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Area Denial & Falklands War Lessons Learned - Implications for Land Warfare 2030-2040: After the Army’s Theater Arrival - The Coming Complex Fight
The Falklands War was the first modern anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) war, pitting a joint expeditionary force against a regional power with modern land, air, and sea capabilities fighting over control of territory close to home. As such, it may prove far more relevant for the future … than any conflict in the past two decades.1
Commander Jim Griffin, Proceedings Magazine, May 2012
Our forces face the very real possibility of arriving in a future combat theater and finding themselves facing an arsenal of advanced, disruptive technologies that could turn our previous technological advantage on its head -- where our armed forces no longer have uncontested theater access or unfettered operational freedom of maneuver.2
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, 5 August 2014
In the world of anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) discussions the anti-access portion is the stand out issue. Anti-access analysis receives the greatest attention in scholarly output and discussion. One area of lesser study is the role of landpower and the challenge of area denial once the enemy shores are reached.
Area denial is not a new problem. Looking to the recent past, the 1982 Battle of the Falklands provides historical examples of an enemy area denial land campaign and the problem solving required to be successful in overcoming the complex challenge.
Today the area denial capabilities of several nations are impressive and improving. In the future of 2030-2040 the addition of autonomous precision strike capabilities and hypersonic missiles to area denial arsenals will greatly increase the threat to expeditionary Army land forces.
This paper will explore the area denial historical lessons of the Falklands War, examine several classes of area denial weapon capabilities and project how the area denial problem will grow in lethality and complexity. In the future, the question is whether the Army can find solutions to the challenges of operations against a near peer with advanced area denial capabilities in the 2030-2040 timeframe.
What is Area Denial and Why is it Important to Land Warfare?
What is the difference between anti-access and area denial threats? Air Sea Battle Concept defines anti-access (A2) as “those actions and capabilities, usually long-range, designed to prevent an opposing force from entering an operational area.
According to the Air Sea Battle Concept area denial (AD) is the “action intended to impede friendly operations within areas where an adversary cannot or will not prevent access. Area denial affects maneuver within a theater.”3
According to the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), area denial refers to those actions and capabilities, usually of shorter range, designed not to keep an opposing force out, but to limit its freedom of action within the operational area.4
So an area denial campaign seeks to limit freedom action or maneuver. Recent history has an excellent example of an area denial campaign.
Falklands War – The Argentine Area Denial Campaign
In 1982 England fought Argentine over the Falkland Islands. The Falklands war forced England to fight an expeditionary conflict 8,000 miles away home station. It is one of the best examples of lessons learned for both anti-access and area denial in a modern conventional conflict. So how did the area denial Argentine campaign affect the British land force operational plan?
The British amphibious assault began on 21 May 1982 at San Carlos, on the western side of the Falklands. A pre-war [Argentine] naval study had concluded that San Carlos was an “impossible” site for a [British amphibious/helicopter] landing.5
The landings at San Carlos forced both the British navy and land forces to remain relativity fixed in place during the amphibious assault and beachhead buildup. This is when the Argentine air force unleashed their area denial plan – concentrating their attack on British naval forces supporting the landing force. Within an hour of the first waves of [Argentine] aircraft attacking, it became evident that it was the ships, not the men ashore, who were the targets.6
The Battle for San Carlos lasted 21 to 25 May. The British called the waters around the landing area and the beachhead “Bomb Alley” because of the aggressive Argentine air attacks. Flying just above the wave tops, the Argentine based attack aircraft made repeated attacks on the British Task Force with bombs and Exocet anti-ship missiles.
The Argentine air attacks proved devastating. From 21 to 25 May the Argentine air attacks sank one British destroyer, 2 frigates and one container ship (Atlantic Conveyor). Additionally, two more destroyers, three frigates, and three logistic landing ships were damaged.
