UK: Royal Navy carrier strike group deployment to Red Sea halted due to staff shortages


According to information published by The Telegraph on January 12, 2024, the Royal Navy's plan to deploy its aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, worth £3 billion, to the Red Sea is facing significant setbacks due to a critical staffing crisis.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 Royal Navy's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and RFA Fort Victoria. (Picture source: UK MoD)


Despite calls for its deployment in the region, particularly in light of recent airstrikes launched by Britain and the US against Houthi rebels, the shortage of crew members has put a damper on these plans.

HMS Queen Elizabeth, part of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is currently facing operational challenges. The Telegraph has learned that the RFA Fort Victoria is unable to sail due to a lack of sailors. This ship is vital for providing necessary supplies such as ammunition, aircraft, spare equipment, and food for a full deployment.

While the Royal Navy asserts that HMS Queen Elizabeth can operate without RFA Fort Victoria, insiders suggest that proceeding without it would be suboptimal. RFA Fort Victoria, typically manned by a crew of 100, is currently operating with a significantly reduced workforce.

Context

The Royal Navy is currently facing a significant staffing crisis, which is impacting its operational capabilities and global presence. This crisis is characterized by a sharp decline in recruitment and a loss of skilled personnel, posing a threat to the effectiveness and readiness of the Navy.

The recruitment challenges are particularly acute in the submarine service, which is essential for operating the UK's nuclear-armed submarines. The recruitment figures for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines show a concerning decline of 22.1% in the 12 months leading up to March 2023, a sharper drop than that experienced by the Royal Air Force and the British Army.

The staffing shortfall is not only affecting recruitment but also leading to operational limitations. For instance, the Navy has had to retire frigates due to personnel shortages. Critics, including Tobias Ellwood, former chairman of the UK Parliamentary Defense Select Committee, have expressed concerns over these decisions, given the already overstretched state of the UK's surface fleet.