Tag Archives: falklands

Budget Flattops of Opportunity: Entering the Age of the Drone Carrier

While China, the U.S., France, Britain and India are collectively spending billions in treasure and decades of time to develop modern supercarriers to deliver wings of advanced combat aircraft across any coastline in the world, countries with a more modest budget are going a different route.

Rather than a 40,000+ ton vessel with a crew of 1K plus in its smallest format, simpler flattops filled with UAVs are now leaving the drawing board and taking to the water.


As previously reported, Turkey, which had built a 25,000-ton/762-foot variant of the Spanish LHA Juan Carlos I with the intention of using a dozen F-35Bs from her deck, kicking the country out of the F-35 program left it with a spare carrier and no aircraft. They have fixed that by planning to embark now Navy-operated AH-1 Cobra gunships and as many as 40 domestically-produced Bayraktar TB3s drones on deck with the promise of at least that many stowed below.


The Royal Thai Navy took the Spanish Navy’s Príncipe de Asturias Harrier carrier design of the 1980s (which in itself was based on the old U.S. Navy’s Sea Control Ship project of the 1970s) and built the ski-jump equipped 11,500-ton HTMS Chakri Naruebet some 25 years ago.

Royal Thai Navy AV-8S Matador VSTOL fighters on HTMS Chakri Naruebet (CVH-911) harrier carrier, a capability they had from 1997-2006. 

Originally fielding a tiny force of surplus ex-Spanish AV-8S Matadors which were withdrawn from service in 2006, she has been largely relegated to use as a royal yacht and sometime LPH, reportedly only getting to sea about 12 days a year.

However, since at least last November, the Royal Thai Navy has been testing a series of drones including the locally-produced MARCUS-B (Maritime Aerial Reconnaissance Craft Unmanned System-B) Vertical Take-Off and Landing UAV from the carrier and started taking delivery of RQ-21A Blackjack drones from the U.S. in May.


As detailed by Naval News, the Portuguese Navy (Marinha Portuguesa) unveiled details on a new drone mothership project dubbed “plataforma naval multifuncional” (multifunctional naval platform). Initial brainstorming shows an LPH-style vessel that could hit the 10,000-ton range.

The mothership is shown with two notional fixed-wing UAVs on deck (they look like MQ-1C Grey Eagle but the new MQ-9B STOL may be a better fit) as well as 6 quad-copter UAVs and one NH90 helicopter. The design seems to lack an aviation hangar. Below decks is a modular area to launch and recover AUV, UUV and USV. Portuguese Navy image.

The fixed-wing UAVs are launched via a ski jump. Portuguese Navy image.


Last week, the Iranians showed off their new “Drone-Carrier Division” in the Indian Ocean including a Kilo-class submarine Tareq (901), auxiliary ship Delvar (471), and landing ship Lavan (514). Iranian state TV claimed one unnamed vessel currently carries at least 50 drones, which isn’t unbelievable.

As noted by Janes

Most were launched from rails using rocket boosters, including what appeared to be Ababil-2 and Arash types, which can be used to conduct one-way attacks. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) television news coverage of the event showed a floating target and a target on land being hit by UAVs.

The one launched from the submarine appeared to be a new, smaller type, roughly similar in size and configuration to the Warmate loitering munition made by Poland’s WB Group.

A UAV that appeared to be an Ababil-3 – a reusable surveillance type with wheeled undercarriage – was shown taking off from Lavan from a rail. The UAV may have been fitted with a parachute and a flotation device so it can be recovered from the sea, although this was not shown.

Welcome to 2022.

The Refuse of War, 40 Years on

On 14 June 1982, the two-brigade-sized British Army and Marine force secured the final defeat of a reinforced division-sized Argentine military element in the Falkland Islands.

Original telex message from Major-General Sir Jeremy Moore to London announcing the recapture of the Falkland Islands, 14 June 1982. The signal, marking the end of the Falklands War (1982), is based in part on a similar surrender signal sent to Winston Churchill by Field Marshal Montgomery from North West Europe in May 1945. NAM. 2013-11-17-1

As the Argentines were quickly repatriated, sans equipment and arms (except for being able to march off with their unit flags while the officers, in an ode to chivalry, kept their sidearms) the invaders left behind a lot of gear that became the property of the Crown.

