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.
According to the NAO, as at April 2020, the MoD had two new aircraft carriers and 18 Lightning II jets. It has conducted sea trials to ensure its new aircraft and helicopter fleet (including those used for Crowsnest) can operate safely from the carriers.
“The Department expects to have an initial Carrier Strike capability by December 2020 and is working towards its first operational deployment, with the US, in 2021. Its next milestone is to achieve full operating capability for Carrier Strike in 2023 – at which point it will be able to support two UK Lightning II squadrons (up to 24 jets) from one of the carriers. The Department’s longer-term aim is that, by 2026, it can undertake a wide range of air operations and support amphibious operations worldwide.”
The report added:
“The Department has made considerable progress since 2017. It has built two new carriers in line with its overall timetable and at a forecast cost of £6.4 billion, which is £193 million (3%) above the revised budget agreed in 2013. It has successfully applied lessons from building HMS Queen Elizabeth to HMS Prince of Wales and has accepted both aircraft carriers into service. As at April 2020, the Department had spent £6.0 billion on the Lightning II project and received 18 jets, in line with its delivery schedule.2 It has also completed the infrastructure necessary to berth both carriers simultaneously at Portsmouth, and most of the facilities for the Lightning II jets at RAF Marham.”
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.”