BRITISH fighter jets will only be able to offer a limited contribution to military action in Libya following the scrapping of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, a former RAF hero has warned.
Commander Nigel “Sharkey” MacCartan-Ward, the most senior Sea Harrier commander in the Falklands War and a former Government adviser, said Britain would struggle to put up a robust air presence from its expected base in southern Italy, hundreds of miles from any likely targets.
The British military contribution, likely to involve around a dozen Tornado jets and a similar number of Typhoons, is expected to be minimal and costly, in part because of the distances involved.
Planes based in Sigonella, Sicily, will have to travel more than 300 miles to Libya, and aerial refuelling will present a significant challenge.
With restricted British capabilities, America will have to take on the lion’s share of the action.
Cdr MacCartan-Ward, an outspoken critic of defence cuts, said: “Sigonella is still a long way from Tripoli and very much further from Benghazi. If you are talking about no less than 500 miles, and up to 900 miles to the Benghazi area, you need an enormous amount of resources to keep them (the jets) up there.
“It isn’t an effective way, to do it and from a military perspective, it is totally nonsensical.”
With aircraft carriers, the job would have been a simple one, he added. “Within six days we could have had a carrier sitting off Libya. It would have been so simple for the Prime Minister to send Ark Royal down to the Mediterranean and we could have done an excellent job.”