DEF051220 - No. 13

Session 2005-06, 20 December 2005

Embargoed News Release: Not for publication or broadcase until 00.01 am on Wednesday 21 December 2005


Embargoed News Release: Not for publication or broadcase until 00.01 am on Wednesday 21 December 2005

MoD ‘SLIPPAGE’ SET TO LEAVE FORCES WITH REDUCED CAPABILITY, SAYS COMMITTEE

Two defence equipment programmes to provide the Royal Navy with a key capability identified by the 1998 Strategic Defence Review may be falling seriously behind schedule. This could leave the Navy without the ‘carrier strike’ capability it needs, and force it to continue operating outdated equipment at substantial additional cost, says the Commons Defence Committee in a report released today, Wednesday 21 December.

Providing the Navy with the ‘carrier strike’ capability is expected to cost some £31 billion (whole life costs), including some £12 billion of procurement costs.  The key programmes are the two new aircraft carriers and up to 150 new carrier borne aircraft - the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).  It is possible that neither the carriers nor the aircraft will be delivered on time, or, crucially, at the same time, and the Committee says MoD and the Royal Navy must make plans for bridging any gap that may emerge.

On the carrier programme, the main investment decision, known as ‘Main Gate’, has been delayed. Further delays may impact upon the dates when the two carriers had been due to enter service - 2012 and 2015. MoD announced last week that it was committing £300 million to the ‘Demonstration’ phase of the programme, a key step before contracting for the manufacture of the two ships. However, MoD has still to finalise the programme budget, set a construction timetable and establish in-service dates - key issues to be resolved before the main investment decision can be taken.

On the aircraft, the programme is being led by the US. It has experienced problems which must be monitored closely. The Committee is concerned that the UK should get all the information and access to technology from the US that it requires to have ‘sovereign capability’ - the ability to maintain the JSF aircraft and undertake future upgrades independently. If not, the UK might need to look at other aircraft to operate from the carriers.

The Chairman of the Defence Committee, Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP, said:

The procurement of two new aircraft carriers, and the Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft to operate from them, will provide the Royal Navy with a key capability for the future. These are two huge programmes, both in terms of their cost and their importance to the UK defence industry.

On the carrier programme, there have been delays in taking the main investment decision (Main Gate), finalising the novel ‘Alliance’ arrangement under which the programme is being run, and making decisions on the optimum shipbuild strategy. The MoD’s announcement last week should address some of the uncertainty within the UK naval shipbuilding industry about the carrier programme and allow the shipyards to invest for the future.

Unfortunately, as with many other defence equipment programmes, our Armed Forces are likely to receive the equipment they need, and the capability they require to undertake their roles, later than originally planned. The Royal Navy may well be forced to run on less capable equipment, beyond the date when it was due to be withdrawn from service.

The procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter raises other crucial issues. The UK needs cast iron assurances from the US, its closest ally, that it will get all the information and technology it requires to maintain and upgrade the aircraft independently. If such assurances are not obtained, the UK might have to consider whether to continue in the programme.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. Committee Membership is as follows: Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP (Chairman), Mr David S Borrow MP, Mr Colin Breed MP, Derek Conway MP, Mr David Crausby MP, Linda Gilroy MP, Mr David Hamilton MP, Mr Mike Hancock MP, Mr Dai Havard MP, Mr Brian Jenkins MP, Mr Kevan Jones MP, Robert Key MP, John Smith MP, Mr Desmond Swayne MP

2. News Release No.13

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