The massive example of British engineering and maritime capability that is HMS Queen Elizabeth should be fully resourced in order not to waste her potential.
The National Audit Office recently reported a series of risks to the effective delivery of the ‘Carrier Enabled Power Projection’ (CEPP) programme, one of the most serious issues found is what they describe as increasing pressure on a few highly trained personnel to operate the capability.
They also warn that while the MoD has brought forward Lightning costs originally planned for after 2020, so that two squadrons of jets are available sooner. The total forecast spend of £5.8 billion on Lightning procurement to 2020 could change if foreign exchange rates shift and the total number of jets on order globally varies.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office said:
“The Department [MoD]has made good progress and clear plans to achieve an initial Carrier Strike operating capability by December 2020, but it still has a lot to do as it brings together the equipment, trained crews, infrastructure and support. Problems in any of these areas could mean use of the carriers is delayed or reduced. The programme will shortly move into a high-risk period of trials, testing and training which may affect plans and increase costs. The closely timed sequence of tasks offers no further room for slippage and there remain significant risks to value for money.”
According to the NAO, the MoD is ‘relying on an unusually high level of simulator-based training for pilots which, if not sufficiently realistic, could limit how well prepared pilots are to operate the jets’. The report ‘Delivering Carrier Strike’ warns that the programme is in a high-risk phase. These risks include:
• A tight schedule with limited contingency. The Department has set an ambitious master schedule that brings together the interdependent schedules of the three core programmes to achieve the full CEPP capability by 2026. It has taken a number of decisions to address slippage, which has compressed the schedule and increased risk.
• Operational unknowns that will only become clear once the equipment has been tested The schedule to 2020 includes several ‘firsts’ where the result is uncertain. For example, the first sailing of HMS Queen Elizabeth will take place in 2017, followed by flying trials from the carrier at sea in 2018. The Department has made good use of external expertise where available, for example UK personnel are training alongside the US military to maintain carrier skills. This means the Department will not need to train personnel from scratch when the carriers enter service.
• Increasing pressure on a few highly trained personnel to operate the capability. The Department has a shortage of military personnel, running at 4% below a target strength of 145,560. Key shortages include engineering roles and war-fighting specialists in the Navy and engineering, intelligence, and some aircrew cadres in the RAF. To minimise the impact of these gaps on Carrier Strike, the Department is prioritising the capability and carrying out targeted recruitment. However, it will rely on a few people in certain roles to build up the skills and experience needed in time. This is creating a risk of overburdening a small number of personnel in the build-up to first operational use from 2021.
To mitigate these risks, the NAO recommends that the MoD should:
a. Maintain a realistic view of the aggregate risk and review the master schedule and key milestones regularly. This will help to mitigate the risk of the schedule driving poor decision-making that does not make operational sense or that leads to greater risks or compromises elsewhere.
b. Guard against over-ambition and robustly resist any pressure to bring operational dates forward. In assessing any decision to use elements of Carrier Strike before December 2020, the Department should set out the risks of doing so, the impact on achieving the full capability and the wider impact on defence.
c. Make the decisions needed to integrate Carrier Strike into wider defence capability within the Department’s next annual planning round. This will help identify where there are conflicts such as over-committing equipment or differing views on deployment. Clarity about these issues will be important for ensuring that current programme plans are realistic.
d. Set out arrangements for long-term leadership and oversight of the CEPP capability. Even after reaching the milestones of Carrier Strike and CEPP, there will still be a need for strategic oversight and a forum for discussing issues across the Commands and wider Department.
e. Build more resilience into its workforce model. The Department should continue to monitor workload and time away from base, and ensure that personnel have enough support. In the longer term, the Department needs to maintain efforts to recruit and train extra personnel.
In addition, the MoD recently accelerated its purchase of Lightning jets, which will support pilot training, however the number of pilots will be just sufficient up to 2026 with limited resilience in the event that personnel decide to leave the services.