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Can we afford the carriers?

Robert Peston | 09:57 UK time, Tuesday, 30 June 2009

What I think many will find odd about the 25% or £1bn increase in the cost of those colossal carriers over the past year is the government's statement that it is explicit policy to pay more.

Aircraft carrierOn the Ten O'Clock News last night, Quentin Davies - the minister for defence equipment and support - said that some of the price rise was down to inflation and to changes in technical specifications (the bane of so many defence projects over so many years).

But he said the main contributor was that the Ministry of Defence has chosen to extend both the timescale over which HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will be built and (more important) the timescale for making payments.

This two-year extension was announced at the end of last year. And one of the main reasons for the delay was that the size of the annual payments will fall, and will therefore exhaust a smaller chunk of the MoD's annual budget.

Or to put it another way, the MoD is the equivalent of a family that takes out too big a mortgage - and negotiates to reduce the size of the regular payments knowing that the total bill over the life of the mortgage will soar.

Some will see this as a budgeting practice from the "one-born-every-minute" school of management.

Since in elongating the life of the project, the contractors have to employ workers for longer, they have to finance working capital for longer, and they have to budget for rising prices over a longer period.

It all adds up - to many hundreds of millions of pounds of incremental cost.

This so-called "resource re-profiling" extends and massively increases the liability for taxpayers.

The question, however, is whether it is right to purchase such enormous pieces of kit if the MoD can't afford to pay for them over what was originally perceived to be the most rational duration of the project.

But with tax revenues so tight and public sector debt rising so sharply, we're probably going to see a good deal more of this kind of thing throughout government - with the cash payments for all manner of big public-sector projects transferred expensively to later years.

Tomorrow's taxpayers may not end up thanking today's ministers.


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  • Comment number 1.

    But as you know in politics it is all about the now. They don't care about the tomorrow. Why should they? Everyone knows if you pay up front costs in the long term come down but if you defer payment until later the annual cost will be cheaper but we will be paying it for that much longer so when money should be available for new projects, old projects are still costing.

  • Comment number 2.

    would be interesting to know where this inflation has come from - raw materials, labour costs ? What planet are they building these carriers on ?

  • Comment number 3.

    One generally overlooked aspect of this argument is the impact of any cancellation on the shipbuilding/defence industries capabilities.

    Shipbuilding capability in this country has - in common with many other sectors of 'real' industry - declined precipitately in the last 2 - 3 decades. The capability and skill/knowledgebase that enables us as a country to construct these ships would probably be lost completely if they were cancelled.

    Do we really want to take the risk that in 10 years time, when - whoops - carriers are seen to be essential to our military after all, we have to get the French or the Italians to build them for us?

  • Comment number 4.

    Fits in with everything else Brown does, put it on the Never Never !

    What a shambles that we are in this position. When Britain cannot maintain its armed forces we are in BIG trouble.

    Or is it just another step by our Supreme Commander Lord Meddlesome of Hartlepool (Unelected) to disband our defences completely and make Britain a Platoon of the EU super force.

  • Comment number 5.

    Inflation? I thought we had deflation?

    I think we need a blog on this Robert, someone is lying to us all!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    We probably could afford the carriers if we got rid of all the useless people working in the public sector. The thousands of characters who get hired through the Guardian's job pages.

    And, Robert, you say: 'Tomorrow's taxpayers may not end up thanking today's ministers.' Well, no one knows what will happen tomorrow. Just ask the GE boss Jeff Immelt -

  • Comment number 7.

    Remember the raw materials have already been purchased. Its all the "gubbins" that goes inside the shell that makes the beast.

    Again it is another headline £1 Billion but that will be spread out over a number of years, nibbling away at an already shrinking capital budget.

    However remember this when looking across defence; FRES has already cost £535 Million! We haven't even got a proper requirements document yet but it has managed to spend all that!! Think of all the other pipe dreams in the system!

    And if anyone thinks this is a big leap in cost should remember:
    Astute fixed price was £300 Million per boat.
    Astute actual cost boat 1 £1.1 billion!!
    Nimrod MRA4 fixed price £2.1 Billion for 21 aircraft
    Nimrod MRA4 FCAC £2.1 Billion for 9 aircraft
    I could go on but I think you get the idea.
    Remember last week PAC released its report on Type 45. Lessons from that have been learnt and used on CVF. Wow!! Expensive lessons!!

  • Comment number 8.

    This is all merely an excercise in cost saving. If you actually read the IPPR paper they suggest that the UK should re-examine £24 billion of future spending on defence, including presumably these carriers. They suggest that an alternative to all this new kit, we should play on our alliances and try to foster increased "international cooperation" on security issues through diplomacy.
    However this is a circular argument. If we remove our conventional forces and do not replace our nuclear deterrent, no one, none of our potential alliances or any country we may wish to influence through diplomacy will listen to us!

  • Comment number 9.

    "Can we afford...?"

    Does it matter? Affordability hasn't stopped the government up to now.

    "Is it unfair...?"

    To whom? Unfairness to taxpayers(present or future)has not been considered a priority up to now.

  • Comment number 10.


    I think it is important to make it crystal clear that these cost increases are due to govt delaying the programme, not due to the industrial partners over spending (that almost certainly will happen, but has not yet). So then it becomes an argument of whether it is better to take a mortgage over 20 years or 25 years. We'd all love to pay off after 20 years, but lack of disposable income forces most of us to 25. The MoD has found itself with a pay cut, so needs to extend its mortgage. The alternative, to scrap the project, is unthinkable in terms of loss of defensive capabily, unemployment and the waste of money spent to date.
    I would humbly suggest however, that if the project was costed using Real Option Analysis rather than NPV, the budget would have been ratehr different in the first place.

  • Comment number 11.

    How about a balanced piece on the record fall in GDP and how that will alter government spending and tax raising plans or would that risk your access?

    Or perhaps you might speculate on where tax rises are most likely to occur after the election and offer suggestions as to which would hurt the economy least? We've all read about the data build up on our houses and the possibility of higher taxes there? How likely is that? Will you please ask Brown and Darling? Or VAT? Will that be the preffered route?

