Yesterday morning, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed from a stroke at the age of eighty-seven. Many have marked the passing by noting (for good or ill) her leadership during the 1982 Falklands War. Victory in that war helped cement her government, while dealing a deathblow to the military junta that governed Argentina.
Lyle Goldstein, Christopher Yung, and The Diplomat’s James Holmes have all gone over the many lessons the PLA Navy (PLAN) may have drawn from the Falklands War. Unlike many countries, China is in a position to draw lessons from both the British and the Argentine experiences during the war. The effectiveness of British naval aviation surely impressed upon the Chinese the need for intrinsic air support for maritime operations, while at the same time providing grist for the need to improve the anti-access system of systems. Submarines had long played an important role in PLAN doctrine, but the destruction of General Belgrano by HMS Conqueror put an exclamation point on the vulnerability of surface ships to undersea attack. Perhaps more importantly, the sinking deterred the Argentine Navy from any further serious sorties during the conflict. The Argentines were unable to reply in kind due to their small and obsolescent undersea force.
All this said, the war is now more than thirty years past, meaning that many of the operational details can no longer provide useful guidance. Nevertheless, some strategic lessons endure: