It’s the First Sea Lord’s great navy quandary...

CHALLENGE First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope
CHALLENGE First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope

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THE conflict in Libya has exposed how stretched the Royal Navy fleet has become, a leading defence thinker has warned.

Professor Andrew Lambert said he fears Britain will be unable to fulfil its standing commitments across the world following last year’s defence review and urged the government to rethink its decision to axe 5,000 sailors and 10 warships – including aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and its Harrier jets.

His comments come after the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, pictured above, warned the fleet will not be able to continue the current scale of operations around Libya beyond the summer unless ministers take ‘challenging decisions’ about what they want to prioritise.

‘The Libya conflict has exposed a simple logic that there is nothing left in reserve to do anything more than we are now,’ said Professor Lambert, a naval expert at the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London.

‘If you’ve only got so many ships you can not be everywhere so you are going to have to cut commitments.

‘What Sir Mark was saying was “look, we need to do something about this now before it’s too late”.

‘This must be a wake-up call for the government.’

Twenty-five warships out of 51 in service are at sea across the globe, including three ships off Libya.

The remainder are in UK waters either pre or post-deployment, waiting to be decommissioned or undergoing a refit.

‘Something has got to give,’ warned Prof Lambert.

The Ministry of Defence denied the navy is stretched and said there are enough resources to continue in Libya for ‘as long as we choose’.

Defence secretary Liam Fox said last year’s review would not be reopened.

He added: ‘We continue to have the resources necessary to carry out the operations we are undertaking.’