    We all know what's got to happen, let's get it out there and forget the odd ship. It was an obvious ploy to promise spending on carriers to get Scottish votes and then freeze it but we aren't all daft.

  • Comment number 12.

    I am surprised that you are surprised Robert.

    The whole saga of PFI and I quote from the Department of Health "The private finance initiative (PFI) provides a way of funding major capital investments, without immediate recourse to the public purse." Or buy on the "never-never" we will be out of office when the tally-man loses his rag.

    Give the "prols" bread and circuses and the senate will remain placid. Emperor Brown only yesterday produced another "Jam,to put on the bread (sic), tomorrow" story for the consumption of the proletariat.

  • Comment number 13.

    "If we remove our conventional forces and do not replace our nuclear deterrent, no one, none of our potential alliances or any country we may wish to influence through diplomacy will listen to us!" I personally have no wish to influence anybody. I'm more interested getting a decent pension and health care. That's what I want my taxes spent on, not battleships and nuclear warheads.

    The only beneficiaries of defence spending are our politicians who can strut about feeling important. Britain hasn't been a major power since it lost its Empire. It has long been time we stopped pretending we still are.

  • Comment number 14.

    From the way you've phrased the question, I think we know what your opinion is Robert!

    Clearly, an extra 1Bn pounds over ten years is technically affordable. The more interesting questions, which you don't ask (because the answers might be too inconvenient?) are:

    * Are benefits costing 173 Bn pounds per year still affordable?
    * Is an NHS costing 111 Bn pounds per year affordable?
    * Is an education budget of 83 Bn pounds per year affordable?
    * Is overseas aid of 8 Bn pounds per year affordable?

    Hard choices means just that, not simply cutting a flagship programme that only affects a few Fife shipbuilders.

  • Comment number 15.

    That depends on your point of view. We are not just talking about carriers here but the future of the UK's armed forces. Do we want an Army, Navy and Air Force that is capable of defending the UK and the UK's interests? Do we want to play a role in international peace keeping? Do we want to be players on the international stage?


    Do we want to isolate ourselves on our small island, relying on other countries to defend us?

    If the former we need to invest in our armed forces, (I believe we do need some form of nuclear deterrent but not necessarily Trident and the ability to wipe out countries). If the later then reduce the navy to a coastal protection force, disband the regular army and replace it with the Territorials and a Para-military police force and reduce the Air Force to local defense and air sea rescue. In other words make us the weakest player on the block and vulnerable to every tin pot nation with an axe to grind.

    It seems to me that most politicians want the former but are only willing to pay for the latter.

  • Comment number 16.

    173 BILLION in benefits (I am tempted to swear profusely!)!!!

    A guy moved next door to my dad (My dad worked all his life), the guy bought a house for £262,000 (My dads was £280,000). This guy has never worked, in fact he is disabled. Note the quotation marks, they represent a lie He builds fences for a living on the side.

    Meanwhile every day I struggle into work with arthritis, and I mean STRUGGLE!!!

    Should I go on Benefits? I have a GENUINE ILLNESS!

  • Comment number 17.

    Would now be a good time for the Argies to go for the Falklands? Whoops, I've let the cat out of the bag!

  • Comment number 18.

    I know a few people that are working on the carrier project. They are Accountants and Contracts Managers (ie not actually involved with building the ships) Part of the reason that these things cost so much is that all these people are private Ltd company contractors that charge double or 3 times what a direct employee might cost. Multiply that by the sheer amount of people working on these projects and you get a clear idea of why costs escalate.

  • Comment number 19.

    If you want spend xBn of public expenditure why blow it on a vessel we dont need and hope will never be used. The are many engineering infrastructure projects that would not only stimulate the economy but also be very useful such as a high speed rail link to scotland, tidal energy generators such as bristol channel, not to mention building many more social houses etc etc

  • Comment number 20.

    The analogy with the mortgage payments is spot on.

    Presumably somebody somewhere has calculated the size of the total liability that our govt is exposed to on its Pay As You Go schemes like PFI, public sector pensions etc?

    Call me perverse if you will but I rather like the idea of British industry making big lumps of kit like aircraft carriers and the planes to go on is good for business, good for international diplomacy and good for workers.

    By the way.... glad to see that this blog is expanding its discussion points to encompass manufacturing industry.

  • Comment number 21.

    Why should it be such a surprise that such an enormous project has run over budget? Defence projects always run over budget, usually as a result of incessant change orders coming from the MOD who seem unable to ever settle upon a specification before starting the project (in fairness, the lead time of these types of projects also results in half of the electronic technology becoming obsolete halfway through and the needs a rethink).

    Much of this problem however seems to stem from certain obsessions within the procurement process, and this is not restricted to the defence sector. I work in the oil & gas business and I have watched repeatedly as procurement departments (who are judged solely on their ability to reduce costs) screw down fabricators suppliers for every last penny. When suppliers are backed into corners by large companies they are forced to make cost promises that almost certainly cannot be kept and adding a sensible level of contingency will inevitably make their bid uncompetitive. As such they fix a price on a very narrow specification and then charge mightily for any deviation from that specification. Complex projects inevitably contain many surprises and the need to modify plans, QED the cost of modifications drives the overall budget through the roof! Excessive driving down of contract costs at the bid stage is simply will always come back to bite, especially if your counterparty thinks that they are being abused.

    The same problem has been seen with the Olympics. Political cost limits are set that bear little resemblance to real life. In the case of government projects there also seems to be a real lack of competence in administering large contracts allied to breathtaking financial illiteracy.

    That aside, to cancel these carriers would represent both a significant blow to what's left of British manufacturing and a huge kick in the teeth to the few shipyards left that can actually deliver such huge vessels. Then factor in the multiplier effects into local communities and your £1bn is soon whittled away in cancellation penalties, demobilisation and unemployment costs, loss of corporation tax etc etc. Let's have some joined up thinking!

    Secondly, and this will be unpopular, just because our current crop of enemies can't raise their technical abilities above blowing themselves on Tube trains with bombs made from hair-dye, doesn't mean that it will stay that way for ever. These carriers, like Trident signify many things...they are an insurance, they are a big stick, they are a means of being taken seriously by people who may not have all attended the School of Reasoned Liberal Argument.