In addition to the air attacks on British fleet, the Argentine air force attacked the beach head which was defended by Rapier surface to air missiles. The Rapiers were also intended to protect the British naval ships around San Carlos. Once ashore, three Skyhawks dropped twelve bombs on the brigade maintenance area, killing six men, wounding twenty-seven, and starting a major fire in 45 Commando’s heavy weapons ammunition dump. Brigadier Thompson visited the area, profoundly alarmed. The entire brigade’s operations had been planned on the assumption of keeping its logistics afloat. The [Argentine’s] air assault had forced them to instead to create huge dumps [on land] at Ajax Bay. Where else could they go? …The answer was nowhere. It was fortunate for the land force that the enemy never attacked Ajax again after inflicting the one, deadly fright.7
Effects of the air attacks immediately impacted the British land forces timeline. Establishing the British Army Falklands Beach Support Area took much longer than expected because after the initial attacks at San Carlos the various stores ships were withdrawn with only those unloading allowed in the area. Enemy action had an effect on the build up in a way that was simply not envisaged.8
These delays meant naval vessels had to endure more punishment in Bomb Alley and ammunition dumps established at various locations which because of the slow build up were vulnerable. Clearly, the inability to build up the Beach Support Area at speed was having a very real impact on losses and if the Argentine commander was sharper and used this delay to counter attack who knows what would have happened.9
The loss of Atlantic Conveyor had a greater impact than the attack on the beachhead. The loss totally disrupted the British land forces campaign.
2nd and 3rd Order Effects with the loss of the Atlantic Conveyor
The loss of the container ship, the Atlantic Conveyor, on 25 May, greatly aided the Argentine denial campaign.
“The cargo and weapons lost with the Atlantic Conveyor included three Chinook helicopters, six Wessex-5 Support helicopters, two Lynx helicopters, tents to accommodate 4,000 men, mobile landing strips for the Harriers, and a water-desalination plant. The Chinooks, each capable of carrying up to eighty troops, were to have played a crucial role in carrying troops and cargo for the land war.”10
With the loss of the Chinooks the only option for the ground forces at San Carlos to reach the Argentine positions at Goose Green and Stanley – walk. They also had to hump supplies on their backs.
The worst casualty of the Atlantic Conveyor disaster was strategic flexibility. It is mobility that provides flexibility on the battlefield, and the loss of the Chinooks was irreplaceable.11 If the British offensive bogged down, the land force lacked the lift capability to switch flanks, or suddenly to move an extra gun battery to cover a new sector. Every helicopter that the force possessed would be fully occupied flying forward the ammunition and supplies to keep the offensive moving.12
In spite of the Argentine air force success, the Argentine land forces area denial plan did not include the following.
- Counter attacking the beach head
- Attacking the advancing British march across the East Falklands
- Never sending fighting patrols to disrupt operations at the San Carlos beachhead
These actions would have been automatic initiatives for any energetic and competent army.13
The Argentine ground forces dug in and waited for the British land forces to attack.
Area Denial Land Force Lessons Learned 1982
- The Argentine air attacks on the British fleet reduced the rate of off loading supplies at San Carlos. This in turn slowed the start of the land campaign (delay of logistics resulting in loss of maneuver opportunity in terms of time and speed.)
- The loss of the container ship greatly altered the land campaign due to the loss of the heavy lift helicopters. The land forces now had to walk and carry supplies (loss of maneuver, speed and logistic flexibility).
- The Falklands War showed that no clear cut distinction in the landing and buildup phase where Anti-Access ends and Area Denial begins. So the landing and buildup phase proved to be the Intersection/Overlap of Anti-Access and Area Denial realms.
I anticipate that the next century will see those foes striving to target concentrations of troops and materiel ashore and attack our forces at sea and in the air. This is more than a sea-denial threat or a Navy problem. It is an area-denial threat whose defeat or negation will become the single most crucial element in projecting and sustaining US military power where it is needed.14
Admiral Jau Johnson
The Unforeseen Battle - Area Denial Capabilities in 2030-2040
In the thirty plus years since the Falklands War, area denial weapon capabilities continue to improve. In addition to the current area denial weapons, G-RAMM, precision strike and hypersonic missiles are future weapon capabilities which may have a dramatic impact on area denial.
