The head of the Royal Air Force has said that he expects operations over Libya to last at least six months and has said that the British government needs to increase funding to the service if it is to perform the tasks assigned to it by the government.

Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton, speaking to the Guardian, said, "In general terms [we] are now planning on the basis of at least six months, and we'll see where we go from there."

He added that if the government does not make "genuine increases" in the RAF's budget at the next Comprehensive Spending Review in 2014 then the service will have great difficulty in maintaining operations at current levels.

The RAF is currently being stretched by the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, the more recent intervention in Libya and the long term defence of the Falkland Islands.

The spending cuts currently being applied to the Ministry of Defence mean that 5,000 RAF personnel are likely to lose their jobs over the next five years. The Royal Navy is facing similar cuts in personnel, while the army is expected to lose 7,000 personnel.

The government has been heavily criticised for involving British military forces in a new conflict while at the same time cutting the budget of those same forces. The cuts have already left Britain without an aircraft carrier and has led to a number of RAF planes being scrapped before they had even seen action.

One of the more potent symbols of this is HMS Cumberland, which was used to rescue British citizens trapped in Libya when unrest began and is now helping to enforce the arms embargo in Libya. HMS Cumberland was only in the area at the time because it was on the way back to Britain to be scrapped.

Con Coughlin, Executive Foreign Editor at the Telegraph said that cutting defence expenditure while getting involved in new conflicts is "folly".

He said, "Thanks to successive government cutbacks, the RAF is now stretched to the limit - I'm told we can spare no more than half a dozen fighters for Libya - which means Gaddafi's forces can once again move around with relative impunity. As a result in the last few days, now that the Americans have withdrawn from the fray, we have seen Gaddafi's forces making a dramatic comeback, once again threatening to overrun the rebels."