A rubber-booted SAS man, armed with an M16, inspects captured Argentine weapons in the Falklands. In his hands is an American-made M3 Grease Gun SMG. The pile includes a 90mm M20 “Super bazooka,” assorted FN FAL rifles, and other items, now all “property of the Queen.”  

Captured Argentinian firearms following their surrender. Note the FALs and FN MAG 58s

A Royal Marine Commando very happy with his second-hand Argentine M20 3.5-inch Super Bazooka, of U.S. origins

The haul included:

100 Mercedes-Benz MB 1112/13/14 trucks (Which the Argentines bought on credit and did not pay West Germany for)
20 Unimogs
20 Mercedes-Benz G-Class jeeps
12 French Panhard ERV 90mm armored cars
1 SAM Roland launcher
4 SAM Tigercat launchers
1 Improvised shore-based Exocet ASM launcher with four missiles
3 CITER 155mm L33 Guns
10 Oto Melara Mod 56 105mm pack guns along with 11,000 shells
15 120mm RCLs with rockets
15 Oerlikon twin 35mm GDF and Rheinmetall twin 20mm air defense cannons
1 AN/TPS-43 3D mobile air search radar
10 Skyguard, Super Fledermaus, ELTA, and RASIT AAA fire control radars
Over 90 (British-made!) Blowpipe MANPAD SAMs
Assorted Soviet-made SA-7 MANPADs (120 supplied to Buenos Aries in late May by Gaddafi’s Libya)
11 FMA IA 58 Pucará COIN aircraft, formerly of the Argentine Air Force, many destroyed on the ground by SAS
2 former Army Agusta A109
7 former Army Bell UH-1H Iroquois
1 Army CH-47C Chinook
1 Aérospatiale Puma SA330L in Argentine Coast Guard markings
3 Argentine Navy Aermacchi MB.339A trainers
11,000 small arms, mostly FN FAL variants, as well as assorted M1911 and Browning Hi-Power clones
Over 500 assorted machine guns, usually FN MAG 58 variants but also some M2 .50 cals
4 million 7.62 NATO rounds
The Argentine Coast Guard Z-28-class patrol boat Islas Malvinas (GC82)
Plus lots of interesting night vision goggles, thermal imagers, portable radars, EW, and commo equipment

As the FALs were select-fire metric variants rather than UK-standard L1A1 inch-pattern semi-autos, they did not mesh with the British supply train and were mostly discarded– dumped at sea in the deepwater offshore.

The horror…

Some rumors persist that at least a few container loads were clandestinely given away to needy anti-communist guerillas in Third World stomping grounds but, of course, those are just rumors until such action is declassified. What is known is that at least some were transferred to the Sierra Leone government as military aid for their security forces.

Plus, the MOD was totally against any trophies being brought back home, as had occurred in the World Wars and Korea.

Warning from Captain Seymour, RFA Resource, regarding Argentinian equipment

But what of the larger stuff?

Some 90 Blowpipes were discovered among the Argentine equipment

Argentia’s occupation force included 12 of these Panhard AML-90 armored cars. Due to the terrain on the islands, they were restricted to the roads around Port Stanley and saw very little fighting. They were all captured more or less intact and the two best examples were brought to the UK. One is at the Household Cavalry barracks in Bulford, and one is in The Tank Museum collection.

AML 90 Argentine Panhard circa 1966 production captured in Falklands 1982 on display at Bovington

AML-90s in Port Stanley

One of the two CITER 155s brought back to the UK, is currently at the Marine Museum in Norfolk

The ammunition and Blowpipes, however, were absorbed and fired off by the MOD in training. No word on what happened to the SA-7s, but if you told me they made it to the muj in Afghanistan who were then fighting the Soviets, as often hinted at, I would not scoff.

Libyan-supplied SA-7s recovered in the Falklands

Likewise, the vehicles were kept in the Falklands and used by the follow-on garrison with some of the Unimogs surviving into the 1990s.

One of the captured Argentine Panhards has long been on display at the Bovington Tank Museum while most ended up as hard targets for the British Falklands garrison.