G-RAMM weapons are guided rocket, artillery, mortars, and missiles.15 G-RAMM can be categorized as short-range precision munitions because they do not necessarily require advanced targeting or battle networks to be employed effectively, especially against fixed targets or high-signature ground forces in known locations.16 As guided munition technology spreads the Army can expect to face guided munitions which may greatly inhibit the ability of Army land forces to maneuver.
Precision Strike is another similar class of weapons capabilities. Precision strike is defined as strike systems utilizing projectiles, bombs, missiles, torpedoes, and other weapons that can actively correct for initial aiming or subsequent errors by homing on their targets or aim-points after being fired, released, or launched.17 Additional advances in precision strike provide for autonomous target selection after launch.
Despite all the growing challenges to longstanding U.S. approaches to overseas power projection posed by a maturing precision-strike regime, the American military has shown little inclination to embrace fundamentally new operational concepts or organizational arrangements to deal with the looming obstacles.18
Hypersonic Cruise Missiles
China, Russia/India and the United States are developing hypersonic cruise missiles which fly at mach 5 or higher (in excess of 3,840 miles per hour). Hypersonic [cruise] missiles are not intended only for deep land attack; they are also likely to be used at sea, for attacking ships, island bases, and shore facilities.19 The limited time for reaction and engagement will greatly complicate the Army’s land forces defense. So how would these capabilities affect war in 2030-2040? Consider their possible impacts on a re-visited Falklands War 2030-2040 scenario.
Falklands War 2030-2040 – What if?
Now think on a 2030-2040 Falklands campaign with precision strike and supersonic cruise missiles instead of the Exocet missiles and bombs. The Argentine aircraft force launch long range precision hypersonic strike anti-ship missiles which skim the ocean’s surface. The cruise missiles are timed to hit simultaneously in conjunction with an additional air & electronic attack on the British naval forces. The hypersonic cruise missile swarm attack is also timed to hit the British naval forces from multiple directions. With limited or no ability to blunt the hypersonic missiles, the damaged British fleet cannot stay in place for long under such a daunted and effective attack.
Next the hypersonic missiles hit the unloaded supplies and helicopters on the beach head in conjunction with Argentine Special Forces launching long range precision mortars. The precision mortars have their own autonomous guidance to seek out a priority target list. With loss of the helicopters the British ground forces cannot even walk because they are pinned in place by the short and long range precision weapons. The outcome of the war could be very different with advanced area denial weapon capabilities.
The impact of precision strike and hypersonic cruise missiles may prove very challenging. So what challenges could the Army face in 2030-2040 against precision strike and hypersonic cruise missiles?
Possible Area Denial Impacts of G-RAMM/Precision Strike/Hypersonic Cruise Missiles
- G-RAMM/Precision Strike may produce “no-go” areas even more lethal and costly than the machine gun and massed artillery rendered “a no man’s land” with trench warfare during 1914-1918.20
- Many countries will be able to purchase or produce G-RAMM weapons in quantity, and even these systems could make American and allied overseas bases, ports, and troop concentrations far more vulnerable than they have been in the past.21
- The U.S. military has not even faced an opponent with G-RAMM, much less with comparable long range precision-strike capabilities.22
- The key fact regarding the maturation of the evolving precision-strike regime is that American military forces have yet to be confronted by an adversary with a comparable suite of precision weapons and battle networks.23
- Capabilities Risk – failing to see the future with precision strike or hypersonic missile capabilities along with their 2nd and 3rd order effects.
So what choices does the Army have in 2030-2040 to face this complex challenge? Several possible solutions await exploration.
