Only half of the RAF jets due to move to the Gulf have yet reached their destination, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.
The rest are stuck at bases in Cyprus and Britain because Muslim countries have refused to allow them to fly over.
The RAF deployment announced three weeks ago was supposed to be its largest for years made up of 100 aircraft, including 75 fast jet fighters or bombers.
Where are the planes?
On a three-day visit to Kuwait on Monday, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon claimed Britain was ready for war.
But with an air war now almost certainly imminent the RAF has only managed to get 24 fast jets from Britain to the region, BBC News has learned.
A further 12 - all tornados - are stuck in Cyprus.
Another 20 have been unable even to leave the UK because countries in the region opposed to war have refused overflights, according to BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan.
The RAF's strike presence in Kuwait is limited to the 24 that have already made it there plus the eight based there for no fly zone duty. A further 10 are in Turkey.
Of the 32 jets in Kuwait, 18 are harriers which were bound for Jordan but were refused overflight and basing rights there.
After days of talks the Ministry of Defence said some of the jets stuck in Cyprus would move soon but there would still be a big blockage.
Prime Minister Tony Blair denied there was any problems with deployment saying it was "in line with our scheduling".
Earlier, Mr Hoon said there was no rush to war, as he refused to be drawn on the possible timetable for any military action.
The defence secretary has previously announced the deployment of a force of around 30,000 troops and commandos, as well as a 17-vessel Navy task force.