Cuts left Royal Navy warship ‘dangerously unarmed’ during Libya operation

FEARS HMS Westminster went to Libya with as few as four missiles
FEARS HMS Westminster went to Libya with as few as four missiles
The aircraft carrier is the largest warship ever built by the Royal Navy and has 700 sailors and 200 civilian personnel on board. PHOTO: Royal Navy

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HMS Westminster was sent to the warzone in Libya armed with as few as four missiles, The News can reveal.

Concerned Royal Navy officers have revealed the Portsmouth-based frigate was ‘dangerously under-defended’ when she was called to patrol close to the Libyan port city of Benghazi in March.

The warship can carry 32 Seawolf and eight Harpoon missiles. But it is understood military cutbacks left Westminster’s 190 sailors desperately short if they had come under attack off Libya.

It comes after The News revealed the stretched navy was unable to spare a warship to guard British waters for the whole of October following last year’s defence cuts.

As Seawolf missiles are fired in pairs, sources say Westminster had just two rounds to respond to missile attack from Colonel Gaddafi’s troops.

Retired naval officer Rear Admiral Chris Parry said it was unthinkable Westminster had so few missiles on board and said ships in the Falklands and the Gulf wars went there fully loaded.

He added: ‘This is yet another example of the incoherence of last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review. What if the government’s bluff had been called?

‘What would the Ministry of Defence be saying if Westminster had been hit by something? They took a big risk.

‘The government needs to realise there is only a limited amount you can cut the tail before the teeth fall out.’

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, who is a naval reservist, said: ‘I’m absolutely convinced and so are other warfare officers I’ve spoken to that Westminster would have been in danger.

‘We’ve hollowed out the capability to a dangerous level.’

The MoD accepted Westminster was short of missiles when she went to Libya and that she was not then replenished at sea. But a spokesman would not confirm or deny claims that the ship had just four missiles in the warzone.

Permanent Under Secretary at the MoD Ursula Brennan said: ‘The assessment of the risk to HMS Westminster would have taken in to account the other capabilities that we had in terms of submarines, aircraft and surveillance and so on and said “in those circumstances, do we think that is a risk worth taking?”.

‘That is a judgement our operations people take on a daily basis.’