THE Royal Navy’s ability to operate its two new aircraft carriers could be severely limited because of a lack of support vessels to keep them supplied, the spending watchdog has warned.
The Navy only has one supply ship to keep the Carrier Strike force, which now includes the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, stocked with food and ammunition while on operations, the National Audit Office said.
Meg Hillier, head of the Commons public accounts committee, said the Navy could be left ‘with a hollowed-out capability and unable to satisfy expectations’.
The NAO said the Ministry of Defence had long been aware the lack of support ships would restrict the force’s ‘operational freedom’ but had yet to come up with a solution.
A competition to build three new vessels was scrapped due to concerns about value for money, delaying their introduction by up to three years. It is now uncertain if the first of the ships would be ready in time for 2028 when the support ship is due to be taken out of service.
The NAO also warned the force’s crucial Crowsnest airborne radar system was 18 months late and the MoD had yet to commit funding for enough Lightning II fighter jets to sustain the carriers over their expected 50-year operating life.
Ms Hillier added: ‘The MoD has lofty ambitions for the carriers but hasn’t put its money where its mouth is. Worryingly, it still doesn’t know the full cost of supporting and operating Carrier Strike.’