The National Audit Office have released a report titled ‘Carrier Strike – Preparing for deployment’, the report examines the MoD’s management of the programme since 2017 and the risks towards achieving Carrier Strike’s full capabilities.

Under the Carrier Enabled Power Projection concept, the operational freedom of a carrier group relies on support ships providing munitions and stores where and when they are needed. However, delays are posing risks to the programme say the NAO.

What’s the issue?

According to the National Audit Office:

“The Department has been slow to develop the solid support ships which are crucial to operating a carrier strike group. Carrier Strike relies on the sustained availability of munitions and stores, such as ammunition and food. However, the Department has only one ship able to resupply a carrier group, which slows the tempo and reach at which this can be done. It has long been aware that this will restrict the operational freedom of Carrier Strike but has not yet developed a solution.

In November 2019, the Department stopped the competition to build three new support ships due to concerns about value for money. It believes this will delay the introduction of new ships by between 18 and 36 months, making it uncertain the first new ship will be operational before the existing support ship leaves service in 2028. The Department will also incur additional maintenance costs while it uses its existing support ship as an interim solution.”

The Department has long known that deploying Carrier Strike will depend on two types of support ship:

• tankers supplying oil and water; and
• solid support ships, carrying food, ammunition and general stores.

In April 2020, the MoD was reviewing its options and the impact on the delivery schedule. It has recognised that achieving full capabilities of a carrier strike group depends on the new support ships being available from the mid-2020s. However, the MoD now expects there will be a delay of between 18 and 36 months to the new ships entering service, meaning the first ship would be operational between October 2027 and April 2029.

The NAO say that the MoD will need to assess the impact of any delay when it considers whether it has met the final CEPP programme milestone for full operating capability in 2026.

“In the meantime, only one of the three current Royal Fleet Auxiliary solid support ships is capable of resupplying the carriers. RFA Fort Victoria entered service in 1994 and is due to retire in 2028, having already been extended beyond its 25-year service life. The Department has allocated £2 million to modify RFA Fort Victoria so it can replenish the carriers at sea and in 2016 budgeted up to £42 million to operate the ship to 2028. Having only one support ship with limited cargo capacity slows the tempo and reach at which the Department can replenish a carrier group. In addition, the Department will have restricted options for deploying the carriers for much of 2022 because RFA Fort Victoria will be unavailable due to major planned maintenance work.”

Background to the report

Carrier Strike provides the ability to launch fixed-wing aircraft from a ship to undertake a range of military tasks. It is central to the government’s plans for the country’s armed forces and the first step towards Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP), which is the government’s ambition to be able to respond to conflicts and support humanitarian relief efforts anywhere in the world at short notice.

Carrier Strike will be based around two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers – the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy – together with Lightning II jets, which are being bought through the United States Department of Defense’s international programme. The Ministry of Defence (the Department) is also buying a new airborne radar system, Crowsnest, to help protect a carrier strike group. Depending on the type of deployment, the carriers will be accompanied by at least one destroyer, an anti‑submarine warfare frigate, and ships for support and resupply.

Content and scope of the report

According to the National Audit Office:

“Since 2011, we have reported four times on the Department’s progress on Carrier Strike. Our early reports covered the decisions about the type of carrier and jets that the Department bought. In 2017, we highlighted that the phase to 2020 would be crucial and there was little room for manoeuvre in the delivery schedule. In this report, we examine how the Department has managed the programme since 2017 and how it is addressing the risks towards achieving the full capabilities of a carrier strike group. We set out:

  • the background to Carrier Strike and what the Department has achieved since we last reported (Part One);
  • the Department’s progress in managing the elements of the programme that are still needed to provide the full Carrier Strike capabilities (Part Two); and
  • how the Department is addressing the challenges to achieving its ambitions for Carrier Strike (Part Three).

Our report focuses on the Department’s approach to addressing the risks to achieving the capabilities of Carrier Strike. We do not evaluate the military or wider capabilities that Carrier Strike will provide, or the plans for its operational use.”

You can read the report here.

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Geoffrey Roach

MOD slow? surely not. When we come out of this pandemic we are going to need all the global good will and all the skilled jobs we can find. Just two good reasons for getting the task force together and for the ships to be built here….and a s a matter of urgency.


Slow? Sadly, you are correct, and not just surface ships, take a look at the Warrior Upgrade and CH2 LEP, talk about slow to stop! I wish the MOD were as fast building and putting into service new assets, as they taking them off the manifest.