    Whether or not you get this line of argument depends on whether your world understanding has matured since Sixth Form but there you go! To cancel these projects would deliver little real saving and would damage the economy and standing of the country pretty much permanently. It sounds harsh but to cut these projects and those elsewhere in the defence sector whilst leaving the bloated, bottomless pit of health and welfare untouched is simply abandoning a responsibility of government.

  • Comment number 22.

    I worked out the effective interest rate that the government is paying on this two-year extension. It's not cheap:

    So what are the political or economic reasons that they feel the need to do this? There are a couple of realistic possibilities which I have discussed in the linked article.

  • Comment number 23.

    "Tomorrow's taxpayers may not end up thanking today's Ministers" ROFL - I think that is putting it mildly. Brown is lying through his teeth about tax and spending choices and it is time people woke up to that simple, but pure fact.

    The costs of servicing the debt Brown is creating will of itself reduce funds available for spending on services, before you even consider the cuts required to repair the black hole in the nation's finances. Those who still support Labour, despite all the evidence, just don't get it - Brown has bankrupted the country and he and his Government have no plan on how to put things right. In fact, by cancelling the public spending review, the Labour Government has neatly demonstrated the behaviour of an ostrich!

  • Comment number 24.

    OK ..... There are two things to watch out for here.

    Firstly - the French want a new carrier and could build them a lot cheaper than we could..... They will now offer to build three.

    Secondly - BAe Systems has been considering moving to the USA for a while and the Govt has said it wouldn't object. It will now use forthcoming carrier cancellation/delay/contract stretch as an excuse to do that.

    All this is of course in line with Govt policy developed in collaboration with the City to deindustrialise the UK.

  • Comment number 25.

    It is quite clear that the Old Labour tax and spend government is hell bent on handcuffing the conservatives to as much communist ideology as possible for as long as possible. They are a lamentable bunch of rogues who should never have been entrusted with the public purse and the middle england voters who switched to them are stupid beyond belief. Never again must this country elect such a halfwitted bunch of incompetents.

  • Comment number 26.

    It's slightly off at a tangent but David Kilpatrick is right, a British government of which ever completion will eventually have to get to grips with a lot of serious spending problems. The spending on social security, education, defence, public sector employment, quangos, the NHS and possibly even defence and in particular pensions, especially public sector one's are out of control and serious and painful real world decisions need to be taken, the sooner the better. Lets hope David Cameron has the political will and personal strengh of charater to do what is nessesary. Over the past couple of years Joe Public has had a very serious financial reality check and know the writing is on the wall and would, I'm sure, all be it reluctantly back him.

  • Comment number 27.

    This government has fully entered the "third world school of economics".
    If you can't afford it....print it.
    If you want a bigger navy....print it.
    If you want to prop-up a lame-duck property market....print it.
    If you want to keep your banks solvent....print it.
    And if you run out of ink....borrow it (providing anyone will lend it to you, and that may soon change).
    Mortgage everyones' future, and their kids'. (it'll make you look good).
    "Down the toilet with New Labour"....I think it's a new song.
    Mervyn King and a few others know the horrible reality.
    If Gordon Brown and his chums hadn't come along, we could have easily afforded these carriers....but now we can hardly afford the paint on the decks.

  • Comment number 28.

    Mr Peston with the Carriers be the New TSR2 ?

  • Comment number 29.

    No, no, no. Mr Peston, your interminable Labour roots are showing yet again. Let me help you out. These carriers were promised to the RN by labour in 1997, I know, Mr Peston, because, unlike you, I was THERE. We cynical chaps in the military said at the time that we would be lucky if we ever saw the Labour government deliver, and that whatever happened we certainly would not see them whilst the man from Fettes was in the chair. We were correct. Some 11 years later the issuing of the contracts were met with much cynicism by us, the military. Please note that if the carriers had been built when mooted, the costs would have been considerably less than the current figure. You should know Mr Peston, as a political correspondent, that whenever labour get into power (Check your history) they always put 2 or 3 big warships on to the books. As a rule they never actually build them, it just gives them money to play with in budgetary figures. They have never committed to a large warship build and achieved it during their term in office, so unless you are very, very naive, it is very easy to expose this as a very old labour trick, used every time they get into power. The cost increases that you mention are due to government delays and it should be further noted that the delays you attribute to the MOD are actually because the government has not given the MOD enough money to execute the plan, so all they CAN do is delay.

    The very FIRST duty of government Mr Peston, is defence of the realm, for if you don't defend the realm, then you end up not having a realm and therefore, nothing to govern. The current truth is that through policies so spectacularly disastrous as to beggar belief, this labour government has bankrupted the country, welfare payments alone now outstrip the tax take. This country, due to disastrous policies, is now more exposed than at any time in its history. We have upset more people globally than ever before and are less disposed to defend ourselves against enemies, which again, due to disastrous policies grow in number daily. If there is ONE area where we should be spending money Mr Peston, it is on Defence.

  • Comment number 30.

    These ships won't be much use against Switzerland and Lichtenstein!
    ...and they're our biggest enemies (well that's the way I see it!)

    Why haven't we declared war on the tax havens?... if we plundered them, we could probably afford hundreds of aircraft carriers!

  • Comment number 31.

    We waste Billions each year they say at least 1 billion is waste in schools each year.

    Billions are wasted in the family courts nobody but nobody seems to mind that.

    There are benfits cheats by the thouasands when there are many that really need the help

    yet when it come to defending this country and having some indpendance from the USA its collasal amount of money, yeah but most of it is spread over many years.

    That is the bigger picture behind this.

    I have work on the best world beating denfence system to protect my parent and myself and my children for the last 25 years. And seen the mayhem caused by politics played with our defence capabilities in the last 12 years.

    We should have taken the jaguars and Harriers further and NOT gone for the JSF.

    there is the Miliarty vehicle contracts that went to Austria etc when this would have helped LDV and others.

    In short we have NO stragegy for the long term

  • Comment number 32.

    If you follow the logic of cost-accounting then you wouldn't do anything other than put your money in the building society. Given that for the last one hundred years the UK has been driven by these self-same principles then is it any wonder we have little industry and a collapsing housing bubble?

