The French Navy’s sleek Super Etendard strike aircraft catapulted into the air for the last time on March 16. The SEM model launched represents the last incarnation of a long line of Etendards (the aircraft was developed as a light strike fighter in the 1950s). The fighter is perhaps best remembered for the role it played in a war over a distant British outpost. The Falkland Islands, seized by Argentine forces in 1982, proved difficult to recapture both on land and sea.
The Argentine Navy fielded the carrier-borne Super Etendard and acquired five potent anti-shipping missiles prior to the start of hostilities. Designed to fly low and fast, the Exocet missile was difficult to detect by radar and therefore gave little notice to those being targeted. Paired with the Super Etendard, the combination proved to be a difficult adversary.
The first blow came in the morning hours of May 4, 1982, when the HMS Sheffield was hit by an Exocet while on radar picket duty for the British fleet. Despite the crew’s valiant efforts to save the ship, the Sheffield sank six days later. This was not only the first strike to the British task force in the conflict but also the first sinking of a British ship since the Second World War. The Argentine Etendards would go on to sink another ship, the SS Atlantic Conveyor, with two Exocets, thus cementing the aircraft’s place in history.
With production of the type completed in 1983, Etendards have had long lives on French carrier decks. The French Navy will replace the Super Etendard with the Rafale M later this year. The new fighter will no doubt be a capable replacement; however, memories of the Etendard will remain for those on both sides of the Falklands conflict. Meanwhile, Argentine Super Etendards soldier on while government officials look for a successor to a platform that serves as a reminder of the deadly war fought 34 years ago.
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