All too familiar. Judging by the shambles that the equipment programme is and for a department that is supposed to be full of people able to make decisions in the most stressful of conditions it seems remarkably incapable of making decisions – except perhaps for kicking cans down the road..!

Depressing 🙁

On a plus note there is a good news story of sorts on Save the Royal Navy about how well the MoD / Supply Chain have managed with Covid-19. Small glimmer in an otherwise gloomy picture.

Cheers CR

Andy P

Yeah, its all just so frustrating…. and it continues to happen. I’ll stop short of calling it corruption but there is definitely a link between the MOD (at some levels) and business. I’ve witnessed at least the ‘potential for compromise’ first hand. If you’re the ‘right kind of a chap’ then there doesn’t seem to be much scrutiny. This has to change.

Mark F

Until Joe public start raising the roof over the lack of defence spending and the awful waste that the MOD are only good at the country is not going to see any change. Defence has been hollowed out fo decades now and there is no going back.

Steve R

Problem is, Joe Public by and large doesn’t care all that much. They’ll read it in papers and think it’s a shame. They might sign a petition if one comes across their Facebook feed, but no one is going to take to the streets to demand more defence spending, like they would if the NHS budget was repeatedly slashed. The same with parliament. We get the occasional MP demanding more money – Gavin Williamson during his tenure as defence secretary, and Jeremy Hunt vowing to spend significantly more on defence if he were made PM. But defence doesn’t really win… Read more »


There has been a couple of loud voices I’ve noticed over the last few days challenging the MOD’s current procurement process (finally.) Hopefully this will implement the start of some much needed change.


I doubt it is the MOD that is the problem, my guess it is the political masters and their unwillingness to release the funds.


I wonder if the mod is considering the same solution as the Germans and just borrowing the Karrel Dorman. What do the Dutch and Germans need it for anyway?


The time lines are interesting – contract award on 2020 and vessel in service 9 years later in 2026.

I can only imagine why anyone thinks that is acceptable.


6 years later….typing too quickly!


All these NOA articles could’ve been rolled in to one entitled ‘Department continues to piss what little money it has up the wall’.

Aethelstan the curioAreus

I can’t help but think that most of the problems are rooted in political dancing about. Carry out a review pretend you have a plan, sounds clever, then use defence spending asa macro economic buffer as always. Spin it again so that a crock of sh1te smells like roses.


Well, this is really surprising news… said no one ever.


I do wonder how much better capability we would have, if politicians stopped delaying decisions to save in the short term at the expense of the long term costs.

Daniele Mandelli

Who decided to get rid of Fort George? When the less capable and older Forts Austin and Rosalie ( Grange ) were retained.

Would it have not made more sense to keep the newer vessel? Or maybe they saved more at the time?

Really, those who make decisions who then run off scott free. Something must change.

barry white

Those who make the decisions normally end up with a knighthood

Mark B


I for one am hoping that Boris will surface from Covid shortly and commit funding for infrastructure projects across the board. I’m guessing that it will be a big cake and defence will not be first on the list but should get a good chunk of money.

If Boris doesn’t do this he is toast.

The issue that you raise is the most important. We must spend the money wisely in future and whatever needs to be changed needs to be changed.

Daniele Mandelli

Hi Mark. I agree. I fear there are those quite happy to keep HMG submerged in Riots/BLM/Covid/social unrest, however.

I pray they fail.

David Flandry

That would be Cameron and Osborne, the two men who destroyed the armed forces.


Forts Austin and Rosalie are cheaper to operate than Fort Victoria and George. The Fort II are significantly more complex vessels designed to survivable in a fight. Their maintenance costs were higher than the far simple Fort I and Grange was retired so she could be parted out to keep Fort Victoria going.


Fort George I man not Grange.


Not just the Fort George but all the other stuff they sold for scrap or at knock down prices. They will never learn until we have politicians who understand Defence.


MOD/RN must have NOT ordered T31. 2B GBP spent there could have delivered 3 FSSS.

I think this is exactly the “lack of decision”. With no forecast in budget increasing, they committed the 2B GBP to, for me, 3rd or 4th in priority, compared to
– at least 2 FSSS
– ordering all 8 T26 (5 more)
and comparable to boosting F35B buy.

Lack of decision.

Meirion X

A very good decision made in procuring the T31 Arrowhead at £250m each! They just need some more armament(GFE).



T31 is 2B GBP program for 5 hulls, including GFE.

From where ” £250m each” came?
Yes, it is the hull cost, but does not include training, 1st year support, CAMM and other GFEs.
As a whole, it is £500m each


Correction, £400m each.

