Britain’s new flagship £3bn aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth’s is devastated by a damaging row – its commanders say it doesn’t have enough crew.
The very first Commander of the new £3bn carrier found the ship to be 70 sailors light when she first went to sea.
Rear Admiral Jerry Kyd – hotly tipped to one day become First Sea Lord – privately lobbied for over 12 months to have the ship’s crew numbers increased.
And since the ship’s new Commanding Officer Captain Nick Cooke Priest took charge of the fearsome carrier late last year, the row has rumbled on.
Insiders confirmed the ship’s original compliment of 670 was decided on “planning assumptions” by senior officers before she became operational, but has proved unworkable.
The revelation raises worries over plans to send HMS Queen Elizabeth on her first deployment to the Pacific in a show of force to China in 2021.
And sparks anxieties over whether the Navy will be able to crew two new strike ships announced this month by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson – and the other carrier HMS Prince of Wales.
It is understood Naval Top Brass last week relented and agreed to a partial lift of personnel – but it still remains short of “aspirations” set out by HMS Queen Elizabeth’s senior commanders, sources confirmed.
And those extra personnel are yet to physically join the crew, sources said.
A senior Navy insider, said: “This has serious implications not just for HMS Queen Elizabeth – but for the whole Royal Navy.
“Planners drew up a very lean crew for the new carrier, but when the crew started getting up to speed it was immediately apparent she needed around another 70 sailors, maybe more.
“And she would need even more when deployed on operations with the F-35 jets.
“It sparked a year-long row as senior officers lobbied for the extra sailors, but where are they going to come from? The Navy is already stretched wafer thin.
Sue top military woman
RAF officer Sue Gray is the most senior woman in the Armed Forces to date after being promoted to Air Marshal.
The engineer, 56 — who served in both Gulf Wars — is also the RAF’s first female three-star officer.
She will soon become Director General of the Defence Safety Authority, in charge of investigations across the Forces.
Air Marshal Gray said: “I’m incredibly proud. I have been fortunate to have a job that is more a way of life.”
She joined the RAF in August 1985. It was the first branch of the Armed Forces to open all roles to women.
“But you have to wonder, if there aren’t enough sailors to man our biggest and newest ship, what’s going on across the rest of the Navy?
“There are no complaints about Rear Admiral Kyd, it’s his job to make these recommendations, he’s not trouble making, but everyone is under the cosh.
“It’s impossible to escape the squeeze on manpower.”
While HMS Queen Elizabeth has a crew of around 670 but she can carry over 1,600 personnel.
This month vastly respected Rear Admiral Kyd was handed the prestigious role of Fleet Commander.
The Royal Navy is the smallest of the three branches of the Armed Forces, yet has to deliver the Royal Marines, the Fleet Air Arm, frigates, destroyers the new Carriers and the nation’s most deadly weapon, UK nuclear deterrent.
‘TOO FEW PEOPLE IN THE NAVY’
It is currently around 4.5 per cent under strength with the current force numbering around 32,000.
Last October when Rear Admiral Kidd was Captain of Queen Elizabeth he revealed Navy recruitment was a “constant battle”.
Speaking as HMS Queen Elizabeth was anchored off the island of Manhattan for a week-long New York visit, he said he would like to see the Navy grow over the coming years.
He said: “It is a constant battle – you have to have a strategy which balances your ends, ways and means.”
But he did not reveal the internal discussions about crew numbers.
Former First Sea Lord, Lord West, said: “We have got too few people in the Navy.
“Now we’re operating the carriers we know much better exactly how many people they need, but they are still pretty lean manned.
“What the Government has got to do is give an uplift to our ceiling for Naval manpower to allow us properly man the units in service, its ridiculous not doing that.”
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A Royal Navy spokesman, said: “It is Ministry of Defence policy not to discuss the detailed manning requirements of our operational vessels, but part of the trials and training process is identifying what changes to the initial manning requirement might be required.
“While the Royal Navy’s manpower challenges are already well documented, we have successfully put a number of measures in place to mitigate against these.
“We continue to look at more innovative ways of manning our capabilities, through the use of different workforce models and technological advances.”
HMS Queen Elizabeth fact box:
LENGTH: 280 metres
FLIGHT DECK: Four acres
WEIGHT: 65,000 tonnes
TOP SPEED: Over of 25 knots.
RANGE: 8,000-10,000 nautical miles
WEAPONS: Phalanx, a radar controlled Gatling gun which fires 20mm at 3,000 rounds a minute
AIRCRAFT: Can carry a maximum of 40 aircraft, including 36 F-35 stealth jets and four helicopters
FACILITIES: A chapel, a medical centre and 12-bed ward, currently staffed with 2 Royal Navy Doctors, a nurse and medical assistants, as well as a dentist.
Five galleys on the warship
The ship’s bakery can produce up to 2000 rolls or baguettes a day.
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