AN EXAMINATION OF ARGENTINE AIR EFFORT DURING THE FALKLANDS CAMPAIGN

AN EXAMINATION OF ARGENTINE AIR EFFORT DURING THE FALKLANDS CAMPAIGN

This Operational Research Branch Report was produced shortly after the 1982 Falkland Islands Conflict. The aim was to obtain an overall view of the Argentine Air Campaign to provide a basis for subsequent analysis and the historical record. It was declassified and released to the public in February 2013.

Map of the Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands

The report's covering letter asserts:

"The result is as comprehensive a picture as is likely to be achieved of the Argentine Air Order of Battle, deployments, operations and losses without recourse to their own, detailed, records. Inevitably there is uncertainty about some of the data. Some figures are quoted with authority, some are not. For obvious reasons sources of data are not detailed, and readers will have to take the Author on trust. Where uncertainties exist, an attempt has been made to record the range within which the true figure is thought to lie."

"A picture emerges of air arms that were called upon to fight a campaign which did not seem to have been anticipated. Only the Naval squadrons had trained for attacks against shipping, yet all attack units were required to do so; air-to-air refuelling assets were grossly insufficient to support combat at the ranges experienced; and most units had to operate away from their main bases - some up to 800 miles distant. Overall effort seems to have been less than an assessment of their potential would suggest. Aircraft daily sortie rates lay between one and two, despite a crew ratio of up to 3:1 and an assessment of engineering support that would allow up to 3 sorties per day. Attacks were mounted in formations that rarely exceeded 4 aircraft and formations were separated rather than co-ordinate. Attack sorties that found their targets suffered attrition rates of 15-50%, and overall losses of combat aircraft amounted to between 34% and 44% of the initial inventory. In summary the Argentine air arms, though they suffered high attrition rates, inflicted significant damage to the Task Force but never seemed to have the will to exert a sustained effort with the assets at their disposal."

 


 

SECRET
UK EYES A

 

STC/60518/Res

ORB Report 1/83

 

AN EXAMINATION OF ARGENTINE AIR EFFORT DURING THE FALKLANDS CAMPAIGN

 

INTRODUCTION

1. Argentina commenced an invasion of the Falkland Islands and their Dependencies on 2 April 1982 after disputing their sovereignty with the UK. In the absence of a peaceful settlement a UK Task Force (TF317) retook the islands by force and hostilities ceased on 14 June 1982. During the period that the islands were occupied the Argentine air arms carried out air supply of the islands, supported their land forces, carried out surveillance of the Task Force and engaged Task Force elements. A chronology of significant events concerning the Argentine air arms is at Annex A.

2. Records and reports from various sources have been examined in order to assess the Argentine Air Order of Battle (AOB), to assess the air effort in the campaign and to identify the sorties flown either against the UK Task Force or in support of occupying forces. It is intended that this examination of the Argentine air effort should provide an historical record and contribute towards the assessment of current capabilities.

3. The data on which this paper is based is believed to be the total of the information available on Argentine air operations some 12 months after the events. The various sources of these data will not be detailed. A list of abbreviations used is at the end of this paper.

 

AIM

4. The aim of this paper is to examine the Argentine air effort expended between 2 April 1982 and 14 June 1982 in support of their forces occupying the Falkland Islands and their Dependencies.

 

AIR ORDER OF BATTLE

5. The aircraft types operated by the Argentines and the airfields available to them were examined as a preliminary to the assessment of the AOB. No distinction is made between aircraft of the different air arms involved, which were:

  1. Fuerza Aerea Argentina - Air Force.
  2. Armada Argentina - Navy.
  3. Ejercito Argentino - Army.
  4. Prefectura Naval Argentina - Coastguard.

A list of the aircraft types in the Argentine inventory over the period concerned, together with a summary of their avionics, weapon carrying capabilities and performance, is at Annex B. A list of the airfields involved is at Annex C.

6. Initial AOB. The totals of aircraft in the initial inventory represent the absolute maximum available, and these amounted to 233 combat aircraft, 67 transport aircraft, 109 helicopters, 70 training aircraft, 20 light aircraft and 20 miscellaneous types. Totals for aircraft types are at Annex D. Information is available indicating that the inventory figures may be reduced as follows:

  1. Four of the 11 Navy A4Qs remained non-operational for the duration of the campaign.
  2. Some of the Pucaras may not have been available as the figure of 60 represents the maximum estimated to have been completed at the start of the campaign.
  3. Only 4 of the 5 Super Etendards were operational; the remaining aircraft was used for spares.
  4. One of the 7 C130s was already severely damaged at the start of the campaign and unlikely to be recovered.
  5. One of the Fokker F28s was the President's aircraft and hence unlikely to be used operationally.
  6. Only 4 Lear Jets was used.

