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Britain's tough task: resupply Navy 8,000 miles away

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If Britain seeks to expel Argentina from the Falkland Islands with a combination of air, sea, and ground forces, its mission is replete with problems and dangers, say defense experts.

But the daunting task of resupplying a force 8,000 miles away from home bases and storming onto heavily defended islands is not beyond its capacities, they stress.

If the British capture of frigid South Georgia signals an Anglo-Argentine war over the Falklands, as now seems possible, Britain faces the task of setting up an effective air blockade of the islands. It would also face the task of landing a sufficiently large and heavily armed force to neutralize between 8,000 and 10, 000 Argentine troops now dug into the Falklands.

According to The Times of London, an advance contingent of Royal Marine commandos has already landed in the Falklands, an assertion denied by the British Ministry of Defense.

''If the opposition is pretty strong and you don't have a very good, orchestrated, and powerful capability, you just don't get ashore,'' declares John M. Collins, senior specialist in national defense at the Library of Congress.

Combined operations are ''the most difficult kind,'' naval expert Norman Polmar adds, ''especially when the enemy is waiting for you at virtually the extremity of a very long logistics line.''

The problem of refueling and resupplying the British flotilla - which includes the aircraft carriers Invincible and Hermes and the assault ships Fearless and Intrepid - is a formidable one British naval officers admit, but not an insuperable one.

Collins is less sanguine. ''You're looking at a logistical nightmare,'' he says.

The only significant stepping stone Britain can use in its South Atlantic operations is Ascension Island, where the Union Jack has flown since 1815 and which lies some 3,500 miles from the Falklands. Reportedly troops and supplies continue to pour into the island by air.

But Collins is not impressed with the island's utility. ''It sure isn't a very good staging area or a resupply area,'' he says. ''It's like calling Diego Garcia a good staging post for operations in the Middle East when it's 2,000 miles from the Strait of Hormuz.''


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