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The BBC's Paul Adams
"A shortage of cash means ships are not always fully fit for duty"
 real 56k

Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
"This kind of risk assessment has a very limited shelf life"
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Ian Duncan Smith, Shadow Defence Secretary
"The Secretary of State is simply not telling the truth"
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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 18:49 GMT 19:49 UK
Navy 'unfit for duty'

The report questions the Navy's readiness for action
Cost-cutting has left the Royal Navy unable to meet its Nato commitments or even defend its own ships, according to a leaked classified document.

The report, seen by BBC Radio 4's Today programme, warns of key shortcomings.

It paints a sometimes sorry picture of the state of the force.

The forces are in grave danger of being unable to defend themselves

Iain Duncan Smith
Shadow defence secretary

It says Treasury cuts mean the Navy cannot fulfil its role in Nato's Rapid Reaction Force as "ships are not always fully fit for task".

But Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told the programme the leaked document was out of date, and problems highlighted were already being addressed.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the document contained nothing new, but admitted it was "damaging" that a classified document had been aired in this way.

The spokesman said this was "not a story about cuts".

But shadow defence spokesman Iain Duncan Smith said the Tories had been warning for years about the dire consequences of cuts to the defence budget.

It seems to me that this is an out-of-date assessment of this risk

Defence secretary Geoff Hoon

The document, the Fleet Risk Register, was drafted last November by an assistant to Admiral Sir Nigel Essenhigh, who was then Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet.

He is now Chief of Naval Staff and First Sea Lord, the navy's most senior officer.

The Register is a rolling assessment of the navy's needs, updated regularly throughout the year.

The report says some vessels have gone to sea without enough ammunition to defend themselves, due to "significant armoury shortfalls".

Pilot shortage

It also raises serious concerns about the state of the Navy's helicopter operations.

It said only 12 of 29 Lynx helicopters based on destroyers and frigates were operational, and the new Merlin anti-submarine helicopter cannot use its sonar in certain conditions.

The MoD said a sophisticated system of "dipping sonars" will be ready by the end of this year, before the Merlin begins to replace the Navy's fleet of ageing Sea King helicopters.

The document also says there is a shortage of pilots to fly Sea Harrier jets.

Marines deployed from Sea King
The Sea King helicopter reportedly lacks range and lift

The MoD says a financial retention package was recently introduced in an attempt to stem the tide of pilots opting for premature voluntary retirement. The early signs, one official said, were "promising".

The document suggests that training has suffered because of restrictions on the use of ammunition.

Many problems affecting the Navy's submarine fleet are also flagged up, including recent trouble with nuclear reactors that led to the withdrawal of the Trafalgar class boats.

'Grave danger'

Mr Duncan Smith said the report was "final proof that the government is damaging our Armed Forces".

He added: "They are simply failing to give them the resources they need and the forces are in grave danger of being unable to defend themselves."

The MoD said the report was deliberately a worst case scenario, and dealt with gaps that could appear in two or three years time if nothing was done.

Mr Hoon told the Today Programme: "It seems to me that this is an out-of-date assessment of this risk.

"Many of these problems have been or are currently being addressed."

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21 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Top brass face flak over shortfalls
10 Nov 99 | UK
Navy 'facing warship gap'
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