HMS Queen Elizabeth docks in Liverpool in March
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HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s only functioning aircraft carrier, is being sent to sea without sufficient ammunition and fighter jets as a result of a severe shortage of supplies, the former head of the Royal Navy has claimed – branding the situation “outrageous”. However, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has countered by insisting the vessel was equipped with everything it needed, with ammunitioning “successfully completed”.
Baron West of Spithead is deeply concerned the situation has left Britain looking “weak” to nations such as Russia and China – warning the Government’s current approach, specifically a reluctance to spend money, risked leaving the UK’s military with “absolutely no resilience whatsoever”.
Labour peer Lord West, who served as First Sea Lord from 2002 to 2006, was speaking after HMS Queen Elizabeth, launched in 2014 and commissioned three years later at a cost of £3billion, set sail from Scotland on Thursday for a month-long training mission.
Speaking to the i, he said the only reason it had done so without a full capability was as a result of a “shortage of the weapons it needs”.
He said: “I would be very surprised if we have got enough weapon stocks to fully arm Queen Elizabeth. These ships need to be fully stocked all the time, but we have not got the weapons.
“That ships are sailing without their full outfit of missiles and ammunition is outrageous.”
Rather than embarking with fighter-bombers onboard, F-35s are flying in from RAF bases in order to undertake manoeuvres – although Express.co.uk understands this is normal procedure and enables pilots to be trained to land and take off from an aircraft carrier.
HMS Prince of Wales broke down off the Isle of Wight in August as it headed for the US from Portsmouth, leaving the UK entirely reliant on its sister ship.
Lord West said it was “wrong” that the navy was unable to deploy a squadron of 36 F-35B fighter-bombers on the ship as a result of a lack of missiles to arm them, claiming the Government “simply didn’t order enough jets”.
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As a result, Britain risked “looking weak” in the eyes of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, he pointed out.
Lord West continued: “When she leaves port, like she just has from the west coast of Scotland, she should have a full group of F-35s on board, not just the odd helicopter.
“That’s the sort of thing that frightens Putin. That’s the sort of thing that would enable a British squadron with a carrier and all the other supporting ships to bloody well sink pretty much any Russians it comes across. If we can’t do that, which we can’t, then we’re not well placed.”
Suggested cost-cutting was at the root of it, he added: “The bottom line is it’s all to do with money. If there was enough money, they would bloody well put them in there.”
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The war in Ukraine had hit munitions supply chains globally, Lord West acknowledged – but also blamed the Government’s policy of ordering military supplies at the point they were required in order to save money.
He said: “‘Just-in-time’ is the mantra because it means you can cut right down on other things.
“The problem is you have absolutely no resilience whatsoever. If something goes wrong, if something changes, you’ve got a real problem.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has admitted he is fighting an “uphill battle” to secure more funding from Treasury for Britain’s armed forces.
An MoD spokesman said: “HMS Queen Elizabeth successfully completed ammunitioning at the recently updated facilities in Glen Mallon as planned – there were no shortages and the ship has sailed.”
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