7. Losses. The losses incurred by the Argentine air arms from all causes, whether enemy action, friendly action or accident, were examined. Estimates of losses inevitably vary, due to aircraft being engaged by 2 weapon systems simultaneously, but also there were occasions when aircraft appeared to successfully disengage but crashed during their return to base. However, losses up to 21 May have been largely substantiated, as have many losses after that date. Confirmation of claims is particularly difficult for claims made by ship-borne and land-borne weapon systems within the AOA. Confirmed losses are mainly those attributable to Sea Harrier claims, those destroyed on the ground and those admitted to by the Argentines. A list of the estimate Argentine losses is at Annex E, and indicates where these have been confirmed from independent sources. Thus a range of losses can be assessed between a confirmed number and a maximum possible number, indicating that Argentina lost between 34% and 44% of its combat aircraft during the campaign. Only 6% of the transport inventory was lost, excluding the Islander that was captured but subsequently destroyed relatively early in the campaign. It is also assessed that Argentina lost between 22% and 24% of its helicopters. These figures reflect the percentage of the inventory lost rather than the percentage of those committed to the campaign.

8. Acquisitions. Three types of aircraft are known to have been acquired by Argentina during the campaign, these being the Mirage V, the Embraer Bandeirante and the Britten-Norman Islander. A total of 10 Mirage V were acquired from Peru, but these aircraft were reported to be in poor condition and there are no confirmed reports of their use in operations. They were delivered to Rio Grande on or before 11 May. Two Bandeirantes were borrowed from the Brazilian Air Force to augment reconnaissance assets; they were delivered to Espora on 7 May, conducted reconnaissance and surveillance missions, and were returned to Brazil after the end of hostilities. A single Islander was captured at Port Stanley during the Argentine invasion and was subsequently destroyed by bombing. These aircraft are not included in Annex D.

9. Summary. The details of the initial AOB and subsequent losses are summarised in Table 1 over, highlighting the figures for the significant types of aircraft. Detailed figures for all aircraft types are at Annex D.

 

TABLE 1 - SUMMARY OF AOB AND LOSSES

AIRCRAFT TYPE

INITIAL INVENTORY TOTAL

ASSESSED NUMBER AVAILABLE FOR USE

ASSESSED NUMBERS LOST

PERCENTAGE OF INVENTORY LOST

Skyhawk

64

UP TO 60

25 - 37

39 - 58

Mirage III/V

42

39

13 - 24

31 - 57

Super Etendard

5

4

0

0

Canberra

8

7

2

25

Pucara

60

UNKNOWN

28

47

Other Combat Types

54

54

11 - 12

20 - 22

C130 Hercules

7

6

1

14

KC130 Hercules

2

2

0

0

Other Transport Types

58

UP TO 56

3

5

Helicopters

109

109

24 - 26

22 - 24

TOTALS

409

UP TO 397

107 - 133

26 - 33

 

DEPLOYMENT OF FORCES

10. Detailed knowledge of the deployment of the Argentine air forces is variable. After the Task Force entered the TEZ on 1 May knowledge of aircraft on the Falkland Islands improved, and on 7 May it was established that most of the A4 and Mirage aircraft were at Rio Grande, Rio Gallegos, San Julian and Comodoro Rivadavia, with the Canberras at Trelew. The major areas of deployment during the campaign were the southern mainland bases of Ushuaia, Rio Grande, Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz, San Julian, Comodoro Rivadavia and Trelew. Also of significance were Tandil, Espora, Villa Reynolds and Mendoza, the aircraft carrier '25 de Mayo', and the occupied Falkland Islands airfields of Port Stanley, Goose Green and Pebble Island. Further details of these airfields are at Annex C.

11. The known deployments are considered for each of the bases, first the aircraft carrier and the Falkland Island bases, then the mainland bases from south to north. A pictorial representation of these deployments is at Annex F.

