An Overstretched Royal Navy

So, the Royal Navy, stretched thin by budget cuts that have left it temporarily without carrier-borne strike fighters -- the hallmark of a serious naval power -- can't even field a Frigate or Destroyer to patrol its home waters on a full time basis.

Yup, the seas surrounding the British isles have been left without a so called Fleet Ready Escort ship since October. The FRE acts as a kind of seaborne combat air patrol for the UK's territorial waters -- ready to respond to any type of maritime incident that would warrant the need for a warship. However, since scaling back its surface combat fleet to 19 frigates and destroyers, the UK is having a hard time keeping up with this requirement while conducting military operations off the coast of Libya, reports the Telegraph newspaper.

Former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord Alan West said: "I would hardly say it is a luxury. If there was a terrorism incident in UK waters, this would historically be the ship sent in to deal with it.

"It's a big problem. If we haven't got a ship ready to do this role then it's worrying. It's a very unsatisfactory position to be in."

The last time this happened was nearly 30 years ago when the Royal Navy's entire combat fleet was sent almost a world away to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina.

A Royal Navy spokesman said: "Due to the successful deployment of Royal Navy units to the Libya campaign, it has been necessary to reprofile the commitments of some ships.

"Should a Fleet Ready Escort activation be required, a Royal Navy ship would be allocated."

Asked why there has not been a FRE since HMS Portland, the Navy spokesman said: "We do not need one currently. We've got ships off Libya and they are returning now. That's the situation. We've had to look after our priorities and be flexible. We are doing the best with what we have got."

Now, it's fairly unlikely that Britain is going to be attacked from the sea. Still, this is perhaps symbolic of what many hope will be a temporary, "do more with less" era for militaries wracked by serious budget cuts.

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