Area Denial Possible Solutions
- Army develop counter precision strike and hypersonic missile defenses, down to the tactical unit level
- Army develop tactics to counter enemy area denial weapons such as operating dispersed with non-linear fronts
- Train against ‘red forces’ with ‘precision weapons’ and ‘hypersonic missiles.’
- Consider physical and electronic decoys to draw enemy precision fires, also re-learn the crafts of camouflage, jamming, and spoofing
- Consider for the future, the use of robotic drones, robotic scouts, and robotic strike aircraft to search and destroy precision or hypersonic missile launching sites
The question I offer you, and this is an important one, is whether the Army's concepts of operations are adequate to a world where precision-guided missiles are proliferating, in a world where the price of computing, power sensors, weaponry is all going down relative to the cost of the means to protect against them, whether it's better armor, stealth or hypersonic speed. Are we ready for that kind of world?24
Under Secretary of the Army Brad Carson, 1 July 2014
Historical area denial campaigns such as the Falklands War are worthy of additional study and examination. The Falklands War demonstrated the tight inter-relation and impact of naval and army forces on each other which blurred the supposed distinction between anti-access and area denial. The British Falklands naval campaign and land campaign were intertwined with a symbiotic relationship (each aiding in protecting the other), locked in a mutual dance of tactical survival, while engaged in a desperate operational plan and determined to win the campaign as one cohort.
In addition to studying the past, the emerging weapon capabilities of precision and hypersonic weapons may have a powerful impact on expeditionary land warfare. The battlefield of the future may be lethal on a scale not seen since World Wars I and II. The Army will require intellectual rigor to address and counter the area denial threats and develop solutions to restore maneuver and freedom of action.
1Commander Jim Griffin, “Still Relevant After All These Years,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings Magazine, May 2012 Vol. 138/5/1,311.
http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2012-05/still-relevant-after-after-all-these-years (Accessed 17 Nov 2014)
2Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work Convocation, National Defense University, Fort McNair, Wash D.C., 5 August 2014.
http://www.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1873 (Accessed 17 Nov 2014)
3DOD, Air-Sea Battle Concept, Air Sea Battle Office, (Washington DC: May 2013), 2.
http://www.defense.gov/pubs/ASB-ConceptImplementation-Summary-May-2013.pdf (Accessed 17 Nov 2014)
4U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), Joint Publication (Washington, DC: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, 17 Jan 2012), 6.
http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/joac_jan%202012_signed.pdf (Accessed 17 Nov 2014)
5Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins, The Battle for the Falklands, (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1982), 200.
8Think Defence Journal Blog, Ship to Shore Logistics,1982 Falkland Islands, 7 July 2013.
9Think Defence Journal Blog, Ship to Shore Logistics,1982 Falkland Islands, 7 July 2013.
10Anthony Cordesman and Abraham Wagner, The Lessons of Modern War Volume III: The Afghan and Falklands Conflicts, (Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1990), 254.
14Admiral J. Johnson, “Anytime, Anywhere: A Navy for the 21st Century,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings Magazine, November 1997, Vol 123/11/1,137, 49.
15Barry D. Watts, “Precision Strike: An Evolution,” The National Interest Magazine, 2 Nov 2013
16Barry D. Watts, The Evolution of Precision Strike, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), 6 Aug 2013, 13.
17Randy Huiss, Proliferation of the Precision Strike: Issues for Congress, (Washington, DC: U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service,14 May 2012), 1.
18Watts, The Evolution of Precision Strike, 33.
19Mark Gubrud, The Argument for a Hypersonic Missile Testing Ban, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 2 Sep 2014.
20Watts, The Evolution of Precision Strike, 34.
21Watts, The Evolution of Precision Strike, 31.
22Watts, The Evolution of Precision Strike, 9.
23Watts, The Evolution of Precision Strike,19.
24J.D. Leipold, Under Secretary Carson Poses 10 Questions to Army, Army News Service, 1 July 2014.