    It would seem as a country we are being strangled by the red-tape mentality that turns everything into a game and produces nothing of any value.

    As a people our historical experience tells us of the value of a navy and the value of aircraft carriers within that navy.

    Furthermore in building these aircraft carriers and their escorts we will create work for many thousands of good people, they will become trained in their work and so we can develop value adding manufacturing skills once again. This is the sort of publicly funded project we need as a country. Some more would not go amiss as they create employment which improves domestic demand.

    What we do not need are those who make such projects more expensive than they need be, who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    I firmly believe that public spending needs to be reduced as much is wasted on trivial nonsense. Do we need all these press officers for example? However I also firmly believe that a realignment of taxpayer funds into capital projects will add value to the economy in their own account and also reinforce the level of demand in the wider economy.

  • Comment number 33.

    Couple this with the PUMP LEP project, The cutting of the T45 numbers

    This is why it was wrong to bail out the banks, protect the saver first
    then go after the Directors and those reponsible for the debt's incurred
    then we would have the moeny to do what is right for this country.

    The bonus being paid ie taxpayers monies would more than pay for the Carriers if they were stopped ??

    Please compare that Mr Preston.

    Desert Island discs had Mr Healey on talking about what he wanted to
    be remembered for , did not hear it but bet he did not mention TSR2.

    Its happening all over again.

    There were very big marches back then, not roits like DC predicts but this time ? To get ride of this very very dangerous Governement.

    We are stairing into the abyss

  • Comment number 34.

    Why haven't we declared war on the tax havens?...Post 30.

    Because whilst the government like to wax lyrical about clamping down on everyone else, London is recognised as a tax haven by the rest of the world! Every country has the right to set it's own tax systems for their own benefit and should not be told by any other nation what they should or shouldn't allow - that my friend is a basic principle of the democratic world.

  • Comment number 35.

    JavaMan1984, I'm sorry, but something just doesn't add up with the story of your dad's neighbour. If he's unemployed, he doesn't get a mortgage. If he is working on the side, unless he has two or three years of certified accounts (in which case he's paying tax) he wouldn't get a mortgage. So where's his money really coming from? Or is this one of those stories that's grown long in the telling?

  • Comment number 36.

    My immediate reaction to this is that extending the contract period and the cost to the tax payer may be partly offset by keeping specialised workers who might otherwise be in receipt of benefit during the two years (unless of course someone myteriously orders more warships) in work. While the cost to the MOD may soar, the net cost to the national budget may be rather less.

    Much more to the point, aircraft carriers are useful. They can be deployed in a wide range of conventional theatres. By contrast, Trident is about as much use in a modern world as a chocolate teapot (unless, of course, we suddenly decide to take out half a continent).

    So surely the answer is obvious. Scrap the Trident upgrade and spend the money on the carriers.

  • Comment number 37.

    I think the real truth of why the carriers cost is going through the roof has not really been told, I worked in one of the dockyards mentioned when the contract was awarded. Lets just say the company involved are stringent with their money but throw the tax payers around, it was like a they won the lottery, they thought they could be extravegent, supervisors and managers giving themselves and family members lots of overtime.

    The level of nepotism was disgusting, with one HR manager moving up the way she gave the job to her sister, one production manager keeping his employment agency employed 65 year old pensioner father in work at any cost.

    Many of the dockyard employees recruited for this were previous employees who took redundancy a couple of years ago when they knew fine this contract was in the wings and that they could cash in.

    Thats the real reasons the company in question wont reveal

  • Comment number 38.

    Well, well, well. Some of us having been observing and commenting for some time now that this Labour Government has, er, run out money. All Labour Governments do eventually.

    The scary thing is that for as long as Gordon Brown deceives the public about the fact that the Labour Government has indeed run out of money, all that will happen is that public sector organisations will lurch from one unplanned financial crisis to another. Expect more of the same for as long as our Dear Leader runs (ruins?) the country.

    Meantime, Gordon Brown will be trumpeting his next, great, multi-billion pound public spending wheeze ("investment"), for which there will be no money and no hope of ever seeing come to fruition.

    This particular defence contract disaster (for that's what it is ... a 25%/£1 billion adverse variance to budget in one year is an appalling funding outcome) is a symptom of a Government that has now, to all intents and purposes, lost control of the public finances.

    Meantime, no doubt Gordon Brown will keep telling us all about his plans for real increases in public spending. Presumably with Monopoly money? Or could he just be telling us a pack of lies, I wonder?

  • Comment number 39.

    The subject of Defence raises issues outside the realms of economics. E.g. security and doubts about the state of the world in years to come. At the end of the Cold War we took a peace dividend and Defence expenditure shrank dramatically as a share of GDP. Is the world really destined to be a safer place in the future?
    Defence is a British national strength in many different ways and should remain so. If we can fund £170 billion plus on social security payments we can fund the carriers, etc.

  • Comment number 40.

    35, Thank you for suggesting I am lying, nice to meet you (Mr new user). You CAN buy a property whilst on benefits, go and read the rules please before calling peoples motives into question!

    Remember, its affordability.

  • Comment number 41.

    35 - EvilMole

    "JavaMan1984 . . .If he's unemployed, he doesn't get a mortgage".

    Actually no. If he is disabled, he is not unemployed. Depending on the benefit he receives, he may even be allowed to build fences - and not on the side. DLA is not means tested and you are allowed to work if you wish. If he is on a disability benefite and working, it perfectly plausible that he has a mortgage. Not a tall story.

    It doesn't answer JM's question though. Arthritis can be extremely dibilitating as I know and the answer to his question is that he is perfectly entitled to make a claim. I would add, though, that if it is osteoarthritis which could be treated by joint replacement and he is on a long waiting list, that is an even bigger waste of public money. Get the surgery done quickly so people can work pain free within a few weeks. Now that would be a good use of taxpayer money.

  • Comment number 42.

    You fail to realise, Robert, that the Navy has reluctantly accommodated previous cuts in their assets, 'safe' in the knowledge that they will get the carriers.