T31, originally REQUIRED to be £1.25 for 5 hulls, including everything (training, support, even GFX), turned out to be £2B GBP. It has stollen £0.75B from the precious equipment cost, risking all other programs.

Meirion X

It is Not True that £1.25 Billion included every cost of the T31. £1.25bn go’s the builder.
So another £750m is for support contracts and GFE.


Yes but the MOD is the world leader in snalis pace procurement & overunning costs.

However we once ruled the waves with the largest navy on the planet, we seem to have lost the art of delivering what we need, when we need it, a long time ago. It’s a disgrace.


Snalis as snail does. Sorry, should’ve been snail.


Perhaps this is a factor in the slowness of any decision.

It looks like the RN have formulated a new strategy for RM assaults. Expect the replacement of the 2 LPDs. And 4 Juan Carlos might have been a better choice than 2 QE class.

Andy P

Could only read the first couple of paragraphs Paul, can you give us the gist of it, guess we’ll be having a few hundred booties based in Bahrain then ???


I did a google search and found another news paper with the info

All it appears to be is 200 marines forward deployed. I am not sure what 200 marines could realistically do in a war situation, seems kinda light.


It would amount to 2 x Company groups, located strategically to be first on scene, and it will of be the right number of lads to fit into 3 x Commando Merlin’s, which is the number of airframes which has now been banded about to be permanently deployed on QE or one of the new littoral ships they are talking about. A company group seems small but throw in a TAC party, with JTAC, FOO, MFC, you have force multipliers on scene first instance. Just my educated opinion on the new formation and concept of operations. Any other ideas or… Read more »


Heard they are getting a new uniform made by Cyre Precision to replace the current MTP.


My concern is that any light forces are short term duration operations only, and if the Royals go totally light, without even the ability to be reinforced by armour (Albion etc paid off?) then it’s a bit of a step back, which I fear is guided by finance and not tactical and strategic considerations. Cheers.

Andy P

“which I fear is guided by finance and not tactical and strategic considerations.”
This is the default concern isn’t it, we know the UK doesn’t do things for strategic or tactical reasons per se, its usually financially driven. Maybe we’re just too cynical but i doubt it. Superficially, forward basing some guys isn’t a bad idea as long its ‘as well’ and not ‘instead of’ something more substantial.


Outside a embassy evec or a humanitarian crisis that size force would be useless. They might be temporarily effective for a day or maybe a week, but if the main force is weeks away they would be rapidly outnumbered and killed. Think the 100 marines that were in the Falklands, they did a decent job for their numbers but ultimately would have been overrun if they hadn’t surrendered.

Its purely a PR stunt to show global Britain, it has no military strategic logic behind it.


Disagree and agree. The fact that the Royals are going “light” does mean that any insertion, by the Coy Group means it would be only a short term evac/snatch/show of force and they would need to be reinforced or extracted quite rapidly. You are correct in that assumption. But as a PR stunt totally disagree as the concept of having highly trained role specific lads, with a decent set of comms and TAC group, means it can deploy quickly, operate as the “tip of the spear”, maybe hold an air head/landing ground/air landing area in preparation for further landings, and… Read more »


I guess it depends what force multipliers they have. Merlin themselves don’t have the fire power to attack as a gunship. It could however lift in some light guns. It seems Martlet is capable for air to ground, but not clear if it needs to be reconfigured from the naval mode or if the Wildcat is capable to using them in that form. Apache is clearly the solution, but we only have a limited number, not sure they will be forward deployed. They would also need some form of surveillance assets (drones) which we don’t have anything on the naval… Read more »


As normal we have lots to do, gaps to plug, concepts of operations to come up with and equipment to modify and manage. Let’s hope it’s a workable concept and not overly guided by finance. Cheers mate.


when was the last time the marines got any dedicated new kit outside wildcat which was more general purchase between the services.

Daniele Mandelli

Viking? They soon ended up in the army mind!

Glass Half Full

The Stern Landing Ship linked below is being thrown around a lot as an example of what the USMC want for their Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) Program. Basically a cheap, fast, flexible way to get heavier vehicles, weapons and supplies onto a beach. To support Norway for example, these ships would sail direct from the UK in shore-to-shore operations, with none of the exposure of the legacy platforms with their relatively slow offloading using landing craft and Mexaflote. These ships also avoid using a port (assuming one is available) with RO-RO which is also easily targeted.


Unfortunately the effect of Covid and Brexit will be that the public purse will be empty for some time and so we will only be investing in selling off assets not buying new ones i suspect.

