By late Tuesday morning (4th) the CVBG was 70 miles to the south east of Stanley. Aware of the Exocet threat, frigates “Brilliant” and “Broadsword” with their point defence Sea Wolf stayed in close to the carriers. Near them was a screen of three RFAs, further out a second one of “Glamorgan” and three more frigates, and then twenty miles ahead, the three Type 42s including “Sheffield” with their high altitude Sea Darts. Finally towards the Falklands, Sea Harriers of No. 801 flew CAP and at this time investigated a number of possible air contacts. Before then a CANA Neptune had picked up the ships by radar and two Super Etendards of 2 Esc took off from Rio Grande each armed with an Exocet AM. 39. Refuelled by a Grupo 1 Hercules, they flew in at low altitude, popped-up for a radar check and released the missile from 20 to 30 miles. One of the Exocet may just have missed “Yarmouth”, but the other slammed with hardly any warning into “Sheffield” soon after 11.00am. Hitting amidships, the warhead did not explode, but the impact and unused fuel started uncontrollable fires.
With “Sheffield” badly damaged and with little power, frigate “Arrow” soon came alongside to assist and “Yarmouth” stood by. Captain Salt’s crew fought gallantly to save their ship, but with 20 men dead, the order to abandon ship was given that afternoon. With the wounded already on board “Hermes”, “Arrow” took off most of the 260 survivors. “Sheffield” drifted for four days until “Yarmouth” was ordered to pull her clear of the TEZ. Taken in tow by Sunday, “SHEFFIELD” finally sank next day not too many miles from where she was hit. The survivors later returned to Ascension on tanker “British Esk”.
Argentina’s use of the Super Étendard and the Exocet missile during the 1982 Falklands War led to the aircraft gaining considerable popular recognition.
The Argentine Naval Aviation decided to buy 14 Super Étendards in 1980, after the United States put an arms embargo in place—due to the Dirty War—and refused to supply spare parts for their A-4Q Skyhawks. Between August and November 1981, five Super Étendards and five Exocets were shipped to Argentina. The Super Étendards, armed with Exocet anti-ship missiles, would play a key role in the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1982. The squadron was stationed at an air base on the Rio Grande; during the conflict, the threat posed to British naval forces led to the planning of Operation Mikado and other proposed infiltration missions to raid the air base, aiming to destroy the Super Étendards to prevent their use.
A first attempt to attack the British fleet was made on 2 May 1982, but this was abandoned due to flight-refuelling problems. On 4 May, two Super Étendards, guided by a Lockheed P-2 Neptune, launched one Exocet each at the British destroyer HMS Sheffield, with a single missile fatally striking Sheffield. On 25 May, another attack by two Super Étendards resulted in two missiles hitting the merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor, which was carrying several helicopters and various other supplies to the front line. The Exocets that struck the Atlantic Conveyor had been inadvertently redirected by decoy chaff deployed as a defensive measure by other ships; both the Sheffield and the Atlantic Conveyor sank as a result of the Exocet strikes.
The fifth missile was launched in an attack intended to strike against the British aircraft carrier HMS Invincible.
Following the end of the conflict, by 1984 Argentina had been able to complete the delivery of the full 14 Super Étendards ordered as well as a number of Exocets with which to arm them. Super Étendards performed qualifications on aircraft carrier ARA 25 de Mayo until the ship’s final retirement. Since 1993, Argentinian pilots have practised on board the neighbouring Brazilian Navy’s aircraft carrier São Paulo. Touch-and-go landing exercises were also common on US Navy carriers during Gringo-Gaucho manoeuvres and joint exercises.
In 2009, an agreement was signed between Argentina and France to upgrade Argentina’s remaining fleet of Super Étendards. An earlier proposal to acquire former French Naval Super Étendards was rejected due to high levels of accumulated flight hours; instead equipment and hardware was removed from retiring French airframes and installed into Argentinian aircraft, effectively upgrading them to the Super Étendard Modernisé (SEM) standard. As of 2012, 11 Super Étendards remain in service with Argentina