The Naval War in the Falklands, Part 4

Part 1 of this series is here.

Part 2 of this series is here.

Part 3 of this series is here.

The Opposing Forces Order of Battle- Argentina (air forces)

The  primary air arms of Argentina were the Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Argentina or FAA) and the Naval Air Arm (Comando de Aviación Naval Argentina – COAN) , and the Argentinian Army (Comando de Aviación del Ejército Argentino). While Argentinian airpower was robust by the standards of South America, and outnumbered the available British forces, it suffered from significant deficiencies in equipment, armaments, training, and organization. The possibility of conflict with Chile resulted in roughly half of Argentina’s airpower being unavailable for operations against British forces. The primary focus of the FAA had always been on providing close air support to Argentinian ground forces in the field. Their training and equipment had been optimized for that role. Only the attack squadrons of the Navy had been trained for the anti-shipping role. Further, as a result of an arms embargo in place over human rights abuses of the junta, spare parts supply and maintenance suffered, with poor availability of aircraft. The FAA had no precision guided or stand-off weapons available. The Exocet missile, operated by the COAN was in extremely short supply. Sinking ships at sea is hard enough without the proper tools. Doing so with obsolete equipment and ill-suited weapons is nearly impossible.

The FAA

Fixed Wing Tactical Aircraft

  1. Fighters- The FAA operated two main types of fighter aircraft
    1. Dassault Mirage IIIEA (17 on hand)- The French built Mirage was an early Mach 2 aircraft, optimized for speed. It had short range, and while it could turn well, extended turning engagements quickly bled energy, leaving them slow and vulnerable. [8th Air Brigade]
    2. IAI Dagger (30 on hand)- The Israeli built Dagger was a virtual copy of the Mirage IIIA, though it was optimized for the ground attack role, and had slightly better range. [6th Air Brigade]
  2. Attack Aircraft/Bombers
    1. Douglas A-4B Skyhawk (approximately 35 on hand)-Surplus US Navy Skyhawks, operated from shore as ground attack aircraft. An excellent design for its time, by 1982, their navigation and electronics were obsolete. [5th Air Brigade]
    2. Douglas A-4C Skyhawks (15 on hand)- very similar to the A-4B, and also surplus US Navy. Operated from ashore. [4th Air Brigade]
    3. English Electric Canberra B. Mk62 (8 on hand)- The British built Canberra was one of the first tactical jet bombers. It had good range, but relatively poor speed and maneuverability. [2nd Air Brigade]
    4. FMA IA-58 Pucara (approximately 24 deployed to the Falklands)- The Argentinian designed and built Pucara was intended for close air support of ground troops in counter-insurgency warfare. A very capable aircraft in its intended role, it was similar in concept and capability to the US OV-10A Bronco, though of a very different configuration.

Fixed Wing Transport Aircraft– [1st Air Brigade]

  1. Tactical Transports
    1. Lockheed C-130H (7 on hand)- The Herk was the primary tactical lifter of the FAA. Shortages of other aircraft also saw the Herks forced into other roles, such as maritime search.
    2. Lockheed KC-130H (2 on hand)- Both these Hercules were configured as air-to-air refueling tankers, and were dedicated to that role in support of strike operations.
  2. Non-tactical Transports
    1. Boeing 707- The FAA operated 3 707s, both as transports moving troops inside Argentina for transshipment to the Falklands, and later as search aircraft to locate the British task force.
    2. Fokker F28– Six short haul F28 jetliners were used.
    3. Fokker F27- Twelve twin turboprop short haul transports supported army operations.
    4. In addition, several Boeing 737 and BAC 1-11 jetliners from the Argentinian national airline provided airlift support inside Argentina and to Port Stanley, Falklands before the British task force began operations.
    5. Escuadron Fenix- Approximately 30 small business jets were formed as Escuadron Fenix to perform deception operations against the British task forces Combat Air Patrol.

Helicopters– The FAA operated 2 Boeing CH-47C Chinooks and 2 Bell 212 Twin Hueys. Other helicopters in the war were operated by the Argentinian Army or Navy.

The Argentine Navy (COAN)

Carrier Aircraft

  1. Dassault Super Etendard (5 on hand, but one cannibalized for spares)- A carrier capable light strike plane. The Argentinians had only just taken delivery of the  Super Etendards, as replacements for their older A-4Qs. Shipments of the Super Etendard’s primary anti-ship weapon, the AM39 Exocet,  were halted, and there were only five missiles on hand to arm them.
  2. Douglas A-4Q Skyhawk (8 on hand)- Very similar to the A-4B/C Skyhawks of the FAA, these Skyhawks retained the ability to operate from Argentina’s aircraft carrier, the ARA 25 de Mayo. They did not have any provision for precision stand-off weapons. Instead, they were armed with conventional gravity bombs.
  3. Grumman S-2E Tracker (6 on hand)- These slow, piston powered anti-submarine aircraft were designed to hunt enemy subs from the Argentinian carrier. They had little anti-shipping capability.

Land Based Aircraft– The COAN also operated several types of land based aircraft. Most contributed little to the war.

  1. Aermacchi MB.339A (6 on hand)- an jet trainer aircraft, this jet was also used in the light ground attack role.
  2. Beechcraft T-34 Mentor- 4 Mentors were stationed in the Falklands, intended to be used as liaison and light attack aircraft armed with machine guns and light rockets.
  3. Lockheed SP-2H Neptune– The two Neptunes, both surplus US Navy aircraft, were the ARA’s primary long range maritime patrol aircraft. Due to failures caused by the US arms embargo, both were withdrawn from service by mid-may. The loss of dedicated long range aerial surveillance of the waters around the Falklands would be a great blow to the Argentinians.
  4. The COAN also operated a handful of transport aircraft, such as the Lockheed L-188 Electra and the Fokker F28.

Helicopters– The COAN operated just over a dozen helicopters, including Sikorsky SH-3 Sea Kings, the Westland Lynx and the Aérospatiale Alouette light helicopter.

The Argentine Army Air Service– The Argentine Army operated Chinook and Huey helicopters in the Falklands, as well as Aérospatiale  SA300 Pumas, and Agusta A109s. They had little impact on the naval war.

Ill equipped and trained for the anti-shipping mission, the attack aircraft of FAA would nonetheless show the greatest esprit de corps of all the Argentinian services, and as we shall see, come tantalizingly close to defeating the Royal Navy.

Next we’ll look at a bare bones timeline of significant events in the naval war, and then we’ll start the series on the operations and lessons to be learned.