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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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{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

jhm November 23, 2011 at 7:35 pm

no way hose. are u serious?!?!?

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Copper November 24, 2011 at 1:49 am

*Jose

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jhm November 26, 2011 at 9:02 pm

ahhh thanks. no way jose are u serious!!!!!!

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Stephen N Russell November 23, 2011 at 7:46 pm

No backup, its that bad, No more AA missiles, NO stingers?
Scary, hope for no Falklands War 2.

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PMI November 23, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Looks like the RAF accomplished their mission.

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So? November 23, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Won't cut it with Egypt, I'm afraid.

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guest November 23, 2011 at 8:41 pm

with their history of losing ships to air attack you would think they would have a little more concern about air defense. were the planning upon relying upon the good will of other nations to protect their ships?

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RCDC November 23, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Em, em . Lets buy em, em frigates to solve em problem.

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Sgt K November 23, 2011 at 9:47 pm

They spent too much money appeasing the terrs at home, what with no guns etc.

Sgt K

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sgt k November 23, 2011 at 9:51 pm

They spent too much money appeasing the terrs at home, what with no guns etc.

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TR November 24, 2011 at 1:44 am

Which terrorists did we appease exactly? The same ones that misty-eyed yanks sent money to via Noraid because they thought their grandpappy was Irish once? I remember us shooting loads of those ****s.

Posting it twice doesn’t stop it being pony you Burke.

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Clive November 24, 2011 at 6:01 am

Actually as a UK citizen I can tell you that Sgt K is absolutley correct in what he says. Just take a look at our greatly increased finacial foreign aid sent to terorist nations sucha s Somalia Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan etc etc etc whilst at the same time we have slashed and detroyed our armed services to pay for said aid.

Sadly we are a broken nation.

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anon12 November 23, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Apparently they had four more than they needed.

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William C. November 23, 2011 at 11:58 pm

All it would have taken is one Exocet to cripple the Westminster, cutting corners like this is going to cost lives someday.

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ThamesRat November 24, 2011 at 1:39 am

No need to panic. We’ve just signed a deal to subcontract all our intelligence gathering to The News of the World. The money that saves should buy us loads more seawolves :-)

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eric November 24, 2011 at 3:48 am

Sequestration.

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eric November 24, 2011 at 3:50 am

o wait, explanation. sequestration means next time you yanks will have to go to libya hoping the brits still have those 4 missiles, because you wont have any.

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jhm November 26, 2011 at 12:46 am

errr how many missiles did we yanks launch? wats wit this anti yankee mentality from you? if we hv no missiles next time, well kiss our asses goodbye cause no american battle group will sail to save you or represent what others want and strut about but wont back up with actions. the US has made many mistakes, but soo have other nations, simply hiding ur shame behind the US's is no way to act. This comment will be attacked by many who hate teh US, but truly guys. if u had to pick another nation to replace the US, who would u pick? would have they done better? and if ur going to jab ur fingers at us all day, we can always open the history books and read more then u guys and read the previous chapters before end of the book

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Bronco46 November 24, 2011 at 5:06 am

What's really bad about this is; we rely on these guys if the balloon ever really goes up. And it sounds like they just won't be able to help. All the more reason we need to be able to defend ourselves. The Brits seem to be running on empty.

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Brian Black November 24, 2011 at 8:01 am

“you can say that there was very little threat of an airborne attack on the ship”

SeaWolf is also an anti-missile system. Libyan navy vessels carrying Russian made anti-ship missiles were also a threat to allied warships.

Gaddafi’s ASu capability was limited, and one might expect ships’ war-loads to be reduced according to circumstances and threats -to some extent- but this was an unnecessary risk too far for the sake of minimal cost saving.

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Mastro November 29, 2011 at 11:21 am

I understand that they are broke- but this is the first time since maybe the Iraq Invasion that Brit ships are at war- with a foe who at least has an arsenal on paper.

Very weird

One thing I haven't seen is this might not be a terrible load for chasing Somali pirates- was the ship on that mission beforehand?

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Matt November 24, 2011 at 9:26 am

I think this can be used as a warning for what will occur in America, if Congress doesnt pass cuts to lower the federal debt in ways that dont hurt our military/veterans. If America (really the last truely capable Western military power) has to hollow out its military the West will really have no defence against anyone stronger than a 3rd world nation, if that (remember, it was reported that the EU ran out of munitions and had to get them from America).

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PolicyWonk November 24, 2011 at 12:28 pm

This simply won't happen. Why? Because even if ALL the cuts go through as-is, the USA will still be spending more than the 4 top potential adversaries combined (and still more that we spent per capita during the Clinton years).

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PMI November 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I suggest you talk to some folks who were on active duty during those Clinton years and see what they will tell you about critical shortages of spares and the effects upon readiness that came about due to the austere spending of the era.

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jhm November 26, 2011 at 12:49 am

i worry since our allies are cutting back too. whose going to fill up the void? people poke fun andmock the US military might, but when another crisis arises, and a scrappy carrier group cnt even commit, and a motley of frigates armed with a couple of missiles aint gonna cut it.