Perhaps the most useful of the kit, the Skyguard radars, and Oerlikon flak guns, were used by the RAF Regiment, protecting airbases in the UK, against the Russians until the end of the Cold War.

Men of 1/7th Gurkhas (Duke of Edinburgh’s Own) just before Stanley with a captured Argie 20mm AAA gun

Captured Argentine Oerlikon 35 mm twin Cannon

Cañon bitubo Oerlikon de 35 mm en Puerto Argentino

The British inherited some advanced Swiss and German AAA guns, gently-used

The aircraft and artillery pieces were typically just used as museum pieces except for the damaged Chinook, which was mated with other parts and returned to service with the RAF.

RAF Harrier GR3 at RAF Stanley with several Pucara wrecks in the background. Notice the matting on the ground.

22 SAS D squadron commander Cedric Delves Pebble Island Pucara, after the surrender in June 1982, looking at their work handiwork. Note the M-16s, which the SAS and SBS used almost exclusively

A Boeing Chinook (k Bravo Juliet off Atlantic Contender) hauls the wreck of an Argentinian Pucara away. The Pucara is a ground attack aircraft but had little impact on the battle. A captured Pucara is in storage at the RAF Museum.

A Pucara wreck. Some were brought to Britain for tests but most wrecks stayed on the islands for several months, proving popular with incoming garrisons looking for a photo op

As for the 90-foot patrol boat Islas Malvinas, she was renamed HMS Tiger Bay and used until 1986 when she was sold for scrap which is a pity as she would have made an interesting little museum ship that would have required little in the way of maintenance.

HMS Tiger Bay as PNA Islas Malvinas (GC-82)

Goose Green at 40

The most significant land battle fought by modern Western armies since WWII took place some 40 years ago this week, pitting some ~700 British paratroopers of 2 PARA, augmented by elements of the Royal Marines and SAS, against some 1,200 Argentines including conscripts of the 12th (12IR) and ranger-style elite troops of the 25th Infantry (25IR) Regiment with supporting forces. Although fought in 1982, other than the use of a handful of shoulder-fired guided missiles and the fleeting presence of helicopters, it was not much different from a battalion-level scrap in 1945.

In the end, it came down to little groups of men with rifles, sub guns, and, yes, even bayonets, fighting for inches and paying with blood.

At the end of the day, 2 PARA suffered so many casualties– including its commander — to meet the historical definition of being decimated while the Argentines were all either killed or captured.

Cheerful soldiers of 2 Parachute Regiment, wearing full combat gear, celebrate the surrender of Argentine forces at Goose Green. By Hudson, Ronald (Sergeant) IWM FKD 2323 http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124336

Argentine prisoners of war pass a wrecked Pucara ground attack aircraft, Goose Green, 1982 NAM

Despite their name and unit history, 2 PARA arrived in the Falklands by ship, made a “feet wet” amphibious landing on 24 May, and walked almost the entire route from San Carlos to Port Stanly across inhospitable terrain, fighting both at Goose Green and again a fortnight later at Wireless Ridge, then walked into Stanley for the liberation on 14 June.

Their only airlift, from Darwin to the Fitzroy, was a brief one on 2 June by the sole British CH-47 (Bravo November) that made it ashore in which some 81 Paras were crammed into the chopper. A second trap crammed 75 men. 

Talk about a rough three weeks.

Landing craft sail past HMS Fearless, carrying men of 2 Para from SS Canberra to San Carlos, during the Falklands War

Heavily laden British soldiers of 11 Platoon, D Company, 2 Para wait to embark in a helicopter at Fitzroy during the Falklands Conflict. The three seen are (left to right) Private Dave Parr (who was killed shortly afterward during the assault on Wireless Ridge – having earlier been shot at Goose Green), Lance Corporal Neil Turner, and Private Terry Stears. IWM FKD 2124 http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205190560

2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment enter Port Stanley on foot, in 1982. NAM. 2004-12-35-8

Just after Goose Green, Para-qualified Lt. Col. David Chaundler was rushed from a staff position with MoD in London, boarded an RAF C-130 for Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island, then carried another 3,300 miles for a solo parachute landing into the sea from 1,500, feet into the South Atlantic, landing near the frigate HMS Penelope. Dubbed Operation Ursula, it remains the longest distance combat drop (8,000 miles all told) into an active conflict zone in history, and Chaundler, who led 2 PARA at Wireless Ridge, was the only member of the Parachute Regiment to jump during the Falklands.

