Navy chief sounds carrier warning

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The Royal Navy faces a ‘major challenge’ in building up a force of fighter jets to equip its planned new aircraft carrier, the head of the service has warned.

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, the First Sea Lord, told MPs he wished he could revisit the Government’s decision to axe HMS Ark Royal and its Harrier jets, leaving the UK without a carrier for the rest of the decade.

Giving evidence to the Commons Defence Committee, he said that if the navy still had a carrier it would be deployed on the operations in Libya.

‘If we had a carrier it would be there,’ he said.

Admiral Stanhope said the decision in the Strategic Defence and Security Review to scrap Ark Royal before the new carrier joins the fleet in 2020 could limit Britain’s ability to provide air support for UK forces.

Although the Government is committed to building the two carriers ordered by the former government – a cancellation was too expensive – only one will enter service, with the second mothballed or sold.

However Admiral Stanhope said that could leave the UK without a carrier for around three out of every eight years due to the need for periodic refits.