Glass Half Full

Hi Steve. With current low interest rates there isn’t pressure to avoid increasing debt, combined with Govt. recognising that austerity didn’t work well last time. I expect cuts in some areas where equipment and forces may be inconsistent with future strategy but it seems unlikely that we’ll get wholesale cuts because of austerity, especially if continuing with current plans helps support UK employment and leveling up, which seem to be a continuing focus of Govt. There seems to be a real push to address the shortage of manpower across the services with increased recruitment for example. So UK shipbuilding plans… Read more »


I really hope your wrong. Any economic plan based on the idea that interest rates are currently low is insane. Yes they are low today but they could easily shoot up at any time and a government in massive debt can do very little to stop them, as they have given up most of their tools. If they just keep borrowing sooner or later we will hit greece/ireland levels of debts and won’t have anyone to bail us out. The government is talking a good game right now about not making cuts, as they have to whilst the economic uncertainty… Read more »

Glass Half Full

Govt bonds are sold at fixed yield, fluctuations in interest rates during the bonds duration don’t affect the govt’s interest payment. So the issue to recognise is having to re-finance that debt down the road in the event significantly higher interest rates prevail at that time. So disciplined borrowing is required. However, the large amounts of debt taken on by major economies, especially the US and Japan, around the world is likely to result in low rates for a long time. It has been argued in the past that rates wouldn’t fall further and would even increase. Yet here we… Read more »


they are sold fixed yield but they are limited duration, and price of the bond needs to be paid off at the end of the duration which means money must be available. What happens is new bonds are issued to cover the payoff and the new bond might be much higher interest rate. Its like using new credit card to pay off the old, eventually you run out of 0% deals and you get hit by 20%. Government debt is not free money and if interest rates go up it will hit the country bad as the cost of borrowing… Read more »

Glass Half Full

Steve, that is what I wrote, as in “So the issue to recognise is having to re-finance that debt down the road in the event significantly higher interest rates prevail at that time. So disciplined borrowing is required.” I also addressed the “if rates go up” argument.


That’s fair. Unforuntely with such high debt it’s hard to be responsible. 100% of GDP doesn’t initially feel high but that is probably close to 10x tax revenue (no idea on exact multiple but a guess). If you borrowed 10x your salary, you would be in serious trouble and same applies here.


I have no idea how the government will deal with this or how much the economy will rebounce now it’s openning but I fear we won’t have public facing cuts, but I can see defence purchases being kicked back another decade under cover of changing requirements / retenders etc.

Meirion X

Some of the bonds are sold for 30 years redemption.


Sorry Andy, I don’t have a subscription. But I recall reading a strategy article posted by someone on ukdefence I think. As I remember the gist of that was that San Carlos Falklands assaults are a thing of the past. The defenders will have too much notice to organise and lots of cheap and effective AShM some of which are bound to get through to the LPDs. So because there will be ship losses the idea is to have more assault vessels and to devise a capability for graduated rapid response. Position some assault force components permanently near to potential… Read more »

Andy P

Cheers Steve and Paul. P, appreciate you both taking the time. I know the US Marines have been looking at smaller vessels for smaller engagements, this is maybe our ‘council house’ version. We seem to be talking quite small numbers though, for humanitarian aid great, for the more serious stuff….. hmmm. Its a start I guess and sends a message, maybe in the same way as a platoon of booties did in the Falklands. I understand that ‘assault ships’ are now more vulnerable, they’re still a good way of shifting a lot of guys and gear to where you need… Read more »

Meirion X

A Juan Carlos carrier would Not be of any value to the UK.
A F-35 is a lot bigger then a Harrier! You would Only get a few F-35s on a JC deck! The ramp is not wide enough on JC to support F-35.
V22s,, are the best way to transport Commandos long distances.


Thx. You are right. I get it I think.

I could see how assaults might be done with QE as a mother ship out of range of AShM and protected by T26/45 with helos, Rivers and then Bays doing the assault. Littoral inshore force protection from a T31 perhaps while F-35 provide air superiority. Anyway, I’m no expert. Overactive imagination. I’ll sign off and leave it to the experts

Meirion X

I mean the Juan Carlos’s deck is narrow, very little storage space for F-35s and supporting Helos, and slow of only 21 knots.
The QE class are much better Value for money for the UK!

Andy Smith

We need to wait until we leave the EU in December or we end up having to tender the ships the EU. They should be built in this country


The dutch have invoked a cluase to build their support ship in tyhe Netherlands.


AS these support ships are so important and essential for the operation of a carrier strike force, surely this must mean they are a soveriegn requirment and an inability to build the actual hulls and have a very hight UK content of build because of past eu rules is down right dangerous and irresponsible.