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PolicyWonk November 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm

For the British to send a capital ship into a war zone with only 4 AA missiles is penny-wise and pound foolish. A full combat load will not guarantee the ultimate safety of the ship, but its certainly better to have a full load and not need it than to send a ship into dangerous waters without the ability to protect itself. A very dangerous gamble indeed: the Brits were simply lucky this time.

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PMI November 24, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Was the Westminster part of a larger task force? Were other ships tasked with providing the defensive umbrella of said group? Without knowing the exact role the ship (and others) played it's impossible to say whether the small number of defensive stores was a real issue or not.

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elizzar November 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm

the justification for this as i have read is that the ship wasn't operating near the coast as such, and with the sheer amount of allied shipping and air power in the region it would be very, very unlikely that any attack would be made. i also read that it is usually fired in 2 round volleys, so that if only 4 missiles were carried that's two firings (i don't know if this has been confirmed, i think it was the telegraph). saying that, missiles etc. at sea do suffer under the conditions and so it might not make sense for a ship to carry a full load at 'peacetime', the libyan adventures being somewhat hastily planned it would seem. you would assume though that replenishments would be fairly swiftly sent out once shooting started, just in case … anything to save a quid or two at the moment, and hang the consequences …

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carloscardoso November 24, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Aircrafts are no threat to battleships, as any pre-world war II admiral can tell you.

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mhmm... November 25, 2011 at 11:51 pm

I have always wondered if the japanese perpetuated that myth. lol like at a naval conference, some RJN Admiral giving a speech on how ineffective air assaults are on ships

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jhm November 26, 2011 at 12:50 am

i wonder what yamamoto was thinking then… hmmmmm

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John Moore November 25, 2011 at 1:21 am

They did have a CA ship backing them up so they weren't exactly alone but no excuse either.

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mhmm... November 25, 2011 at 11:50 pm

I have always wondered if the japanese perpetuated that myth. lol
like at a naval conference, some RJN Admiral giving a speech on how ineffective air assaults are on ships

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Lou Gots November 25, 2011 at 9:58 am

". . .[A] major warship of one of the world’s premiere navies. . ."

A frigate? By no stretch of the imagination is a frigate a "major warship."

Certainly none of the world's premier navies would consider it as such.

Read more: http://defensetech.org/2011/11/23/uk-frigate-carr
Defense.org

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William C. November 25, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Not back in the day, but a frigate is a "major warship" when you consider the current state of the Royal Navy.

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Lightmaker November 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Of course the Sailors are expendable.

Money wins over life.

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WHITEY November 25, 2011 at 4:42 pm

What bugs me is why the meia is allowed to publish this kind of info.ever show your hand.

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jhm November 26, 2011 at 12:51 am

ddnt something like this happen during hte falklands, when bbc announced a british assault on argentian positions rt before the attack?

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elizzar November 27, 2011 at 10:19 am

that was just before the para's assault on goose green, the action where colonel 'h' jones was killed and received posthumous VC. he threatened to sue the bbc if their incompetency cost his command … apparently the Argentinians thought it was propaganda / disinformation, not thinking the bbc would be that stupid … !
at least this info. was released post-operation, and may pressurise the government into reversing some of the more stupid money-saving ideas it is pushing. will be sending the soldiers out with spears next, to save on those costly bullets …

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Mike November 25, 2011 at 5:10 pm

"Brittania Rules The Waves", my Aunt Thelma's butt…this is as disgraceful a story as it is horrifying. How can any government…oh…never mind…

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itfunk November 25, 2011 at 6:59 pm

This just shows that defense cut lead to efficiency and professionalism.

The real difference between the RN and ours is that they won the campaign. Just contrast it with our lavishly equipped failures.

As one commentator put it sparingly equipped professionals will always prevail over well equipped monkeys.

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jhm November 26, 2011 at 12:53 am

errr well the "sparingly' armed British frigate would appear a "well equipped monkey" to other sparingly equipped warships

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elizzar November 27, 2011 at 10:21 am

i think i understand your point, but the other argument is that our armed forces (the uk) succeed in their missions DESPITE not being properly equipped etc! just think if they were actually given what they need from the start …

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Lou Gots November 25, 2011 at 11:00 pm

"[O]ne of the world's premier navies," by definition , does not send a ship, even a fourth-rate ship,like a frigate, into action with partial ammunition stores.

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Kski November 25, 2011 at 11:11 pm

I can see it now. A anti-ship missile is headed for one of our proud carriers. One problem the Ticonderoga class guided missile cruiser attached to the strike group has no Standard Missiles to meet the threat. An there's no ammo for the CIWS to engage. Yes, folks its sadly the our navy may go if we don't do anything to remove a certain guy with Big Ears.

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jhm November 26, 2011 at 12:54 am

they wont even know the missile is coming. cause by then they would just install dummy radars hahahaha

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mike November 26, 2011 at 11:55 am

Well, hey, you just need to win an election and then your problems will all be solved, right? I mean, that totally worked for the other team, right? They got rid of the *other* guy with big ears and suddenly everything went their way?