12. 25 de Mayo. The aircraft carrier '25 de Mayo' did not engage TF317 but units of its air group did so from shore bases. Indeed, the carrier was not assessed to be capable of operating Skyhawks and Super Etendards at maximum fuel and weapon loads. The air group is believed to have consisted of 7 A4Q Skyhawks, 6 S2 Trackers, 3 Sea Kings and 3 Alouette IIIs at the start of the campaign, and training at sea was undertaken during April and early May. Thereafter the Skyhawks flew off to shore bases and the carrier is believed to have remained in coastal waters.

13. Falkland Islands Airfields. Air assets in the Falkland Islands were planned by the Argentines to consist of 2 light attack squadrons (Pucara and Mentor), 1 medium helicopter squadron (Puma), 2 light helicopter squadrons (Augusta 109, Iroquois and Bell 212) and a number of Chinook heavy helicopters and light communications aircraft. The significant airfields available were Port Stanley, Goose Green, and Elephant Bay on Pebble Island. By the time of the San Carlos landings the assets consisted of 9 Pucaras, an unknown number of Mentors, 4 Pumas, 4 Chinooks, 10 other helicopters, Skyvans and light aircraft. Sub­sequently 5 Aermacchi MB 339s deployed to Port Stanley from Rio Grande on 26 and 27 May, there were reports of Trackers and Bandeirantes using Port Stanley and a number of Pucaras deployed to the islands in early June as reinforcements. The airfield on Pebble Island was in use for Skyvans, Mentors and Pucaras up to the night of 14/15 May when Special Forces attacked and destroyed 11 aircraft (see Annex E). The Argentines blew demolition charges on the runway in the belief that a major landing was underway, and the runway remained out of action until 22 May. Goose Green airfield was captured by UK forces on 28 May, together with 2 serviceable Pucaras.

14. Ushuair. The southernmost base of Ushuair is believed to have been used by reconnaissance and transport aircraft.

15. Rio Grande and Rio Gallegos. The airfields at Rio Grande and Rio Gallegos were the closest mainland airfields to the Falkland Islands and hence assumed great importance during the campaign. The majority of combat sorties against the Task Force were launched from either of these 2 airfields and most assessments have taken the 2 airfields together.

It is generally believed that after the outbreak of hostilities some Mirage IIIs were based at Rio Gallegos in order to provide air defence cover for the bases, and 1 or both of the KC-130 tankers would have been based at the airfields to support Skyhawk missions. The 6 or 7 ARA Skyhawks were based at Rio Grande after disembarkation, with the FAA Skyhawks at Rio Gallegos. Losses were replaced from units in the north of Argentina, specifically Mendoza, Villa Reynolds and Rio Cuarto. Some or all of the 4 Super Etendards were based at Rio Grande in order to launch their attacks, and the Mirage Vs were based at both airfields with losses replaced by aircraft from Tandil. A unit of Aermacchi MB 339s numbering between 12 and 15 operated from the bases and supplied reinforce­ments to Port Stanley. Turnround facilities were provided for reconnaissance and supply missions over the Falkland Islands, and 4 Canberras operated from the bases in the latter stages of the campaign.

16. Santa Cruz. It is assessed that 8 Pucaras were based at Santa Cruz for the duration of hostilities. No further information is available.

17. San Julian. San Julian was the third major base for combat operations. It is assessed that a unit comprising up to 12 Skyhawks and a unit comprising up to 12 Mirage Vs operated from that base.

18. Comodoro Rivadavia. The airfield at Comodoro Rivadavia is assessed to have been the base for a number of types of aircraft. It is likely that it was the base for the C130 force, for 2 Fokker F27s, for 3 Pucaras and for 4 Mirage IIIs in the air defence role. During April and early May it was also used by variable numbers of A4 Skyhawks and Mirage Vs.

19. Trelew. Trelew was the major deployment base for the Canberra force which was based at Parna in peacetime. The base also operated 8 Pucaras and 1 Fokker F27 during the campaign, and there is evidence of Skyhawk operations.

20. Tandil. Tandil was the main base for the Mirage Vs, and as such provided replacements and reinforcements to other bases. On 6 June the first 8 of the Peruvian Mirage Vs were moved to Tandil, to be followed a few days later by 2 more.

21. Espora. Espora was the main base for the Super Etendards, though these aircraft were moved frequently during the campaign. The main operations concerned the 3 Boeing 707s and up to 4 Trackers in the ocean reconnaissance role.

22. El Palomar and Puerto Deseado. It is assessed that on occasions some of the Super Etendard force operated from El Palomar and Puerto Deseado.