    Previous cuts in the surface fleet include half of the original 12 Type 45 destroyers. We are selling/giving away modern type 23 frigates. Only 4 Astute subs have been ordered. All of this to get the carriers.

    Funding is so bad that warships are going to sea without missiles to defend themselves. We currently have a collection of something like 20 destroyers and frigates, half of which are not seaworthy/in refit at any one time. We need to defend our interests on the high seas (a lot of our energy will come afloat/LNG carriers, 95% of our trade comes by sea)so we need a half decent navy, or do you see our place in the World guaranteed by a coastal defence force? (beacuse that is all we will have if this project is cancelled)

    By navalising the tranche 3 typhoons huge savings will be made. The carriers could be ready AT THE ORIGINAL DATE hence SAVINGS:

    No cost overun due to programme delays to the carriers if they are built to the original programme and built with the catapult option. No need to spend monies keeping the present carrier(s) going longer than envisaged

    HUGE savings by cancelling the F35 and allocating some of the tranche 3 typhoons to the RN built as navalised versions-when not at sea revert to RAF?RN joint operations and shared asset.

    Come on everyone, knock some sense into each other!!!!!

  • Comment number 43.

    Isn't the real question: Is the military procurement products set a good match for our likely military requirements? Not, should we cancel the carriers? The carriers will cost not 5 billion, but 15 billion with American aircraft and further the battle groups will cost even more.

    The real question is: Is the military benefit from these carriers an efficient and necessary use of scare funds?

    So let us look at the use of aircraft in fighting current wars.

    Afghanistan: A fair way from the sea. Other countries have to be overflown. It is also highly questionable as to the effectiveness in the campaign of aerial bombing. (As the majority of those killed and maimed are civilians.) Conclusion: Better to spend the money on providing schools and infrastructure.

    Generally: It seems we have moved into an age when conflicts are mainly insurgent based and thus mostly an inappropriate use of overwhelming military might. Most conceivable enemies do not have a air force so 'controlling the skies' is neither appropriate nor relevant.

  • Comment number 44.

    #37 does this have anything to do with unions ? which are quite strong
    in these areas.

    They have made noises about british jobs (well done to them for a change thats what they should be doing) going to romania on the propossed PUMA LEP.

    Where I stand in the system part of this ALL the cost probelms arise from
    HMG expectations at the start, ie they can have it on the cheap, then
    they want more and more etc.

    I just see struggle to deliver on time to the ever changing specs etc.

    have you tried hearding Cats, thats the MOD for you.

    most of the cost will not be in the steel but the techno that inside.

    These will be like a modile heathrow at times plus much much more

  • Comment number 45.

    Does Britannia intend to rule the waves again? What do we need two aircraft carriers for? One I can see, but the money could have been spent better. Or just, you know, saved for a rainy day.

  • Comment number 46.

    To answer the original question: No.

    And we cant afford to replace Trident either.

    The country is broke after all.

  • Comment number 47.

    Building the carriers is essential for the UK's ability to project itself militarily. It will aslo create many jobs.

    Scrapping Trident will pay for it's overrun, and doing that will create more jobs, development opportunities.

    Having a submarine based deterrent is outmoded and altogether pointless. If we still feel the need or reason to threaten anyone (who would take any notice?) with nuclear weapons we can use cruise missile fitted onto existing hardware or the new carriers at much reduced cost.

    This is simple logic really, but like the need to develop nuclear power without delay is beyond the small town solicitor that are trying to run this country.

  • Comment number 48.


    You appear to have chnaged your writing style. Previously you were never reticent about name dropping in the latest breaking story.

    So why no mention of the disgraced Lord Taylor of Blackburn, who as one of BAE Systems main consultants in Westminster would have been heavily involved in this project?

    Craig Murray (former UK Ambassador) does not seem to have anything nice to say about the peer or the company or New Labour for that matter:

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 49.

    Reading recent stories about the Service Chiefs at loggerheads over government demands for cuts reminds me of the way in which Denis Healey played the RN and the RAF off against each other in the 1960's over the CVA-01 large carrier and TSR2 nuclear bomber programs. Both of these projects had been beset by delays and overruns, largely due to political interference resulting in costly redesigns. Healey encouraged the RAF that TSR2 would be safe if they could show that land based aircraft could provide naval ships with adequate aircover. The RAF promptly produced a map showing how aircraft operating from NATO and Commonwealth countries could provide that, however, the RN soon discovered that in order to show this the RAF had moved Australia 500 miles out of position!! The RAF won the battle and CVA-01 was cancelled in February 1966, Healey then promptly cancelled TSR2 claiming it was not necessary as the government was ending the East of Suez defence commitments and the spiralling cost of the Polaris project made it unaffordable. Our shipbuilding and aviation industries never recovered from the loss of these projects, especially the aviation industry as the ability to indigenously design and develop aircraft died with TSR2, also had CVA-01 been built it's very unlikely that Argentina would have invaded the Falklands (try thinking of alternative 1980's without the Falklands Factor!!!)

    The CVF project has also been dogged by political interference and delays, costs have gone up so much that while we will certainly get 2 supercarriers we will have very few aircraft to go on it thanks to the delays in the F-35 project and we won't be able to protect them adequately thanks to the cuts in the Type 45 destroyer project!!! What should have happened was this. The French are adapting the CVF design for their new carrier the PA.2, they also have a very capable multi-role naval aircraft in the Dassault Rafale which is facing cancellation if it doesn't get any export orders. What we should have done was to buy Rafale, the French are so desperate for exports that they would bend over double for us!! The French contract their naval aviation training to the Americans to save costs, we could do that too. Once the 2 CVF's and the PA.2 enter service they could be pooled with the existing French carrier the Charles De Gaulle to ensure that both countries have at least 2 carriers constantly deployed and the 2 navies would also pool their escort ships to maximise resources. Sadly this is unlikely to happen due to reasons of national machismo!

    Lastly Trident, yes it's far too expensive and the admirals would dump it tomorrow morning if they could because of the huge drain it causes on the defence budget. Just as how Polaris helped to kill off CVA-01 and TSR2, the Trident replacement threatens to do the same to the CVF program which we do need. I do believe in a nuclear deterrent but we have got to get away from the false choice of "It's Trident or nothing" given by New Labour. We could develop nuclear warheads for the existing Tomahawk and Storm Shadow cruise missiles. Does anyone seriously think that the UK is going to be in a bilateral nuclear exchange with Russia or China?? Therefore Trident is overkill for our needs.