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neither November 27, 2011 at 11:19 am

OhMyGawd a SCARY HYPOTHETICAL!

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tiger November 28, 2011 at 1:12 am

If the automatic budget cuts go through, This may become less hypothetical….

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Navbm7 November 26, 2011 at 10:31 am

I wonder if Argentina is reading this. Maybe this is the time to reclaim the Falkland Islands?

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jhm November 26, 2011 at 9:11 pm

man, their military is even worse

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Navbm7 November 26, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Yeah, maybe, but Argentina's military is already there and within striking distance, the UK's is not. Last time we had to send air-to-air missiles to help the Brits I'm not sure how many we have to spare now-a-days.

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jhm November 26, 2011 at 11:48 pm

true true, especially wit the lack of harriers… well hopefully the Argentinians will take the typhoon detachment in consideration. i dunno. the prospect of daggers dog fighting eurofighters seems a bit sad.

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Ray January 31, 2012 at 12:52 pm

They fly A-4s upgraded with F-16 avionics now.

PMI November 27, 2011 at 3:00 am

FWIW the RAF keeps a small number of Typhoons stationed in the Falklands.

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elizzar November 27, 2011 at 10:28 am

from all reports the argentinians have hardly recovered their military from post-falklands level and are in an even worse state than us! added to the fact the garrison is much larger on the islands, with typhoons and a guardship plus around a thousand troops, they would need a fairly hefty invasion force.
the other thing to consider is that apart from argie government sabre rattling, deflection from its own failings and propaganda, the vast majority of argentinans aren't that bothered really, and have many more domestic concerns and problems they wish were solved.
navbm7 – you supplied sidewinder missiles slightly ahead of a scheduled buy, its one of the things allies do for each other, you know, help each other out in times of need. for all our cuts we have capabilities now better than 1982, including tomahawks on our (advanced) nuclear submarine force.

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navy259 November 27, 2011 at 6:20 pm

"our (advanced) nuclear submarine force" as appossed to the not so advaced non-nuclear submarine force, that you sold to Canada. We are still trying to fix that SNAFU.

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tiger November 26, 2011 at 3:45 pm

At this rate James Bond will have to trade his Aston Martin for a rail pass & his Walther for a can of Pepper Spray….

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blight November 26, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Trying to imagine Tomorrow Never Dies, where they sink the Devonshire, enter the shipwreck…and there's no missiles to steal! Oh noes!

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tiger November 28, 2011 at 1:05 am

I think the Queen sold the missiles to pay for the Royal wedding…..

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Tony C November 28, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Certainly NOT the Royal Navy that confronted the German High Seas Fleet!!

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blight November 29, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Oh please. The size of our surface navies have been shrinking since WW2.

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IronV November 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm

The best answer is the one from the MOD spokesperson: I paraphrase "We have to consider all the factors. Our operational leaders do this everyday."

Nothing, most especially warfighting, is ever optimal. It's all relative. It's all compromise. It's all risk assessment. I trust the operational people to figure it out without my uninformed hindsight…

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Robert December 6, 2011 at 8:41 am

If they had fired their 4 misseles they will be screwd!!!!!

Just like ducks in the water for Iranian and Kadaffi's to shoot them like ducks….

RIP and Amen for the crew.

Pathfinder22554

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another February 27, 2012 at 9:28 am

What you have to understand is that the British government is so badly infiltrated by various foreign interests that it hasnt been operating in the interests of the British
people since the early 1970's. In fact it operates directly against the best interests of the british people.

Downgrading destroying and closing one institution after another against all common sense. Starting with the destruction of the education system in1972 creating a nation of cabbage heads that dont even know just how bad their education was and following it on with closure after closure.

The nation that practically created nuclear power and DID arguably create what we now think of as western civilisation (in essence) is no longer even capable of building a single nuclear power plant. They just dont know how.

So is it a suprise that they now destroy the armed forces – and send soldiers into battle without bullets or proper clothing, ships into war without missiles and aircraft carriers without aircraft.

Seriously – does anyone think this is really funny?

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Mastro November 29, 2011 at 11:28 am

So you had absolute faith in the bombing assessment done? Seems to me there is always a great deal of doubt- Vietnam, Kosovo (where the Serbs hid most of their tanks), Iraq- where we killed hundreds of civilians staying in a "command" bunker.

For you to be wrong Libya would just have needed to have protected one jet with a decent bomb load and maybe one Exocet launched from a truck.

It looks like they won the gamble- but really- they couldn't have loaded 2-4 more missiles?

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Mastro November 30, 2011 at 11:46 am

Libya had bought a ton of hardware.

I know we blew it all up- but you are assuming 100% effectiveness.

How many Starks or Hanits (the Israeli ship) do we need for missile defense to sink in?

I think a few more – maybe 8 Sea Wolves, would have been warranted.

Remember- they are at sea- salt water has a tendency to make missiles malfunction- weatherproofing or not.

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