23. Villa Reynolds and Mendoza. Villa Reynolds and Mendoza were operating bases for the A4B and A4C Skyhawks respectively, and provided replacements to the southern bases. Mendoza was also the base for a squadron of F86 aircraft whose role was to defend against attack from Chile.

24. Moreno. Between 10 and 12 Mirage IIIs were held at Moreno airfield near to Buenos Aires in order to provide air defence of the capital.

25. Units Involved. The Argentine air units known to be involved in the campaign are listed at Annex G.

 

ASSESSMENT OF AIR ACTIVITIES

26. An assessment of the capabilities of the Argentine air arms was available early in the campaign. This indicated that an average aircraft serviceability rate of 60% could be expected from the A4s and Mirages, falling sharply to 40% or lower after a short period of intensive operations. C130 serviceability was expected to be in the order of 80%. Aircraft would have to be deployed to the southern mainland bases in order to have an effective capability against UK units, thus indicating a potential for 2 or 3 sorties per aircraft per day. Initially it was assessed that the Argentine air arms could mount a maximum of 150 sorties per day against the Task Force. The major problems that would limit the Argentine air effort was assessed to be a lack of spares for aircraft systems, and the deployment of aircraft to the southern bases would exacerbate the problem by putting pressure on their logistic organisation. However, the turn-round and maintenance of aircraft was assessed to be of a high standard. Aircrew were considered to be well motivated and skilled, with high levels of skill and experience amongst squadron commanders and operations officers. Flying hours in peacetime were considered compatible with maintaining aircrew efficiency, and generally speaking the least experienced pilots flew the A4 then graduated to the Mirage, and the C130 pilots were the most experienced. The air arms were assessed to have a significant night capability but there was little evidence of live weapon training.

 

DATA ON AIR ACTIVITIES

27. In an effort to study the Argentine air activity in detail various data were examined. Firstly the intelligence assessments of the daily AOB at individual airfields indicated the potential sortie rate from each airfield. Information on the actual daily sortie rate from certain airfields was available from Operation SHUTTER. This information, though incomplete, gives the daily number of launches detected from the significant southern bases. It is, however, only comprehensive for Rio Grande, Rio Gallegos and Comodoro Rivadavia during late May and early June. These data are drawn together in Annex H to give an indication of the variation of sortie rate generated by the Argentines, but they do not give an absolute value of the sortie rate. The various contact reports made by UK forces give an indication of the intensity of activity against TF317, though these again will be incomplete and take no account of aborted or failed missions. However, this aspect is covered to some degree by reports of the Argentine view of operations.

28. Due to the fact that there was much movement of aircraft between the main­land bases the intelligence assessments of dispositions are vague, especially with regard to the division of aircraft between Rio Grande and Rio Gallegos. However, by combining the AOB of the 2 bases the figures available show that the ratio of aircraft deployed to daily launches detected is between 1.0 and 1.5. With the aircraft generally flying 1 sortie per day but on occasions 2 sorties, this would indicate a serviceability rate of the order of 70% as expected. The figures for Comodoro Rivadavia are largely in agreement. Other sources of information confirm that the Argentines habitually achieved serviceabilities of up to 80% with their combat aircraft, the notable exception being the Neptunes which were very old. Transport aircraft also achieved the expected rate of up to 80%. Battle damage repair was normally effected overnight and was exclusively the repair of damage caused by anti-aircraft fire; missile hits resulted in the loss of the aircraft. However, to place the serviceability rates in perspective it must be remembered that the A4 and Mirage V units replaced unserviceable aircraft with others from their respective main bases, and the cannibalisation of long term unserviceable aircraft was widely practised.

 

Categories of Air Activity

29. Argentine air activity that directly affected the campaign has been divided into 3 categories, namely:

  1. Sorties concerning combat with elements of TF317.
  2. Sorties concerning the reinforcement and supply of the forces occupying the Falkland Islands.
  3. Sorties concerning the reconnaissance of elements of TF317.

 

Combat Sorties

30. Although no indication is available of the operational plans of the Argentine command, it is possible to identify the significant raids carried out by their air arms and their objectives. These are listed at Annex I. Battle was not joined with TF317 until it entered the TEZ on 1 May. On that day Argentina launched 2 types of combat mission; one a series of medium level missions to either engage the Sea Harriers or to tempt them into the AAA cover from Port Stanley, and the other a series of low level attack formations against the ships. The first consisted of up to 6 pairs of Mirage IIIs and the second of 2 trios of Canberras, 1 trio of Pucaras, a formation of 3 or 4 Mirage Vs and an unknown number of A4Bs. By no means were all of these formations successful in finding their targets, and out of at least 25 combat aircraft committed 4 were lost, with further losses on the ground due to bombing. These losses in the air, possibly amounting to 16%, could account for the lack of activity over the next four days.

31. Unsuccessful sorties were made by a pair of A4Qs and a pair of Super Etendards on 2 May, and by four A4Cs on 9 May, though 2 of the latter failed to return to base. However, on 4 May, 2 Super Etendards made a successful attack on HMS Sheffield after receiving target information from a Neptune. The next significant raid was that on HMS Brilliant and HMS Glasgow on 12 May by 2 formations of four A4Bs. Although HMS Glasgow was badly damaged, the attacking aircraft suffered 50% attrition; no further raids took place until the tactical situation was changed by the landings at San Carlos. It is estimated that up to 70 aircraft were committed against units in the AOA on 21 May and between 13 and 16 were destroyed in the air, an attrition rate of at least 20%. Such a rate cannot be sustained, and on the following day only a single A4 is known to have appeared over the AOA. However, on 23 May and 24 May the attacks were resumed on the AOA. Though it has not been possible to establish the numbers involved it is estimated that approximately 20 air­craft attacked on each day for the loss of at least 6 and 4 aircraft respectively. In addition, a pair of Super Etendards are believed to have flown in an attempt to locate and attack the CVBG but failed to find their target.

32. The raids on 25 May were more spread out. At least 1 formation of A4s attacked units in the AOA, and 4 of a formation of six A4Bs completed a successful attack on HMS Coventry. Also, 2 Super Etendards successfully launched missiles against SS Atlantic Conveyor. Over the next 2 weeks no large raid was launched, though individual formations attacked units of TF317. The 2 major incidents in this period were the land battle for Goose Green and Darwin on 28 and 29 May, where many Pucara sorties were flown, and the unsuccessful attack by 2 Super Etendards and four A4Gs against the CVBG on 30 May. Attrition in this raid was 33%.

33. Activity in the final 2 weeks of the campaign was again sporadic, with isolated raids against the ground forces that were advancing towards Port Stanley. A significant proportion of these raids were at night by the Canberras. The only sizable raid in this final period was on 8 June, when in excess of 20 aircraft were launched against units in Falkland Sound, on East Falkland, and at Bluff Cove, causing the loss of RFAs Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram. An attrition rate in the order of 15% was suffered by the Argentines on that day. The final attack was carried out on 14 June by 4 Mirage Vs against ground forces around Port Stanley.

34. The combat effort was largely mounted from the southern mainland bases and from the Falkland Islands bases, the only significant exception being the Canberra missions flown from Trelew. The Pucaras, Mentors and Aermacchi MB 339s were used from the island bases in support of ground forces and on some anti-ship missions, and the A4s, Mirage IIIs and Vs and Super Etendards generally mounted operations from Rio Grande and Rio Gallegos. Combat operations by the Argentines do not appear to have involved the maximum effort expected. Although it was initially assessed possible for aircraft based at Rio Grande and Rio Gallegos to fly up to 3 missions over the Falkland Islands per day, evidence suggests that they only rarely exceeded 2 missions. This is the more surprising in view of the generous aircrew to aircraft ratio enjoyed by most units; the 1st Fighter-Bomber Squadron (A4C) had a ratio of 3:1 at its deployment base of Rio Gallegos. The expected sustained attacks did not largely materialise, though activity within the AOA was intense in the days following the landings.

Attacks were not mounted every day, due to either the weather conditions or command decisions to rest and re-group forces. In order to attack the ships that were outside the AOA the Argentines had to first locate them. The position of Task Force units was established either by reconnaissance, or by the use of radar on the Falkland Islands. If radar could not directly detect the ships the position at which the Sea Harriers appeared or disappeared from radar was used to predict the position of the CVBG.

35. The aircraft type that flew the most missions in the campaign was the A4 Skyhawk. Four squadrons were involved, 1 Navy A4Q squadron disembarked from the carrier "25 de Mayo" to Rio Grande, and 3 Air Force squadrons (see Annex G). They were employed exclusively in the attack role, and AAR was used on most, if not all, missions. A towline was set up off the southern mainland coast for the use of returning aircraft, and in fact on 3 occasions Skyhawks with punctured systems were recovered to base whilst receiving fuel from the KC-130 tanker.

There is no firm indication of the number of A4 sorties flown in the campaign, but it is estimated to be well in excess of 200 for a loss of between 25 and 37 aircraft.

