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UK Frigate Carried Only Four AA Missiles to Libya

by John Reed on November 23, 2011

Here’s an example of what big-time budget cuts do to real world military operations; the Royal Navy frigate HMS Westminster apparently steamed to the fight in Libya armed with only four Sea Wolf anti-aircraft missiles. Yes, four. The ship can carry 38 Sea Wolfs plus eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Yes, you can say that there was very little threat of an airborne attack on the ship during Operation Odyssey Dawn/Ellamy/Unified Protector. Nevertheless, it’s not comforting to hear that a ship from one of the world’s premiere navies was sent into combat under-armed.

This comes just a little while after it was revealed that budget cuts forced the Royal Navy to leave the British home waters unpatrolled by a major warship for the first time in decades.

Here’s what the UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported on the matter:

Rear Admiral Chris Parry, a retired officer, said it was unbelievable that the Westminster had so few missiles on board and said ships in the Falklands and the Gulf wars were equipped to full capacity. 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 the Westminster had been hit by something? They took a big risk.

“The Government needs to realise there’s only a limited amount you can cut the tail before the teeth fall out.”

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

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

The Ministry of Defence accepted that the Westminster was short of missiles when it sailed to Libya and that it was not replenished at sea. But a spokesman would not confirm or deny claims that the ship had just four missiles in the war zone. Ursula Brennan, the Permanent Under Secretary at the MoD, said: “The assessment of the risk to HMS Westminster would have taken into account the other capabilities that we had in terms of submarines, aircraft and surveillance and so on. The questions will then have been asked, ‘In those circumstances, do we think that is a risk worth taking?’ “That is a judgment our operations people take on a daily basis.”

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