Britain's new Navy carriers will sail without crucial radar technology for five years
02:13 GMT, 2 December 2012
Britain's new aircraft carriers will put to sea without a crucial safety feature.
Ministry of Defence sources revealed yesterday that radar technology which warns commanders of incoming enemy warplanes and missiles may not be ready until five years after the first of the 7 billion warships enters service in 2017.
The Royal Navy’s ageing Sea King helicopters, which currently provide the fleet’s Airborne Early Warning (AEW) system, will be retired in 2016.
Without crucial feature: Ministry of Defence sources revealed that crucial radar technology may not be ready until five years after the warships enters service as Sea King helicopters (pictured) are retired
And their multi-million-pound replacements could be delayed until 2022 – leaving HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales without aerial coverage as sailors test out the huge vessels.
The supercarriers are due to begin sea trials in 2017 and are planned to be operational from 2020 – meaning they could be deployed to any trouble spot around the world.
A military source said: ‘If the new AEW isn’t there to protect them, we will have built the most expensive sitting ducks ever.’
News of the hole in the Navy’s defences follows David Cameron’s cost-cutting Strategic Defence and Security Review which saw Nimrod spy planes and Harrier jump jets axed.
The MoD confirmed there will be a ‘capability gap’ in AEW from 2016, and said warships would be able use their own radar systems to detect threats when the Sea Kings are decommissioned.
Cost-cutting: News of the hole in the Navy's defences follows David Cameron's Strategic Defence and Security Review which saw Nimrod spy planes and Harrier jump jets axed
But critics warned this plan has dangerous echoes of the Falklands War – the last time the Navy did not have an AEW system in place.
Five ships were lost in the 1982 conflict, leading to the deaths of dozens of servicemen and hundreds more injuries.
Lord Alan West, who was head of the Navy from 2002 to 2006 and commander of bombed HMS Ardent in the Falklands, warned last night: ‘We are in danger of repeating the mistakes of the past. Will we ever learn AEW is absolutely essential.’