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UK Set To Deploy Aircraft Carrier In The Red Sea In Response To Houthi Attacks

Aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales in Portsmouth (Credit: Britpix / Alamy Stock Photo)

3 min read

The Government's Armed Forces Minister has indicated that the UK could send an aircraft carrier to the Red Sea when the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower – an American carrier currently present in the region – returns home.

The USS Eisenhower has been stationed in the Red Sea since the Houthis, a Shia-Islamist group linked to Hamas, started attacking ships in October.

The UK has issued land-based Royal Air Force typhoons in response, flying over 3,000 miles from Cyprus to attack Houthi targets in Yemen. However, the two British aircraft carriers currently in service – HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales – remain docked in Portsmouth.

“There's no real need for more carrier mass – for more carriers to be in the region than the Ike [the Eisenhower’s nickname] can provide. She's a very capable ship,” Armed Forces Minister James Heappey explained in a forthcoming interview with The House magazine. 

“So our judgment was that with the Ike on station – the Eisenhower on station – and with jets available from Akrotiri, that we were able to meet the challenge as it is now.

“That’s not to say that when the Eisenhower goes home, if we were needed to plug a gap in US deployments, or if the situation deteriorates and we need more, that we wouldn't [send a British carrier].”

Heappey suggested that he believed it was likely that the departure of the US aircraft carrier could be imminent, and did not rule out the possibility of it being replaced with alternative UK resource. 

“I've given you a whopping great clue in my previous answer. The fact is the Eisenhower can't stay there forever. And so there's a thing about just maintaining a carrier presence in the region where we might cooperate with the Americans to provide a capability there.”

The UK has faced heavy criticism for refusing to send an aircraft carrier to the region. “The aircraft carriers themselves are probably one of the least vulnerable military assets there are – airfields, tanks, all these stationary, static things – they're vulnerable," Lord West, former First Sea Lord and Labour peer, told The House. "Not the aircraft carriers. The sad thing is we didn't deploy one to the Red Sea. And there are all sorts of excuses people have been saying why we didn't.”

Sarah Atherton, the Conservative MP for Wrexham who sits on the Defence Committee, added that: “The issue we have is: why is the carrier or one of the carriers not out there? Because the carrier can offer 360 instant response and has power projection – this is exactly what the carrier was designed for. Instead, what we're seeing is sortie machines from Cyprus for the Typhoon and two Voyager refuelers going out on a 3,200 mile round trip.”

While the US carrier fleet is able to deploy at any given moment, UK carriers do not routinely keep jets on board, so require more notice for deployment. The Telegraph also found that the RFA Fort Victoria, the only support ship capable of supplying carriers with adequate ammunition, food and spare equipment, cannot sail due to a lack of sailors. Though commissioned in 2017, UK carriers have still not been deployed into combat.

Lord West explained: “The reality is, the reason that we didn't deploy it is because the Air Force have failed to actually make sure that there is a sufficient air group for the carrier.”

The Ministry of Defence has been contacted for comment. 

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