British military forces would be unable to retake the Falkland Island were Argentina to invade, according to the former head of the British Army.
General Sir Mike Jackson, 67, who served in both Northern Ireland and the Balkans during an illustrious career, said it would be "just about impossible" to mount a successful mission to reclaim the islands without aircraft carriers.
Speaking in an interview in The Sunday Telegraph, the retired army chief said that despite improvements to British defences on the archipelago, a successful Argentine invasion is not impossible.
"The official answer will be that it would not be possible for the Argentinians to gain a foothold on the islands, in particular to take Mount Pleasant airfield, which is key to the British defence plan,” he told the newspaper.
"We have a large international-sized airfield to allow for very rapid reinforcement by air, should circumstances so require. But I suppose I have learned in life, never say never.
"What if an Argentinian force was able to secure the airfield? Then our ability to recover the islands now would be just about impossible.
Recent months has seen Buenos Aires place increasing pressure on the UK to negotiate the sovereignty of the disputed islands, liberated from Argentine forces following the 1982 invasion.
Tension between the two countries has been rising ahead of the 30th anniversary of the war, with some quarters of the Argentine media calling for a second invasion of Las Malvinas.
Last week, defence minister Gerald Howarth told parliament that Argentina does not have the military capability to invade the Falkland Islands, calling talk of a second invasion “sabre rattling”.
Despite Howarth’s optimism, David Cameron confirmed that the Falklands issue had been discussed by the National Security Council, adding that Argentina's attitude towards the archipelago was "colonialist".
In response, the Argentine president rubbished Cameron's claims as "nonsense", with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner saying: "They are trying to paint us as bad guys, or violent guys and really, that is not who we are."
Tensions have also been ratcheted up by the disclosure that the Duke of Cambridge will visit the islands in February as part of his RAF service, while questions over drilling rights around the South Atlantic islands remain in dispute.
Defence cuts have seen a slow reduction in capacity for the British armed forces, which Jackson said could be a problem if Britain engages in a one-to-one war.
"This will be the smallest Army since the Napoleonic wars,” he said. "My understanding is that we're heading for 82,000.
"Right now there is no existential threat to the UK. It's very hard to see when we would be involved in state-on-state warfare which threatens the existence of this country. If that were to happen, there would be time to move back to where we used to be."
Reported by the Press Association, Brigadier Bill Aldridge, Commander of British forces in the Falklands, said: "I am entirely confident that I can do the job that is required of me.
"Deterring aggression is my top priority but I am fully confident that I have the capability to defend the islands. I am not expecting to hand the islands over to anybody and therefore put us in a position where we would have to retake them."