Falklands land campaign, note the path of 2 Para at the bottom in dark red.

The British over the weekend marked the 40th Anniversary of the liberation of Goose Green, East Falkland.

“With a brisk wind blowing snow across the monument, a service of commemoration was held to remember those who gave their lives in the battle.”

Peter Kennedy was a 25-year-old Lieutenant at Goose Green and spoke in a recent 21-minute interview about the battle, in which he was suddenly thrust into leading the final attack.

45 Years Ago Today: Harrier Carrier (Cruiser?), Ahoy!

Carrying the name of the Great War battlecruiser whose design flaws saw her blow up and sink at Jutland after taking a hit from the German battlecruiser SMS Lützow, the “anti-submarine cruiser” HMS Invincible (R05) slid down the ways of Vickers Shipbuilding Limited, Barrow-in-Furness, on 3 May 1977, sponsored by Queen Elizabeth herself.

Importantly, Invincible was the closest thing to an aircraft carrier laid down by the Royal Navy since HMS Bulwark in 1945, although she had been pitched to Whitehall as more of a replacement for the  Blake and Tiger, aging converted light cruisers who had been given extensive aviation facilities over their stern quarter.

1973 Jane’s. Note her intended air wing would be only 15 helicopters and Harriers.

Some 22,000 tons when fully loaded, she had a suite of four Rolls-Royce gas turbines that gave 97,000 shp on tap, enabling a speed of 28 knots. Armed with a pair of GWS30 Sea Dart missile twin launchers, the same as fitted to the state-of-the-art Type 42 anti-air destroyers of the era, with the ability to carry as many as 26 ready missiles capable of hitting a target out to 40 nm, she was designed to be self-escorting to a degree, with her mixed airwing of Sea King helicopters and Sea Harrier strike aircraft providing further ASW and AShW/Air Defense capabilities.

By the time Invincible was launched, the Brits already had almost 20 years of R&D in the Harrier and were 14 years past the aircraft’s first landing on an RN flattop. 

Hawker P1127 making the first ever vertical landing by a jet aircraft an a carrier at sea on HMS Ark Royal in February 1963. IWM A 34711

As noted by the above Jane’s listing, the original concept would have seen her take to sea with 8 anti-ship missiles as well, likely Exocet MM38s, worked into the top of her islands, although these were never fitted. 

Sea Dart launch from Invincible. These systems would be removed post-Falklands, replaced with CIWS.

“Vince” would go on to commission in July 1980 and, shortly after her shakedown and post-delivery overhaul were complete, sail off to war unexpectedly against the Argentines in the Falklands– cutting short a planned sale to the Royal Australian Navy to replace their aging carrier HMAS Melbourne.

The first of an ultimately successful three-ship class, Invincible went on to serve a solid 25 years with the Royal Navy. In 2005, she was decommissioned and was eventually sold for scrap in February 2011.

It Only Took the Royal Navy 37 Years to Come Full Circle

Once upon a time: HMS Ark Royal (R09) loaded with F-4 Phantoms and Buccaneers. 

The country that in 1918 designed the first ocean-going aircraft carrier retired their last “big deck” flattop, the 53,000-ton HMS Ark Royal (R09) in 1979, taking the ability to support (F-4) Phantom FG.1s and Buccaneer S.2 bombers with her.

27 November 1978: 892 NAS Phantom XT870/012- last fixed-wing catapult launch from HMS Ark Royal took place at 15.11 that day, flown by an RAF crew of Flt Lt Murdo MacLeod and Deputy Air Engineer (RIO) Lt D McCallum in the back seat (pictured).

The replacement for Ark Royal was to be the 22,000-ton “through deck destroyer” HMS Invincible, capable of fielding a small force of about a dozen helicopters or so and V/STOL Sea Harriers. A mid-sized (28,000-ton) 1950s-era Centaur-class carrier, HMS Hermes (R12), was to be kept around for a minute for use as a “commando carrier,” akin to an LPH in the U.S. Navy.

