Submarine lessons of the Falklands War, in the April Submarine Review, would hardly explain the
present resurgence of interest and demand for conventional submarines throughout the world.
The unsuccessful Argentine experience with their 1200-ton, German 209 diesel-electrics in the
Falklands War last year should have seemingly cooled world interest in the non-nuclear
submarine. But the opposite seems to be the case. While the 209s sank no British ships, they
tended to establish some important points which favor the use of conventional submarines in many
of today’s Navies and have probably generated this renewed interest.
When the British established that the Argentine conventional subs were out of port, the ubiquitous nature of a submarine went into effect. British ASW forces assumed they might be anywhere or everywhere in the theater of naval operations — vigorously pursuing and evidently attacking every detection made with their ASW sensors which might possibly be a submarine. False contacts were apparently so much in profusion in this relatively small ocean battle area that even the recognizably efficient British ASW forces expended large quantities of ASW ordnance — including some of their new homing torpedoes — without damaging a 209. With much of the theater of operations across a continental shelf — which stretched out beyond the Falkland Islands — British ASW forces were faced with “shallow water” operations, which seem to favor the characteristics of the conventional submarine. In fact, although five British nuclear submarines were reported to have operated extensively in this shallow shelf area their failure to make contact with the 209s might also be considered. And significantly, although the 209s ostensibly fired several German electric SUT torpedoes at British targets, the torpedoes were apparently so quiet that, although they missed, they did not alert British ASW forces to the presence of the 209. But perhaps the best feature of the 209s in the Falklands War was that they couldn’t be harmed by Exocets. Nor do any kind of submarine need
defenses for such antiship weapons.
So, rather than viewing the conventional submarine as being inadequate in a respectable level of sea war, the Falkland Islands War seemed to demonstrate its viability — particularly in an environment where long range missiles assumed an important role.