Aerial Warfare and Maritime Expeditionary Operations: Naval Aviation Versus Land-Based Air Power in the 1982 Falklands War

Brock Reumkens


The Falkland Islands, located 400 miles off the coast of southern Argentina in the South Atlantic, were the site of a bitter conflict from April to June of 1982 between the military forces Argentina and the United Kingdom. The Falklands, having long been claimed by Argentina, were invaded and occupied on 2 April leading to the despatching of a naval Task Force by the United Kingdom to liberate the islands and its pro-British inhabitants. Air power played an integral role in supporting the respective Argentine and British maritime expeditionary operations, but it was ultimately the U.K.'s limited naval aviation capability which proved more effective in this role and eventually contributed towards a British victory by 14 June 1982. The purpose of this paper is to determine why British sea-based air power brought onboard its two small aircraft carriers proved more capable than Argentina's numerically-superior land-based air and naval air forces in assisting ground and naval forces in a maritime expeditionary operation. To determine why this was the case, nine factors influencing the effectiveness of land and sea-based air power will be applied to the aerial campaign of the 1982 Falklands War. Doctrine, training, aerial tactics, military technology, aerial intelligence, serviceability, military interoperability, geography, and logistics are factors applicable to the different forms of military aviation utilized by both combatants. By assessing Argentina and the U.K. in these nine areas, specific considerations and requirements for the effective employment of land and sea-based air power in support of maritime expeditionary operations will be demonstrated.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.