36. The second most significant combat type was the Mirage V, also in the attack role, with 1 squadron deployed to Rio Grande and another to Rio Gallegos. Up to 10 May the Mirage V pilots were briefed to engage in air combat if the opportunity was presented, but thereafter the order was to attack and escape as quickly as possible. Reports indicate that approximately 160 Mirage V combat sorties were flown during the campaign, for the loss of between 11 and 22 air­craft. Due to their lack of suitable over-sea navigation equipment the Mirage Vs were led by a Learjet on their outbound leg, though reports indicate that they successfully found their intended target on less than 50% of occasions. Drop tanks were carried, but were only jettisoned if the Falkland Islands radar gave warning of Sea Harriers in the vicinity.

37. The Navy Super Etendard unit operated mainly from Rio Gallegos during operations, though they were moved frequently to counter any possible special forces raid against them. A total of 10 combat sorties were flown, always as pairs, and all 5 Exocet missiles were fired for two hits. Only 4 aircraft were used by the unit, the fifth being cannibalised for spare parts, and AAR was used both before an attack, and after if required. The small Canberra force conducted an unknown number of missions, possibly in the order of 30-50, from its deployment base at Trelew. They were used for daylight attacks in the early stages but changed to night medium and low level bombing later in the campaign.

38. A large unit of approximately 24 Pucaras was based on the Falkland Islands during the campaign, using the airfields at Goose Green and Pebble Island as well as Port Stanley. It is reported that in excess of 180 sorties were flown in the period, all in support of ground forces with the exception of a 3-aircraft attack against ships on 1 May. The aircraft were flown with only 1 pilot and aircrew flew, on average, 1 sortie per day. Although all of the unit's aircraft were lost by the end of hostilities, only 5 were lost whilst airborne.

39. It has been assessed that 2800 hours were flown on combat sorties during the campaign, which would appear to be an excessive estimate when compared with the estimated maximum of 600 combat sorties in the 6 weeks. The maximum effort achieved was on 21 May when 70 combat sorties were launched. However, this was never repeated, and only on rare occasions were more than 20 combat sorties launched in a day. This is well below the theoretical capability calculated at the start of the campaign and the evidence suggests that there was no desire on the part of the Argentine command to exert a sustained pressure on the Task Force with the assets at their disposal.

 

Supply Sorties

40. Many aircraft types conducted both supply and reconnaissance missions so it is difficult to differentiate between effort expended on each. However, generally speaking, reinforcement and supply of the Falkland Islands garrison was carried out up to 1 May by all available aircraft that could use the 4000ft runway at Port Stanley. This included all piston and turbo-prop aircraft in the inventory, plus the Fokker F28. For the rest of the campaign supply flights were carried out at night, again by all available types.

The C130 Hercules were, it is believed, often escorted by Mirage III fighters on the outbound leg and typically spent 20 min on the ground at Port Stanley with engines running. It is believed that in excess of 7000 hours were flown by transport aircraft during the build-up of forces on the Falkland Islands between 2 April and 30 April. This would equate to approximately 50 round trips per day between the mainland and the Falkland Islands, and is possibly an over-estimate. After 1 May approximately 500 transport hours were flown in maintenance of the garrison. There was a marked increase in activity on 22 May following the landings at San Carlos and in the final days before the Argentine surrender.

 

Reconnaissance Sorties

41. The initial reconnaissance of the Task Force whilst it was in transit from Ascension Island to the TEZ was carried out by Boeing 707s of the 1st Transport Squadron based at El Palomar. Reconnaissance of South Georgia was also carried out by the C130s of the same squadron. Subsequently Fokker F27s, Trackers and the ageing Neptunes were also involved in the maritime reconnaissance task, though after 15 May the Neptunes ceased to operate, due to gross unserviceabilities.

They were replaced by the Bandeirantes on loan from Brazil. The Learjet photographic reconnaissance unit operated with 4 aircraft during the campaign and conducted 129 sorties. In addition to their reconnaissance tasks they were used to lead Mirage V formations, though it is not known how much effort was expended on each task. A total of 2250 hours were flown on reconnaissance tasks over the whole campaign, with again a marked increase following the landings and just prior to the surrender.

 

SIGNIFICANT POINTS ON ARGENTINE OPERATIONS

42. Operations during the campaign were significant from the Argentine military planning point of view in the following respects:

  1. Most units undertook roles for which they were not established.
  2. Most units carried out operations from bases other than their main operating base.
  3. Mixed formations were flown for operational reasons.
  4. Heavy reliance was placed on the use of AAR.

