
- Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, P850056–1413. Secret. Drafted by D. Sokolosky (PM/P) and Commander M. Austin (PM/RSA); cleared by Clarke and Commander T. Miller (PM/P). Sokolsky initialed for Austin; Clarke initialed for Miller. Copies were sent to Holmes and Enders. In the upper right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum, Blackwill wrote: “Mr. Secretary—This is quick and dirty. We will continue working the problem. Bob.” A stamped notation on the first page of the memorandum indicates that Haig saw it.↩
- A similar list of possible British military options was also prepared in the Department of Defense and forwarded, under a covering note, by West to Weinberger and Carlucci, through Iklé, on April 8. In contrast to the PM study, this paper also considered the prospect of the British using South Georgia, after an operation had first been mounted to recapture it from Argentine forces, as a staging point for retaking the Falklands/Malvinas. The paper concluded that while using South Georgia shortened British supply lines, the lack of air superiority and the time needed to develop South Georgia as a support base would negatively affect British operations. The Defense paper also differed in its assessment of a combined airborne/amphibious operation to retake the Islands, highlighting the “high risk of failure” of such an operation since the Argentines “will have approximately 7000 troops on the Islands and air superiority.” A stamped notation on West’s covering note indicates that Weinberger saw the paper on April 12. (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC 330–84–0004, UK (March–April) 1982)↩
- Under an April 7 information memorandum, Cohen sent Haig a briefing paper summarizing the Argentine/British military balance, which was prepared in INR. Outlining the paper’s principal conclusions, Cohen wrote: “Both sides have well-trained forces. Neither side has a clear overall advantage, and either side could win a major encounter, depending on the circumstances.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, Files of Alexander M. Haig, Jr. 1981–1982, Lot 82D370, (3) Falklands Crisis–1982)↩