The Portsmouth News has reported that HMS Westminster was only carrying 4 Sea Wolf missiles when conducting operations off Libya, or enough for two shots against an airborne threat, missile or aircraft for example.
Concerned Royal Navy officers have revealed the Portsmouth-based frigate was ‘dangerously under-defended’ when she was called to patrol close to the Libyan port city of Benghazi in March.
The warship can carry 32 Seawolf and eight Harpoon missiles. But it is understood military cutbacks left Westminster’s 190 sailors desperately short if they had come under attack off Libya.
It comes after The News revealed the stretched navy was unable to spare a warship to guard British waters for the whole of October following last year’s defence cuts.
As Seawolf missiles are fired in pairs, sources say Westminster had just two rounds to respond to missile attack from Colonel Gaddafi’s troops.
The MoD responded
The assessment of the risk to HMS Westminster would have taken in to account the other capabilities that we had in terms of submarines, aircraft and surveillance and so on and said “in those circumstances, do we think that is a risk worth taking?
A risk worth taking apparently
It is obvious that we have more Sea Wolf missiles and it is equally obvious that there is always a risk balancing act to consider.
Missiles have a finite service life and taking them to sea impact on that service life, the risks of sea skimming missiles and air attack were minimal and there is nothing unusual in having differing war loads that reflect threat levels but we should always ask if this is tail wagging the dog, cost driving decisions on risk.
If it is as a result of wanting to keep costs to a minimum is this kind of under the surface cost cutting a result of clinging to large capital projects that provide the illusion of capability but in reality lead to the fur coat and knicker situation.
Group think, risk assessments and internally justifying yet another one of those thousand paper cuts to capabilities has attendant risk.
Hollowing out real capabilities in order to maintain those big hitters is a fools errand.
The UK Armed Forces trade on their hard won reputation and make no mistake, reputation or perception is a potent weapon.
As soon as that starts to fade, any job becomes harder.