New British carriers suffer from significant technical problems and spiralling costs
Britain’s first new aircraft carriers since the Ark Royal face spiralling costs and have been left vulnerable to attack because of basic mistakes by the Ministry of Defence, according to a critical report by MPs.
The public accounts committee warned that civil servants have little control over plans to build the carriers and their aircraft, which have increased in cost by nearly £2bn since the plans were first approved.
Significant technical problems, including an early warning radar system, could leave the carriers open to attack, MPs said. It follows two U-turns in 2010 and 2012 by successive governments over which aircraft to commission for the carriers.
Margaret Hodge, the committee’s chair, said that the U-turns had increased costs and left many unanswered questions.
She said: “When this programme got the green light in 2007 we were supposed to get two aircraft carriers, available from 2016 and 2018, at a cost to the taxpayer of £3.65bn. We are now on course to spend £5.5bn and have no aircraft carrier capability for nearly a decade.
“The committee is still not convinced the MoD has this programme under control. It remains subject to huge technical and commercial risks, with the potential for further uncontrolled growth in costs.
“We are also concerned that, according to current plans, the early warning radar system essential for protecting the carrier will not be available for operation until 2022, two years after the first carrier and aircraft are delivered and initially operated.”
Under proposals set out in the 2010 strategic defence and security review (SDSR), the coalition intended to switch to the more capable F-35C carrier variant of the aircraft − even though it meant mothballing one of the two carriers on grounds of affordability − but the costs of fitting the necessary catapults and arrester gear, “cats and traps”, had more than doubled to £2bn.
Last May defence secretary Philip Hammond decided to revert to plans by the former Labour government to acquire the jump jet version of the US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
MPs said they are “still not convinced” that the MoD has got the carrier strike programme under control and also raised concerns that the early warning radar system that protects the carriers will not be available until two years after the first one is delivered.
They accused the MoD of “a history of making poor decisions, based on inadequate information” and also warned the department it must be more consistent in assessing what capability it needed.
Around 400 employees are working on the programme, but MPs said they were concerned that “staff are wasting their time with bureaucracy and duplicated effort” in their checks on contractors.
In a statement, Hammond welcomed the report and said it recognised that a contract signed by the last Labour government was not fit for purpose.
“We are currently negotiating with industry to seek to secure proper alignment between industry and the MoD over the balance of the project and so bring the costs under control.
“As the …read more