The value for money of the investment in the carriers will be significantly reduced if the UK cannot afford enough aircraft to sustain operations over the carriers’ service life, warn the Public Accounts Committee.
In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee commends the Ministry of Defence for delivering two aircraft carriers that form the bases for Carrier Strike but says this success risks being undermined by failure to provide the capabilities essential for the carriers to do their job.
The report states the following referring to the Ministry of Defence:
“The Department acknowledges that it will need more than the 48 Lightning II jets it has ordered so far to sustain Carrier Strike operations through to the 2050s and beyond. It originally intended to buy 138 aircraft, but its assumptions for using the carriers have changed since 2015 and it failed to give us a clear answer on how many more jets it now needs. The Department is considering the number and type of combat aircraft it will require in the future—across all operations—as part of its wider Air Combat Strategy. However, it could only provide us with a broad breakdown of the estimated costs of the Lightning II programme.
The Department has forecast that the programme’s whole life costs are £18.4 billion but, as at June 2020, it had an approved budget of only £10.5 billion. It has told us that each plane currently costs approximately $100m and that this price is falling. Nevertheless, this basic purchase price is just one element, and other costs must be taken into account, including the UK’s original investment to be a Tier 1 partner with the US, and the costs of weapons integration, sustainment and the supporting infrastructure. We are concerned with the Department’s lack of clarity on these costs as it will need to find additional funding to purchase all the jets it will require.”
The recommendation from the PAC states:
“Within one month of this report, the Department should provide the Committee with a full and detailed breakdown of Lightning II related expenditure to date, the approved budget and the forecast whole life costs of the Programme. It should also set out the additional whole life cost of buying more than 48 jets.”
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:
“As things stand the UK has two world-class aircraft carriers with limited capability because the wider debate about the UK’s strategic defence capability – and funding – has been repeatedly delayed. This debilitating lack of clarity threatens our national defences yet it’s not likely to be resolved when the strategic defence review and the comprehensive spending review look likely to be out of step with each other once again.
The MoD and the nation it’s responsible for defending cannot afford for this rare beacon of success, in delivering the two carriers, to descend into yet another failure to deliver defence capability. The MoD must recognise that is a real risk, a real risk to a vital part of our national defences, and it must demonstrate now a clear plan to capitalise on the massive investment the UK has already made – and deliver Carrier Strike.”