BRITAIN cannot risk sending out its new aircraft carrier without a full fleet of fighter jets on board, a former Royal Navy boss has warned.
Lord Admiral Alan West has demanded defence chiefs hurry up and make sure enough of the new F-35B Lightning IIs are ready for the first deployment of the 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth.
What is crucial is that we quickly purchase enough of them to man up a carrier at full strength for a serious operationAdmiral Lord Alan West
His plea comes just days after the government named 2017 the year of the Royal Navy, and months before the new carrier is due to arrive at her home in Portsmouth.
Whitehall has agreed to purchase 138 of the fighters over the next two decades, delivering two frontline air squadrons.
But Lord West said he was ‘worried’ about the pace at which the government was buying the state-of-the-art carrier-based stealth jets.
He said the carrier should have a full contingent of jets when she begins her maiden deployment in 2021.
‘What is crucial is that we quickly purchase enough of them to man up a carrier at full strength for a serious operation,’ he told The News.
‘We need enough so we can deploy 35 on the carrier. We need to move very quickly in doing that.’
His plea comes amid fears US President-elect Donald Trump could axe the American-produced F-35B, claiming costs were ‘out of control’.
Responding, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said it was ‘fully committed’ to the programme and it would ‘accelerate’ the number of jets being purchased in the early 2020s, purchasing F-35Bs on a ‘rolling’ annual basis.
A spokesman said: ‘The UK intends to buy 138 F-35s and our carriers will be appropriately equipped for each deployment.
‘Whether operating from land or one of our two new aircraft carriers, they will be a formidable fighting force – part of the government’s £178bn commitment to ensure the UK Armed Forces have world-leading equipment.’