43. Only the Argentine naval units had envisaged operations against ships, and the Super Etendard unit (2nd Naval Fighter Attack Squadron) had not completed training at the start of the campaign. The Air Force A4 and Mirage V units learnt the skills of anti-ship attack by operational experience and from briefing by the 3rd Naval Fighter Attack Squadron (A4Q). The 1st Air Photography Squadron operated their Learjets in the pathfinder role leading Mirage V formations in addition to photographic reconnaissance work, and the C130s and Boeing 707s of the 1st Transport Squadron were used for reconnaissance as well as supply work. Even the Canberras of the 1st Bomber Squadron were employed in the night low level role for which they had had little training.

44. Most units were required to deploy to bases either on the Falkland Islands or in the southern part of the mainland in order to be within range of their enemy. This created logistics and engineering problems though many units such as the A4 and Mirage V squadrons returned aircraft to their main bases for repair.

45. There were a number of mixed formations, contrary to normal practice within the Argentine air arms. The Mirage IIIs only engaged in direct combat on 1 May, thereafter they were used to escort supply flights into the Falkland Islands and retained for air defence of mainland installations. Also, as already mentioned, the Mirage V attack formations were led on many occasions by a Learjet due to their limited navigational capability over sea, and on 30 May a formation of Navy Super Etendards and Air Force A4Cs attacked the CVBG.

46. The use of AAR was significant in the A4 and Super Etendard raids, being used at least once on all missions. The range of potential targets from the southern bases dictated that all Super Etendard missions required AAR and the A4s were afforded a low level approach to their targets and useful combat fuel. Only 2 KC-130 tankers were available to the Argentines, and normal procedure appears to have been to establish a towline approximately 150nm off the southern coast between the mainland and the Falkland Islands. This would be available both before and after the attack. An outbound refuelling would effectively increase radius of action by about 90nm, assuming that the aircraft were fully refuelled, and an inbound refuelling would be used to increase diversion fuel and compensate for higher than expected fuel usage in the combat zone. Cases were reported of battle damaged A-4s returning to base in contact with a tanker in order to counter leaking fuel systems. On only 1 occasion were 3 refuellings made during a mission. This was on 30 May when 2 Super Etendards and 4 A-4Cs attacked the Invincible group. A second outbound refuelling was made in the vicinity of West Falkland in order to allow the formation to attack from the south-east. This high-risk operation was no doubt undertaken in an attempt to secure a valuable military and propaganda victory, the sinking of a carrier, and was the final operation with Exocet-armed Super Etendards. The Argentines were obviously limited by having only 2 tankers. This was probably a reason why attacks by A-4s on the AOA were sequenced, rather than co-ordinated in order to saturate defences. In fact, it appears that one formation was recovered before the next was launched. The largest formation refuelled was the 6 aircraft on the 30 May raid, and the normal number was 4.

 

CONCLUSIONS

47. The Argentine air arms conducted a 10 week campaign during which time they carried out air supply of their forces in the Falkland Islands, reconnaissance of UK forces in the South Atlantic, and engaged units of TF317. Though they sustained considerable damage, it is fair to say that their air forces were not beaten and remained as a viable force at the end of hostilities. The 4 air arms were, within their own spheres, generally capable and well organised, though limited in AAR and reconnaissance assets. A lack of aircraft spares may also have limited their effectiveness. Of the 3 facets of operations, the Argentine air arms are considered to have been successful in the air supply of their forces, only partially successful in the reconnaissance task, and to have inflicted significant attrition on UK naval forces. No militarily significant success was achieved against UK land forces ashore.

48. Nearly all units involved in the campaign deployed to one of the southern bases or to the Falkland Islands. In this the Argentine logistics organisation was most probably put under unusual pressure but appears to have coped. Reported Argentine aircraft serviceability was good in view of their forward deployment, and generally, aircraft were returned to their main base for servicing or rectification if possible.

49. Fewer sorties were mounted per airframe than might have been expected, though it is uncertain whether this was due to losses and damage sustained, serviceability problems or command decisions. Crew ratios do not appear to have limited daily sortie rate.

