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.
The MoD faces “significant challenges if it is to build on its progress since 2017 and develop the full capabilities of a carrier strike group”, say the NAO.
Recommendations outlined below are intended to support the MoD in the next phase of the programme:
- Develop a full understanding of the costs of running and supporting Carrier Strike. This should be updated to reflect data from forthcoming deployments and include modelling on a range of operational scenarios. It should use these estimates to inform major decisions and understand the consequential impact on the Armed Forces as a whole. It should also test whether future funding provisions are realistic, including by improving the quality and governance of its financial planning forecasts;
- Restate its ambition and objectives for Carrier Strike when the Integrated Review is published. It should use this Review to form a revised plan to achieve its milestone of full operating capability for the Carrier Enabled Power Projection programme in 2026. At the strategic level, it should consider the extent of interoperability with allies and ensure its priorities are reflected in command plans. At an operational level, it should develop a detailed programme schedule, identifying interdependencies and critical path;
- Establish a clear view on the future enhancement costs of a carrier strike group. It should develop a consolidated long-term investment plan covering all capabilities in a carrier strike group, identifying out-of-service dates and when decisions are needed. It should also ensure commands are making coherent investment decisions to support the continued development of Carrier Strike. This should include identifying funding shortfalls that inhibit achieving its ambition and making strategic cross-command decisions about how to resolve them;
- Monitor the new governance arrangements for the Carrier Enabled Power Projection programme to ensure they are working effectively. The new arrangements need to provide cross-command oversight of funding commitments, a coherent approach to managing developments, and clear responsibilities for decision-making on Carrier Strike operations. These arrangements should address any potential conflicts within or between commands, and ensure long-term development or operational needs are not undermined by short-term financial pressures; and
- Conduct in-depth lessons-learned exercises on the Carrier Enabled Power Projection projects. The Department should ensure that it assesses the factors that lead projects to succeed or fail, including the root causes, and disseminate the lessons so that they are reflected in its management of other programmes. It should also look to disseminate lessons more widely across government.
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.”