UK’s only operating aircraft carrier travelling without fighter jets on board

HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier part of the Royal Navy fleet
Kevin Shipp /

The UK’s only operating aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, set sail for a month’s training without any fighter jets on board.

According to the Daily Mail the carrier, which was completed in 2017, left Glenmallan in Scotland on February 13, 2023, without a squadron of F-35 fighter jets.

The Ministry of Defense has denied this is due to cost-cutting and F-35 planes are instead landing on the carrier from RAF bases to practice.

However, the decision has been criticized, with a former head of the Royal Navy questioning the UK’s ability to respond to world events in turbulent times.

“If it doesn’t have a full outfit then it’s a joke. 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 practice it all the time,” explained Admiral Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff.

According to Admiral Lord West the aircraft carrier should always have at least 12 F-35 jets on board, although it can carry 40.

The former Navy leader also expressed concerns about the country’s levels of ammunition and whether Britian currently has enough due to donating stockpiles to Ukraine.

“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,” he said.

The UK’s other new aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, is currently undergoing repairs at a dry dock in Scotland.

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