Then came the Falklands War, and with Ark Royal long gone and Invincible only able to carry a handful of aircraft, the aging Hermes was stacked with an impressive 26 Harriers (to include 10 RAF GR.3 ground-based variants) and 10 Sea Kings. Retired in 1983, she was sold to India two years later– a country that loved Hermes intently as INS Viraat until she was sent to the breakers this very month.

Since 1984, the UK had to make do with the postage-stamp-sized “Harrier Carriers” of the expanded Invincible-class, which were maxed out at 8 Sea Harriers and 12 helicopters although they typically carried far less. By 2014, even those vessels were gone.

However, last week the new supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth put to sea with the largest single air wing any British ship has carried since Hermes was put to pasture in 1983: 14 F-35B Lightning (reportedly “the largest air group of fifth-generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world”) and eight Merlin HM2 (“Grey Merlin”) ASW helicopters– two of which are “baggers” carrying experimental Crowsnest AEW radar sets.

The F-35s come from the RAF’s 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) and the US Marines Corps VMFA-211 (The Wake Island Avengers), while the Merlins come from 824 NAS of the Fleet Air Arm– truly a joint wing with Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and USMC elements.

Of note, a QE-class carrier has deck and hangar space for as many as 45 F-35s. So one day they may reach 1979 levels of seapower again…

The most important part of a Harrier’s selling point

British air power in the Falklands Islands War in 1982 was limited to a handful of Harriers crammed on a pair of smallish carriers and a merchant ship, while the Argentines were able to throw all of their land-based A-4s and Mirage III/Vs at the British task force.

A low-flying Argentine Mirage attacks the British at San Carlos, Falklands, May 1982

However, the Brits did manage to use their “jump jets” to good effect, including creating a FOB ashore.

A Harrier hide.

The San Carlos Forward Operating Base was variously called West Wittering, HMS Sheathbill and Sid’s Strip (after Squadron Leader Syd Morris)

As noted by Think Defence:

The FOB was variously called West Wittering, HMS Sheathbill and Sid’s Strip (after Squadron Leader Syd Morris) depending on what service you belonged to. The final FOB, operated by 11 Squadron RE and commanded by the RAF had a 260m runway, dispersal areas for four aircraft, a separate vertical landing pad and a redesigned and reinstalled bulk fuel installation that could store 18,000 Litres.

More here.

Meanwhile, down in the South Atlantic

In Argentina, the 36th Anniversary of that country’s ugly defeat by a numerically smaller British expeditionary force in the Falkland Islands War– which the Argentine military has never recovered from– is still a fresh wound. Below from Euronews, with commentary from the Argie Minister of Defense:

Going beyond the rhetoric, Buenos Aries has recently taken possession of five very old former French Navy Super Etendards to go along with their vintage models and is reportedly hoping to lay hands on as many as 24 surplus Mirage 2000s the French have in storage, which is sure to be a hit in London.

Sure, the RAF keeps a quartet of Eurofighter Typhoons at RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falklands, but when it’s 24:4, things could get dicey if the Argentinians get lucky and the Brits have few of these sexy super jest to spare when accounting for those needed for Quick Reaction Alerts in the UK and growing NATO obligations.

Plum Duff flotsam

Here we see the SAS beret, stable belt, medals, wings and rank slides belonging to Captain Andy Legg (22 SAS) which will be going up for auction with Woolley & Wallis on May 3rd, 2018.

Captain Legg, as a young lieutenant, commanded the SAS team that was inserted onto the Argentinian mainland to gather intelligence about the enemy airbase at Rio Grande on Tierra del Fuego with an aim to destroy the Argentine Armada’s sole Exocet-carrying Super Étendard squadron on the ground in an echo to the SAS’s WWII North African lineage destroying Luftwaffe bases supporting Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

The recon mission, with 8 SAS commandos inserted by helicopter from the Harrier carrier HMS Invincible, was termed Operation Plum Duff. The plan was part of the larger Operation Mikado which would have seen nearly a quarter of the entire SAS– the 55 men of B Squadron– land directly on the runway Entebbe-style and exfil towards Chile afterward. While Plum Duff was a disaster and Mikado itself was scrubbed as a suicide mission, the event did tie down four battalions of elite Argentine Marines, arguably the best troops in their whole military, and they were sorely missed in the Falklands.

