HMS Queen Elizabeth's lack of arms sets alarm bells ringing

Ex-Navy chief says cuts in defence spending mean Britain has not enough weapons for aircraft carrier's voyage

HMS Queen Elizabeth is on a month-long training mission but without a full stock of fighter jets and munitions. Reuters
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HMS Queen Elizabeth has set sail on a month-long training cruise without a full stock of ammunition and fighter jets due to “severe supply shortages”, it has been reported.

The ship, the most powerful built for the Royal Navy, left a jetty near Faslane in Scotland last week.

Admiral Lord West, a former first sea lord and chief of the naval staff, said the only reason the ship left the rearming point without stocking up fully was due to a “shortage of the weapons it needs”.

“I would be very surprised if we have got enough weapon stocks to fully arm Queen Elizabeth,” he told the i newspaper. “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. Once a ship sails, you never know what’s going happen. It needs to be ready at all times.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth, which entered service in 2020, headed a flotilla of British warships the following year to visit 40 countries.

The aircraft carrier, which sailed with eight jets on board, was accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, 14 helicopters and a company of Royal Marines on the 28-week mission.

Air and maritime forces from the UAE worked alongside the group for part of the trip.

The Royal Navy website says the warship is capable of carrying up to 40 warplanes, with a deck designed to launch F35 fighter jets.

“Four fighter jets can be moved from the hangar to the flight deck in just one minute,” it said.

However, the i report claims that rather than sailing with fighter-bombers on board, the ship is training with F-35s flying in from RAF bases.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace - in pictures

Lord West said: “When we built these ships, we built them on the basis that they would have 36 fast jets on board, F-35s, plus the fuel and ammunition to allow them to fight at war rates for four days before the ship has to go and do a replenishment.

“Well, the Queen Elizabeth hasn’t got all that on board and that’s wrong. The reason is because we haven’t got the supplies.”

He said the ship should have sailed carrying a full group of jets because “that’s the sort of thing that frightens [Russian President Vladimir} Putin".

He added: "That’s the sort of thing that would enable a British squadron with a carrier and all the other supporting ships to ... sink pretty much any Russians it comes across. If we can’t do that, which we can’t, then we’re not well placed.

“You can do training where the F-35s fly out, do landings, take-offs. But there is a willingness not to have an embarked squadron of F-35s in the carriers — and that is not good.”

Lord West said the Navy had also failed to install 30-mm DS30M Mk2 guns — powerful guns the warship was designed to carry.

“The bottom line is it’s all to do with money,” said Lord West. “If there was enough money, they would … put them in there.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace recently admitted that the Army had been “hollowed out”, after claims from an American general that the UK was no longer a top-tier fighting force.

According to Sky News, the US general privately told Mr Wallace: “You haven’t got a tier one — it’s barely tier two.”

France has also raised concerns about the state of the British Armed Forces, saying budget cuts were causing alarm among Nato members.

The UK has donated a large amount of weapons to Ukraine for its fight against Russia, including Sea King helicopters, artillery shells and 14 Challenger 2 tanks. Most recently it became the first country to commit long-range weapons.

Lord West said the war in Ukraine had affected worldwide munitions supply chains but the government had settled into a policy of ordering weapons when they were needed to save money.

“‘Just-in-time’ is the mantra because it means you can cut right down on other things,” he said.

“The problem is you have absolutely no resilience whatsoever. If something goes wrong, if something changes, you’ve got a real problem.

“That’s been the problem. It has been just enough, just-in-time, and that’s not a very clever way of doing stuff within the military.”

Updated: February 22, 2023, 12:11 PM