  • Comment number 50.

    Can we afford Robert Peston? Probably not. More seriously, can we afford not to have them? In defence terms, no, we must have them. There seems to be a concerted campaign by various people - the Army, RAF, Lib Dem politicians to scrap the entire RN, carriers, Trident, T45, Astute. The fact is that a Navy is expensive in investment terms, but you can't attach a true cost to it, or not having one.
    It is - he rightly points out - the government's own foot-dragging that has increased the programme costs. Better to have spent the money, save £1bn and not wasted so much on other areas of spending that are frankly less important and could be provided by other means.

  • Comment number 51.

    #5 JavaMan

    Officially we still have deflation. The monthly figures are published here:

    Maybe Labour are using their OTHER index for inflation? (as they like to do when it suits them)

  • Comment number 52.

    #43 we need to respond to a multitude of doctrines in the military arena

    Carriers along with a support base (T23/T45) would be good say off the cost of somalia sorting out the pirates and protecting the high sees much like in the past.

    Tridentor UK designed alternative is needed as a deterant to say a resurragant Russia/China.

    Eurofighters to keep the skies clear.

    Now if we were not going JSF but Harrier we might have been able to
    have smaller and more carriers.

    But Navalising the Thypoon(EFA) should have been the second option
    and JSF out of town.

    But the Yanks fear out engieering capabilites

    Coupled with Labours historic willingness to destroy any form of Defence
    equipement capabiltiy (see TSR2 1965 and Denis Healy) this is history repeating itself

    Mismangement of the economy thererfore cut defence spending whilst engaged in 2 wars and all the other issues our forces face.

  • Comment number 53.

    yes we can and should continue to build them if only to save jobs.
    there would be no argument if they were to be named after tony blair or gordon brown the government would fund them without complaint but they are not and so the government thinks to save money by not building them.
    these are dangerous times so cutting back would send all the wrong signals.

  • Comment number 54.

    'Not sure we can fund the carriers.'

    'Put it on the credit card, we'll deal with it later'

    'We're maxed out on the credit card'

    'On which one?'

    'All of them'

    'Ask them to extend the limit'

    'I have but they refuse- apparently there's a problem with our credit rating'.

    'Remortgage the house then'.


  • Comment number 55.

    Nos 13 & 14

    What a contrast!!

    No 13 What would your pension and healthcare have been worth if you had lived during WW2? Not a lot I suspect if Defence had not been given priority. Do you really think we are safe as a nation without it?

    No 14. Well said!! It is refreshing to know that we still have people with some sense. Why can't Robert ask these questions?

  • Comment number 56.

    So labour are preparing us for the cancellation of the carrier project then

    Its the same old formula, compliant sections of the media institute discussions or surveys that come to conclusion a) with public suitably primed for the labour governmment to then institute plan a)

    I expect Peston to have a whole raft on the Trident replacement soon

  • Comment number 57.

    #41 Saxman,

    I'm afraid you show a lack of knowledge on the subject. Launching nuclear warheads from a cruise missile is not an easy task, nor especially satisfactory. There would be a much reduced range (cruise missiles, by there very definition, are not inter-continental), targetting would be reliant on satellites (unlike Trident which steers by the stars - much more reliable), and you could only carry one warhead per missile. Carrying and launching them from an aircraft carrier, or any surface ship, would be utterly stupid - in terms of vulnerability, survivability and just plain old aggrevation. Imagine if a nuclear armed ship sailed close to your country (close enough to launch a cruise missile). That could be seen as a hostile act. In contrast, a submarine permamently hidden away, in the middle of a large ocean is not agrrevating matters. That is the point of having the deterrent permanently available - yes its not nice, but it is consistent. If we only made the nuclear weapons available at times of crisis, we would stir things up an unbelievable amount. As for scrapping Trident altogether, even the IPPR report out today recognises that a Trident system is needed, at least for the medium term.

    Unfortunately defence of the realm costs money. Cancelling CVF would be like going without insurance and then whinging when your house gets flooded.

  • Comment number 58.

    The government is paying 25% more for carriers than it budgeted a year ago!
    If that happened in the private sector, the person responsible would be out of a job.
    Why does our government care so little about cost control? Oh, they can just tax us more, that's why. Unfortunately though, the amount they spend is increasingly outstripping the ability of tax revenues to keep up. They won't get the message until no-one is prepared to lend to them anymore (and then some other poor devils will have to sort out the mess).

    This is why no-one trusts a Labour government.

  • Comment number 59.

    What concerns me is that the building of these carriers was extended in the first place. They are desperately needed, the two midget plane carriers we have at the moment are a joke. The problem with this whole carrier project is that it will become a political football and the need for them will be ignored. The Tories will cut them just because it saves money, without a thought in the world to what happened in 1982 when thatcher had to use carriers she was about to scrap because of the unexpected and the lib dems would have trying to defend the unexpected from a rubber dinghy. Then we come to the sticky issue of jobs and compensation to be paid for cancellation,thousands of jobs will go, billions will have been wasted in the development of the joint strike aircraft then there will be compensation to be paid for pulling out of that contract. It is probably cheaper to finish building them anyway without even considering whether they are needed or not which they are.
    % billion is actually not a lot in the overall national budget, leave them alone.

  • Comment number 60.

    The UK still has a lot of overseas interests, the carriers (expensive as thre are to build and to run)will have an important role in an active and passive way. Regarding the build, well it does stimulate out economy and skill base, more so if the expenditure involved is actually spent here in the UK. Just where the money goes is more of an issue for me...

  • Comment number 61.

