Navy chief fears cuts will leave forces stretched

The UK's largest ever warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth,  which will be based in Portsmouth
The UK's largest ever warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will be based in Portsmouth
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THE former head of the Royal Navy says five years of government-led cutbacks in defence are a ‘national disgrace’.

Lord Alan West said the cuts since 2010 had left the navy facing a major manpower crisis.

Lord West, the former First Sea Lord

Lord West, the former First Sea Lord

His statements come as the nation’s armed forces ready themselves for Chancellor George Osborne’s comprehensive spending review next week and the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Speaking to The News, the former First Sea Lord said austerity measures from the last spending review and 2010’s SDSR had left the navy reeling.

‘The cuts have gone too far. The fact that we have only got 19 escort ships left for a great maritime nation is a national disgrace,’ he said.

‘In five years since 2010 there has been a 30 per cent reduction in military capability. So when one looks at the navy, the impact is that they put off the aircraft carriers and got rid of the Harriers – which was a disgrace.

‘They had just been upgraded and were perfectly fit for purpose in Libya and Iraq. They were better than the Tornadoes or Typhoons.’

He said other reductions in the Bay-class landing ships as well as the scrapping of the Type 22 frigates had led to a severe shortfall in naval capacity of about a third.

Lord West said the decision to axe naval staff was something that the navy was ‘regretting’.

‘When you look at all of these in their totality, that had a major impact on the navy,’ said the Labour peer.

Cuts following the 2010 review saw some 6,000 sailors axed from the Royal Navy. Naval chiefs are using this year’s review to ask the Ministry of Defence for a further 2,500, which they claim could cost about £125m a year extra.

Defence secretary Michael Fallon said he would like to limit the increase to about 600, instead demanding that the navy axes 300 officers.

Portsmouth North MP and armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt has insisted that this year’s review ‘won’t be as painful’ as the one in 2010.

But in spite of these reassurances, another navy chief has said he is still fearful for the force’s future.

Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham claimed the navy needed up to 4,000 more sailors to operate Britain’s fleet effectively.

‘From a naval point of view there is a serious problem, said to be when I last spoke to Fleet Commander in the order of 3,500 to 4,000 people in order to man the fleet correctly,’ he said.

‘It would be impossible to send ships to sea fully manned.’

Lord West agreed. ‘We have only got 19 destroyers and frigates, six of which have got real problems with their propulsion,’ he added.

‘Manpower still remains a real problem. It’s very easy to get rid of manpower but it’s far more difficult to get that back. We’re still stretched. Yes, we are still highly capable but my goodness we have got to work for it.’

The former Commander in Chief Fleet did, however, welcome the investment in the two new Queen Elizabeth class carriers and Type 26 global combat ship as well as the UK’s continued investment in its nuclear deterrent, Trident.

The UK’S huge new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will be based in Portsmouth and will have a crew of almost 700.