Never Underestimate Determined Ersatz AAA

With this month being the 39th anniversary of the Falkland Island dustup, it is worth mentioning small arms vs modern combat jets. The Fuerza Aerea Argentina (FAA) and Comando de Aviacion Naval Argentina (CANA) flew several makes of then-top-notch aircraft, including Mirage IIIs, IAI Daggers, A-4 Skyhawks, and Super Etendard as well as some locally-made prop-driven COIN aircraft (Pucaras) and helicopters.

Argentine Mirage attacks San Carlos Harbor Falklands 1982

Argentine Mirage V passes between British ships after a bombing run during the Falklands War, 1982

To defeat the onslaught of these aircraft, often flown by fearless crews at wave- and hill-top level at the end of their endurance, the Brits had what was seen at the time as some of the best SAMs available— shore-based Rapiers, Blowpipe and Stinger MANPADS, as well as a phalanx of ship-based Sea Wolf, Sea Dart, Sea Slug, and Sea Cat.

The problem was, most of the British missile defenses proved ineffective against the collection of 140 Argentine tactical aircraft, leaving the 34 overworked Royal Navy and Air Force Harriers to do much of the heavy lifting over the battleground in combat air patrols. Of the 45 Argentine aircraft destroyed in the air, Harriers accounted for 20-21, the vaunted Rapier claimed only a single aircraft, Sea Dart 7, Sea Wolf 4, the older Sea Cat system one, Blowpipe/Stinger 3, friendly fire 2, and small arms gunfire at least 5– making humble machine guns and rifles almost as effective as the best SAM system used. Of course, most of this was due to the low-level nature of the Argentine strikes, but hitting a jet moving at 500+ knots as it screams overhead is no easy feat.

British soldier aboard the HMS Canberra waiting for an Argentine air attack with his FN MAG. Falklands War, 1982 IWM

THE FALKLANDS CONFLICT, APRIL – JUNE 1982 (FKD 933) A Gurkha of 1st Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles mans a 7.62 mm Machine Guns on an anti-aircraft mounting as a defense against Argentine air attack, probably in the Bluff Cove area. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Ships’ crews even used SLRs from the small arms locker in hope of making a hit on the low-flying fast movers

Of the gunfire shootdowns, two were helicopters (Pumas) forced to set down after being hit, another was a Pucara downed by paratroopers at Goose Green, an A-4 shot down by small arms fire from the landing ship HMS Fearless (L10), and a further Sky Hawk splashed by an eyeball-directed manned 20mm Oerlikon cannon from the frigate HMS Antelope (F170).

Likewise, there were other Argentine jets that made it back home carrying 7.62 bullet holes as a souvenir of their time over the Falklands.

Argentine Mirage hit by 7.62 NATO round while over San Carlos. 

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