    #57. You can of course launch cruise missiles from a submarine. The Americans converted their 4 oldest Ohio Class Trident SSBN's to carry cruise missiles. IIRC they were built with 24 Trident tubes which were adapted to hold 6 Tomahwak missiles each giving 144 missiles per boat. The Americans only arm them with conventional warheads but they could carry nuclear warheads, SSBN's are incredibly stealthy vessels for their size, remember how HMS Vanguard banged into FNS Le Triomphant in the middle of the Atlantic and neither knew the other had been there until they got back to base, if the British and the French can't detect each others subs then it's doubtful that few other people can! So those subs could get quite close to an enemy's coast. Yes they use satellite navigation which can be jammed but they have a backup inertial navigation system. This isn't as accurate but to be blunt, with nuclear weapons where you aim to kill as many people as possible it doesn't matter if the missile hits downtown Tehran or the suburbs, the outcome is the same. So it can be done, obviously you don't have the range or outright destructive capability of Trident but it would be more affordable and you could use conventionally armed missiles for general war fighting. There really needs to be a full scale defence review before the final go ahead for the Trident replacement is given, if that says Trident plus is the best system then so be it, but don't bleed the conventional forces to pay for it.

  • Comment number 62.

    No we cannot afford the Aircraft carriers, but this government will just
    Print/QE the money to pay for them.

    Long runs the fox though eventually the markets will
    dump the Pound.

  • Comment number 63.

    #49 ah somebody else understands the importance of TSR2 as well?

    does Mr Peston understand this issue ?

  • Comment number 64.

    If the UK government would keep its nose out of other Countrys Business
    and stop fighting unessary wars, there are to many people in the MOD who want to play war game's with other peoples live's while they sit comfortably in their office's in Whitehall

    Lions being led by Donkeys springs to mind

  • Comment number 65.

    #61 Went to HMS dryad in 1996 as part of the work on the T23.

    primarily about submarine tracking and they stated to "us" there that unless yuo have the world noisest diesel sub , its almost impossible to track one, which is why they invest so much in keeping track of all know subs as once they are lost it almost impossible to find them again.

    do sub does a "crasy ivan" as in the film hunt for the red october
    otherwise you release the base frequency which means other can then dected the sub from the vast noise in the oceans.

    Do subs are a top deterrant.

    So we have another loabour catastrophic mismanageemnt of the defence assests of this country again

  • Comment number 66.

    You are right of course, all of our subs can launch (conventionally armed) TLAM cruise missiles. But scrapping Trident and putting nuclear warheads on TLAM is just changing one submarine based nuclear missile system for another - which hardly seems worth it.

  • Comment number 67.

    #61 I meant to say what a pleasure it is being able to hold an intelligent discussion on the matter, even if it is in a business forum!

  • Comment number 68.

    #59 hermes was heading for the scrap heap but was saved in time for the Falklands

    Given the mess that was inherrited in 79, 2009/2010 is going to be much
    worse. Its not suprising that happened.

    A long with the closure of chatham dock yard. Not Mrs T and HMG gov finest moment, but you can understand why. Maybe they will learn.

    That why we need a election now or it will be to late , it will be a fait de compli, posted by Gordon + co

  • Comment number 69.

    Still missing the BIG story Robert?

    More jobs to go at Lloyds, UK Economy shrinking faster than expected, and you want to talk about big expensive boats?

    The UK doesn't need all this MOD equipment, terrorists do not have a Navy and they do not have an Army, nor an Air force. Unless we're planning to attack an established Military power - all this equipment will prove to be useless.
    We would be much better served setting up elite commando units for small operations within friendly countries, or to assist allies in the field. Alas this would require some serious foreward thinkin - and there aint much of that going on in the higher realms of the MOD.

    The UK are trying to mimic the US's "War Economy" where you generate growth by constantly having wars, which conveniently destroys the excess Capital which is created by Capitalist Overproduction. Part of the reason the recent boom continued for so long was because the war in Iraq was ensuring there was a high demand for guns, tanks and aircraft.

    As anyone can see - this is a massive waste of resources and does not account for the inhumanity of such a policy.

    Still, I suppose we're all commodities now - and that includes the soldiers that are thrown out into the war zone - inadequately equipped for the job - completely expendable as far as the Government is concerned.

    It doesn't matter who gets killed - so long as someone's making some money eh?

    I had to laught this morning as I heard Paddy Ashdown talking about the 'need for a Nuclear deterrent (although not neccessarily Trident).....they really don't get it do they? If a Nuclear attack occurs both the aggressor and defender will most likely be destroyed, the defender immediately and the aggressor will suffer a long and painful death as the Earth's ecological system collapses under the strain.

    - meanwhile Paddy and his buddies will be in the bunker fiddling with the 'deterrent' button while their skin burns off - I'll take the quick and painless option of 3000 degrees instantly thanks.

    ...and that's the madness of the warmongers folks....

  • Comment number 70.

    #69 makes you wonder wether this was leaked out to cover the figures of 2.4% decline in GDP for Q1 etc ?

    Good day to bury bad news.

  • Comment number 71.

    This whole debate is a classic case of "mental accounting" - i.e. when presented with a total "for defence" the somewhat arbitrary number of the current budget becomes some sort of benchmark as to what can be afforded and what cannot.

    It needs to be debated in the context of wider uses of our money. Total defence spening costs some £33bn p.a. (about 6% of total current government expenditure or some 2% of GDP) That sounds like a lot, but in an incresingly hostile world it seems modest when compared with:

    the £12bn we pay for "public and common services" - whatever they are!
    the £31bn of government debt interest we are now paying.
    the £104bn spent on a less-than-efficient heath service,


    £203bn of goverment "social protection"....for humane treatment of the poor - to be blunt.

    But this (and the £3.3bn of expenditure this year that the government expects to spend this year on "Recreation, culture and religion") will be under threat unless we can be sure that we can first deter, fend-off or defeat those ever-increasing numbers outside our borders who would gladly see us deprived of the right to have and spend this money as we choose.

  • Comment number 72.

    #69 Writingsonthewall

    So you don't think an extra £1b, or several thousand jobs lost if the carrier is cancelled, is as newsworthy as yet more Lloyds bore. There is more to the world than banks. Goodness knows, banks are Roberts first love - persoanlly I am very pleased he has found time to consider manufacturing, engineering and technology. Producing tangible assets for a good cause (if not abused), rather than using dodgy maths tricks to magic money out of nothing.
    As for the rest of it, its too ill-informed and sensionalist to bother to correct.