The estimate for the Legg collection is £40 000.

A trophy Sterling-Patchett, with an interesting back story

The Sterling-Patchett Mk 5 was a silenced version of the Sterling Submachine-gun. The modification was the work of George Patchett, who had originally designed the Sterling itself. The Mk 5 was adopted by the British armed forces as the Gun, Sub-machine, 9mm L34A1.

This is the commercially sold version with a “crinkle” finish, which featured a wooden foregrip to protect the firer’s hand from the integral suppressor unit, which became hot from the propellant gas which vented into it upon firing:

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30029460

This particular gun was captured from Argentinian forces during the 1982 Falklands Conflict by the British Army in June 1982 along with 20,000~ other sundry surrendered arms. It was issued (along with standard versions of the Sterling SMG) to the Argentine Marines, and was most notably used by their assault commandos – the Buzos Tacticos – during the initial stages of the Argentine invasion.

These Royal Marines of Naval Party 8901, seen outside of Government House during the Argentine invasion, would later return to the Falklands as part of 42 Commando and settle scores, being the first unit to raise the Union Jack at the compound.

Onyx on the rocks, err ‘impact hydrography’

While the RN committed a number of sexy modern nuclear-powered attack submarines to the Falkland Islands conflict in 1982– and they proved effective in making the Argentine Navy return to port after HMS Conqueror sank the WWII-era cruiser ARA General Belgrano with 323 lost at sea (among the bulk of that service’s losses in terms of humans on the butcher’s bill)– there was one creepy little diesel boat poking around close to shore.

El Snorkel has a great article from Lt Cdr Andy Johnson Submarine, Commander HMS ONYX (S21) during the conflict. An Oberon-class submarine, she was but 241-feet long and weighed only 2,400-tons, smaller than a WWII U.S. Navy fleet boat.

Commissioned in 1967, she had a cramped crew of 6 officers and 62 men and made the slow transit from the UK some 8,000nm south to the Falklands MEZ with a special 5 man diving chamber 10 MK 24, 2 Mk 20 and 11 Mk 8 torpedoes aboard.

She stopped halfway at windswept Ascension and picked up a team of British frogmen, flown ahead to await their ride south.

At Ascension Island, 12 May 1982, ONYX boarded SAS and SBS special forces personnel and supported them during a series of operations. IWM photo

Her shallow operating depth allowed her to creep in close to shore for commando and surveillance work in relatively uncharted areas where a nuke boat would be hard pressed. Officially, “her ability to operate silently close inshore enabled her to play an important role. In addition to providing a submarine deterrent and enforcing the exclusion zone surrounding the Islands, ONYX undertook reconnaissance, taking periscope photographs of enemy installations and likely landing areas for Special Forces operations.”

And it was sometimes very hairy.

From Johnson:

An effort to complete a reconnaissance mission at short notice nearly ended the patrol. Many of the charts used to navigate in those waters had not changed significantly since James Cook had first drawn them. The occasional soundings he made at that time were undoubtedly adequate for his small sailing vessel. They scarcely matched the requirements of a 2,500 ton submarine two centuries later. In consequence, ONYX discovered an uncharted pinnacle of rock in a most dramatic fashion – by running in to it whilst dived. Although everyone reacted admirably and control was quickly regained, it is probably safe to say the only people on board who appeared really calm were our ‘guests’ from special forces. Not entirely due to their steel nerves – no-one had time to explain to them what had happened! This piece of ‘impact hydrography’ put two out of the six forward torpedo tubes out of action. This was serious enough in itself, but was made worse since the two affected tubes were those used exclusively for wire guided torpedoes. As a result, the fore-ends’ crew had to reorganise our full torpedo load. This was akin to playing solitaire. However, they first had to make a free ‘hole’ by moving tons of additional equipment out into the rest of the submarine. Even then there were still weapons weighing tons suspended in mid-air as the reshuffle continued.

The rest here.

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