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Former head of navy says there are not enough ships, staff, submarines or missiles

Britain will end up with a “third world military” unless ministers spend more, a former head of the Royal Navy has warned.

Admiral Sir George Zambellas, who retired as First Sea Lord last year, told The Sunday Times that the Navy was “hollowed out” in terms of resources, and he questioned how much more the “post-Brexit Navy” could be stretched in global waters.

Mr Zambellas, who won a Distinguished Service Cross in 2001 for his command of a warship during Britain’s intervention in Sierra Leone, said that after the UK’s 2015 defence review the country had a “choice” to make regarding the future of the Navy.

“You either put more money in or you stop doing serious things and disappear into a Third World nation, security-wise, even though we are spending billions on defence.”

He added that after 37 years of cuts the Navy is “at the bottom of the efficiency barrel and we all know that, because the Navy is so hollowed out.”

Mr Zambellas said the Navy did not have enough missiles, combat surface ships or “integrated support”. He recommended 12 hunter-killer submarines to protect the four submarines carrying the UK’s nuclear deterrent, but only three of the promised seven have been built.

He also questioned the delayed response from the UK after Hurricane Irma ripped through the Caribbean islands, leaving hundreds of UK citizens stranded.

A first ship was stationed nearby and could help but a second ship, HMS Ocean, is not expected to arrive until the end of next week.

During the early 1980s, the UK had 26 submarines – now 10, and 55 frigates and destroyers – now 19, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The UK only has one aircraft carrier, which will be operational in 2020 as it undergoes sea trials.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “Our budget is growing and, for the first time since the Second World War, so is our Royal Navy.

“Our Navy can already carry out all its operational requirements, but with two types of brand new frigates and two huge aircraft carriers in the pipeline, the UK is fulfilling its global maritime role.”