LONDON -- Former Navy Secretary John Lehman disclosed that American military aid given London during the 1982 Falklands war was extensive and said Britain would have lost without it, the BBC-TV confirmed Sunday.
'Britain would have had to have withdrawn from the Falklands' if the United States had cut off the aid, said Lehman, Navy secretary from 1981 to 1987.
Lehman's remarks were made in an interview to be broadcast Wednesday as part of a BBC-TV documentary series on Anglo-American relations, 'An Ocean Apart,' and were first reported Sunday by The Observer newspaper.
A spokeswoman for the British Broadcasting Corp. confirmed the contents of the interview.
Britain defeated Argentine invasion forces in a 74-day war in 1982 to regain control of the Falkland Islands, about 450 miles off Argentina's coast in the South Atlantic. The islands, which the Argentines call the Malvinas, have been under British rule for more than 150 years.
Although it was known that Britain had some U.S. help, including use of the American air base on Ascension Island, the extent of U.S. military aid during the Falklands war has been a secret. Lehman is the first senior U.S. official to state that the Pentagon's supplies were so great as to have been decisive.
The BBC said American sources revealed that U.S. aid to Britain during the war included 200 Sidewinder anti-aircraft missiles, eight Stinger anti-aircraft systems, Vulcan air defense systems, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, mortar shells, satellite intelligence, communications facilities and the use of the American air base on Ascension Island.
'In my judgment, the outcome would have been very different if it weren't for the support and the flow of intelligence, of logistics, of technical support, of communications and of things like Sidewinders from the United States to the Royal Navy,' Lehman said in the interview.
One of the most crucial decisions the Reagan administration made, Lehman said, was to supply the British with the most sophisticated version of the Sidewinder heat-seeking missile, the AIM-9M.
'With the old Sidewinders, you have to get behind an aircraft to shoot and by that time he's dropped his bombs on the ship,' Lehman said.
'The new Sidewinders you shoot head-on, and that's what the Harriers (British aircraft) did so brilliantly and effectively.'
He also said U.S. involvement in the South Atlantic conflict led indirectly to the Iran-Contra scandal last year.
Lehman said that when Latin American countries learned of the U.S. aid given Britain, they withdrew support for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, forcing Washington to find alternative means of supporting them.
Lehman said that Latin American countries 'still don't quite understand the extent' of the U.S. aid and its effect on the war's outcome.
'But we certainly did and we knew the price we would be paying,' he said. 'The Argentines and all the other Latin Americans abruptly stopped supporting the efforts of the Salvadorans and the Contra forces against the communists in Central America, and that led to Contragate.'
The Observer said Lehman's remarks 'are certain to stir up resentment' in Britain before President Reagan's visit Thursday from his summit talks with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Member of Parliament Michael Mates, chairman of the House of Commons Defense Select Committee, told The Observer: 'If Mr. Lehman is saying we couldn't have won without the Americans, he is wrong. It would have taken longer, cost more lives and been much more difficult -- but we could still have done it.'