50. Argentine losses of aircraft have been difficult to establish. A number of the claimed kills by UK forces have been confirmed from independent sources, but some remain unconfirmed even when multiple claims on the same aircraft are discounted. The losses of combat aircraft during the campaign amounted to at least 34% of the inventory of those types committed, and may have been as high as 44%. The figures for helicopters were 22% and 24%, and 6% of the transport fleet was lost. Of greater significance was the attrition rate per raid in the major raids against UK forces. This typically ranged from 15% to 50%, and is a heavy attrition rate by any standards. In addition, because of the areas in which combat took place, the loss of an aircraft also resulted in the loss of the crew, for at least the duration of the conflict. Approximately two thirds of aircraft losses resulted in the death of the crew.

51. The limited AAR resources available to the Argentines were used effectively but the lack of assets obviously placed a limitation on the number of aircraft able to attack at any one time. The lack of sufficient suitable reconnaissance air­craft meant that transport aircraft had to be utilised in this role, and the lack of sufficient reconnaissance effort contributed to a number of aborted attack missions. No attempt to establish air superiority over the Falkland Islands was made after 1 May, the Mirage IIIs being retained for air defence of mainland installations and the Mirage Vs being used solely in the attack role. There was no significant close air support of ground forces, and little attempt to interdict the bridgehead ashore. The priority at all times appears to have been to attack the shipping targets.

52. Attacks were mounted in formations that rarely exceeded 4 aircraft, usually of the same type. Attacks were in sequence rather than co-ordinated, in part due to limited AAR assets, whereas a concentration of attacking aircraft could possibly have swamped defences and reduced the significant losses sustained during attacks. Had the Argentines employed CAP aircraft in order to engage the Sea Harriers this could again have reduced their losses. However, the only attempt to counter the air assets of TF317 appears to have been the repeated attempts to sink one of the aircraft carriers, presumably for propaganda as well as military reasons. Overall, the Argentine air arms engaged UK forces in the most heavily defended areas, such as the AOA and in the vicinity of the CVBG, and suffered accordingly.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

53. The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Operational Evaluation Group (RN), Northwood in the collection of data for this report.


LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS

AAA

Anti-Aircraft Artillery

AAR

Air to Air Refuelling

AOA

Amphibious Operations Area

AOB

Air Order of Battle

ARA

Armada Argentina (Argentine Navy)

CAP

Combat Air Patrol

CVBG

Aircraft Carrier Battle Group

FAA

Fuerza Aera Argentina (Argentine Air Force)

PNA

Prefectura Naval Argentina (Argentine Coastguard)

RoA

Radius of Action

TEZ

Total Exclusion Zone

TF

Task Force

 

 

UK EYES A
SECRET



ANNEX A TO
ORB REPORT 1/83

DATED SEP 83

 

CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS

1.

2 April 82

Argentina invades the Falkland Islands.

2.

3 April 82

Argentina invades South Georgia.

3.

21 April 82

First Argentina Boeing 707 reconnaissance of the Task Force.

4.

23 April 82

Argentina is warned that any aircraft approaching the Task Force that is considered hostile will be dealt with appropriately.

5.

25 April 82

South Georgia is recaptured.

6.

30 April 82

UK establishes a Total Exclusion Zone around the Falkland Islands.

7.

1 May 82

First Argentine attacks on the Task Force.

8.

4 May 82

Super Etendard/Exocet attack on HMS Sheffield.

9.

7 May 82

Argentina is warned that any aircraft that is more than 12nm from her coast will be considered hostile.

10.

12 May 82

A4 attacks against HMS Brilliant and Glasgow.

11.

14 May 82

Special Forces raid against the Argentine airfield on Pebble Island.

12.

21 May 82

UK forces land at San Carlos. Argentine attacks on ships in the AOA.

13.

23 May 82

Argentine attacks on the AOA.

14.

24 May 82

Argentine attacks on the AOA.

15.

25 May 82

Argentine attacks on the AOA and a Super Etendard/Exocet attack on the Carrier Battle Group (CVBG).

16.

27 May 82

Argentine attacks on the AOA.

17.

29 May 82

Argentine attacks on the AOA and a C-130 attack on MV British Wye.

18.

30 May 82

A4 and Super Etendard/Exocet attack on the CVBG.

19.

4 June 82

Canberra attack against ground force on MV Kent.

20.

8 June 82

Argentine attacks on the Bluff Cove landings and on HMS Plymouth.

21.

13 June 82

A4 attacks on ground forces.

22.

14 June 82

Argentine forces in the Falkland Islands surrender.

 

[Source: TNA DEFE 58/274, transcribed by www.arcre.com]