Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 12:52 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 12:52 | SYDNEY

Australian lessons from the Falklands War

5 April 2012 11:01

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

It is fascinating to think, as Sam leads us, about what a Falklands-type war would mean for Australia's part of the world. The relevance is particularly real for Australia because we are building an amphibious force with the potential, if ever completed, of conducting significant amphibious operations which could be vaguely similar to those the UK conducted in the Falklands.

The uniqueness of Australia's geo-strategic situation is that an amphibious force is not necessarily an expeditionary force. Any future government would be very wise to provide itself with the option of projecting force, by land and by sea, from one part of the Australian continent to any other part. This is an enormous distance by world geo-strategic standards. But it is not 'expeditionary'.

Still, a government might want or need to use that force overseas and so in that respect it is legitimate to describe a force as expeditionary. Strangely enough, the force that is optimised for transport by sea from one part of Australia to another in order to fight in the defence of the Australian continent is just as usable to project a force overseas.

Sam is right to bring up the utility of missiles in amphibious operations but in a military sense this is not a new problem. The vulnerability of surface ships to missiles just means that, if there is a high probability of losing ships to missiles, you do not use such ships until the risk has been reduced to an acceptable level, hopefully zero. Risk in military operations is reduced by 'shaping', and the Falklands War is a great example.

In the Falklands there was a considerable period of strategic and tactical shaping before the landings were made. The force that was ultimately landed by ship was held back until all diplomatic steps were exhausted, a British submarine was in place, enemy surface ships were either forced to stay in port or sunk, the major airfield in the Falklands was denied, minor airfields had been attacked, the intelligence picture was improved (with US help) and UK special forces had been landed in Argentina. Only then did the fighting start!

So what is popularly perceived as an amphibious military operation was far more complex and conducted over a much longer period of time. It was in fact a whole-of-government campaign conducted by a nation with a military force with broad capabilities left over from the Cold War, with only some help from allies.

The commander of the Falklands campaign, Admiral John Woodward, believes that the UK could not do it again. What he means is that the UK could not retake the Falklands in the same way it did last time. But with the permanent presence of advanced combat aircraft, ground-based air defences and (we assume) a nuclear submarine permanently in the vicinity, not to mention members of the Royal family on the ground, Argentina probably could not take the Falklands the way it did last time.

The Falklands War has great value as an object of study for Australians, not just for its military content based on the technology of the day, nor for its obvious tragedy and successes, but as a study in unpreparedness, unpredictability, the impact of national leadership, and the need to align strategies to capability. And that is only from the British side. There are even more lessons for our part of the world if you study the Argentinians.

Photo of British Royal Marines 'yomping' to Port Stanley courtesy of Wikipedia.