Admiral Lord West calls for a massive boost to defence spending as the ‘cupboard is bare’
Failure to boost defence spending in next month’s Budget would send a message to Vladimir Putin that Britain is ‘not serious’ about stopping him, one of the UK’s most senior naval figures has warned.
Admiral Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, said yesterday it was ‘extraordinary’ that ministers had not already hiked spending amid the war in Ukraine and high inflation.
He is the latest in a line of senior military figures, ex-defence secretaries and MPs to call on the Government to increase spending in the Spring Budget or Integrated Review, both due next month.
It came amid a row over the Royal Navy’s only seaworthy aircraft carrier setting sail with no fighter jets on board.
HMS Queen Elizabeth left Scotland on a month-long training mission last week without a squadron of F-35 fighter planes.
Admiral Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, said it was ‘extraordinary’ that spending had not been increased
HMS Elizabeth, the Royal navy’s only seaworthy aircraft carrier, set off for a month long training mission with no fighter jets aboard
The Ministry of Defence denied it was due to cutbacks or a shortage of missiles to arm them.
But Lord West said that, if Britain wants to be ready for war, the 65,000-ton vessel should always set sail with at least 12 F-35s on board.
‘If it doesn’t have a full outfit then it’s a joke.’ he said.
‘It’s no good having an amazingly capable ship if it hasn’t got all the weapons to fight with. The whole point of getting the F-35s was because it was going to be the carrier aircraft.
‘When you’re doing carrier aviation you need to practise it all the time.’
The MoD said F-35s were still landing on the HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea after taking off from RAF bases to practise, but did not say how many.
On spending, Lord West added: ‘It’s extraordinary that with a war raging in Europe, we’re the only country almost that hasn’t done quite a massive increase in defence spending.
‘The Germans have done that, the Baltic nations have done that, the Americans have done that. And they [ministers] quote the uplift [of £16billion] they gave [in 2020]. But over years there’s been lots of cuts so all that was doing was helping the hollowed out, great hole that there was. It didn’t really resolve anything.
‘If Putin is sitting there when this defence review comes round, and again Britain doesn’t increase defence spending, he’s going to say “Ah, they’re not serious, are they? I don’t need to pay much attention to them”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky leaving London, en-route to visit Ukrainian troops being trained by British forces
‘He’ll be working on the assumption we’re not going to fight. Putin will say “That’s great, I rather like that”.’
Lord West also warned Britain was suffering from a shortage of some ammunition due to armaments being given to Ukraine, with stockpiles not as large as they needed to be.
He said: ‘If we were suddenly in a major hot fight then we would run out [of ammunition] really quickly.
‘The cupboard, I would have thought, will be pretty bare with some types of anti-tank systems… and some anti-aircraft systems.’
At the weekend, friends of General Sir Patrick Sanders, Chief of the General Staff, said he was ‘deeply concerned’ about the Army’s operational capability after decades of cuts and warned he was ready to quit.
General Sir Richard Barrons, a former head of the UK’s Joint Forces Command, called on Jeremy Hunt to sanction funding to replace weapons and tanks given to Ukraine and stop ‘deliberately keeping defence broken’.
Putin will believe that the UK is ‘not serious’ if spending is not improved in the next defence review, Lord West said (Putin pictured on February 17)
Last week three former defence secretaries – Sir Michael Fallon, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Portillo – also backed a spending boost.
The Chancellor is weighing up whether or not to give the Defence Secretary more cash. But the Treasury is resisting Ben Wallace’s demands for an extra £8billion-£11billion.
Penny Mordaunt, Leader of the House of Commons and a former defence secretary, has hinted that a cash boost could be on the way.
The MoD insisted that HMS Queen Elizabeth was stocked with what the Royal Navy requested before it set sail, amid reports it also left without a full complement of ammunition.
Sources said this was because it was on a training mission.
A spokesman said: ‘HMS Queen Elizabeth successfully completed ammunitioning… in Glen Mallon as planned. There were no shortages and the ship has sailed.’