The UK could send an aircraft carrier to the Red Sea as the threat from Iran-backed Houthi rebels continues, the armed forces minister has indicated.

James Heappey suggested that a British aircraft carrier could be sent to the region to replace the USS Dwight D Eisenhower when it is returned to America.

The UK has already engaged in a series of airstrikes on Houthi targets in cooperation with the US, while the warship HMS Diamond is also stationed in the Red Sea to protect shipping in the key trading route.

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But Mr Heappey, in an interview with the House magazine, suggested a UK aircraft carrier could “plug a gap” in the future.

The Herald: Minister for the Armed Forces James HeappeyMinister for the Armed Forces James Heappey (Image: PA)

Referencing the nickname of the US carrier, he said: “There’s no real need for more carrier mass – for more carriers to be in the region than the Ike can provide. She’s a very capable ship.

“So our judgment was that with the Ike on station – the Eisenhower on station – and with jets available from Akrotiri, that we were able to meet the challenge as it is now.”

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He indicated the Royal Navy could step in “when the Eisenhower goes home, if we were needed to plug a gap in US deployments, or if the situation deteriorates and we need more”.

He added: “The fact is the Eisenhower can’t stay there forever. And so there’s a thing about just maintaining a carrier presence in the region where we might cooperate with the Americans to provide a capability there.”

Retired admiral and Labour peer Lord West of Spithead has been among those suggesting UK could send an aircraft carrier to the region.

The UK currently has two aircraft carriers in service, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.