  • Comment number 73.

    No question there is a much more efficient way for business in the MOD to be conducted - and a lot of the factors are raised above. But in terms of the central question we're squabbling over peanuts! By how much did the Govt bail out the Banks? £250 bn - enough to buy the entire CVF programme 50 times over! CVF, with aircraft, associated escorts and much much more in the sea, sky and ashore still represents an exceedingly cheap insurance policy.

  • Comment number 74.

    There are a lot of people who are confused on this blog and still think we're living in 1942!

    We don't need all this defense equipment, we're best friends with the ONLY MILITARY SUPERPOWER (the US).
    Unless we're planning on going to war with the US - there is no need to buy any more carriers, subs, tanks or anything else for that matter.

    So far, the Taliban have kicked our butt in Afghanistan and they are like angry men with pitchforks compared to our military might. It's the men on the ground that have always won or lost wars - and has been throughout history.

    All the new military equipment advances do is ensure that more civilians are killed. Remember the 'targetted bombing' of the 'shock and awe' campaign in Baghdad? Killed many more civilians than any soldiers of Saddam and was untimately counter-productive as it created more insurgents than then the enemy could have done through years of development.

    The solution? maybe we just pay the US 'protection money' and massively reduce our defence budget.

    Too many people in this country still think we're in danger of being invaded by an aggressor - which these days is unthinkable. Just think of the technological advances we could have made if we hadn't wasted all that money on what are no more than big fireworks.

    If we had done that then maybe we would already be winning the next war - the war for resources - by reducing our reliance on unsustainable energy supplies (i.e. Oil).

  • Comment number 75.

    Robert - here are two fact which explain why our defence budget is a nonsense:-
    1) Britain is not a world power
    2) The British Empire does not exist.

    What do we need a warm water fleet, a desert army and Trident for? Delusions of grandeur! Our politicians (supported and encouraged by the press and people living in the past) just don't have the sense to spell out points 1 and 2.

  • Comment number 76.

    Todays ministers do not care one thing about tomorrows taxpayers. Although the public is upset over the banking collapse, most industralist relaized that no one was punished or hung so why not continue with business as usual. As long as their elected friends are in power who cares what the people think. Something more than blogging will need to occur before any real changes will take place in the relationship between big business and government. Somewhere out there is a reformer and we can all hope they arrive before the thieves have emptied the treasury completely. These are jackels preying on the remains of the economy with the friendly bureaucratic vultures waiting for their leftovers. Patriotism.......the call of most scoundrels.

  • Comment number 77.

    Per writingsonthewall:

    "We don't need all this defense equipment, we're best friends with the ONLY MILITARY SUPERPOWER (the US)....."

    This may be true TODAY. But none of it - including the future status of the USA - might be true in 5 or ten years time.

    Good defence policy should be based on preparing for the worst - not hoping for the best.

  • Comment number 78.

    #74 some of us do not want to be dependant on the US or Europe for that matter. A little bit of independance would help and might have stopped the Iraq invasion.

    The PM (Blair and Brown) seem to think you can go to war without spending
    money or getting any solider killed.

    Openly Brown supportd the war but as Chancellor he did everthing to stop finance of the services with the equipement that they needed.

    The French manage to be independant in Europe ?

    jaguar was a collaboration, with the french although they pulled out of EFA because they wanted a carrier based plane and control of the cockpit display's too, around 1982/83 time as they saw the future there and are correct. Thats why we do not have any on JSF.

  • Comment number 79.

    What are these carriers for? Who is the perceived enemy that they would counter. How have we managed without them for all these years?
    The cost of building them is bad enough but the cost of using them will be enormous. No carriers can put to sea without a huge screen of other vessels and anti submarine aircraft. I believe our Navy consists of about 25 ships at the moment because that is supposedly all we can afford.
    So are we going to build another 25 Destroyers and Frigates and support ships at the same time. Are we going to order carrier borne anti submarine aircraft from the USA? Are we hell.
    These carriers are never going to be built yet these idiots are pouring millions into yet another project from which there will no benefit, just waste
    When are people going to wake up to what is really happening to the UK. Its going broke. We cant even give our troops in Afghanistan decent bomb resistant vehicles and these cost peanuts compared with a carrier force. We dont have anything like enough helicopters, the Hercules fleet is fast reaching its fatigue life limit.. We dont have the money now let alone tomorrow
    Of far greater consequence to us all is the colossal and rising psb which is going to become more and more expensive to service as our triple A credit rating is lost. It is the British taxpayer who will be footing the bill, everybody in the land. for years Just when they need the money to fund their own futures.
    There is a public sector pensions funding crisis of mega proportions. There is a private sector pensions crisis. UK State pensions are the worst in Europe. Let me repeat that. UK State pensions are the worst in Europe What a sad statement from a country that styles itself great
    What a terrible future for our young citizens
    By ordering these carriers these deluded fools think they will cling onto their seat on the top table. They love to strut around telling other Leaders how to run their countries when they dont have a clue on how to run ours. And they dont give a damn..

  • Comment number 80.

    whilst you are worrying about the odd billion, over 2,000 redundancies have been announced by your favourite bank..... any comment Robert?

  • Comment number 81.

    #72 Bell_4_goalie

    "So you don't think an extra 1b, or several thousand jobs lost if the carrier is cancelled, is as newsworthy as yet more Lloyds bore"

    .....errrr no, not really.

    What's a billion pounds these days? To me it's meaningless and dwarfed in comparison to the banking bailouts.
    What 'thousands of jobs' are bing lost? - there is mention of 400 - 500 redundancies and a figure of 4000 working on the project (but note, not implied in the redundancies) - and you accuse me of being sensationalist?

    I am completely for focus on manufacturing for 'tangible assets' and I think it's where the UK went wrong (destroying it's manufacturing base - thanks Maggie) - but assets designed solely to kill and maime is not really what this country should be manufacturing. Building rockets to fire into civilian houses is not productive by any imagination and the industry is simply 'making up a demand' by producing the weapons - and thenhaving to find a war in which to use them - and more weapons can be sold - generating more money for the arms dealing scum bags (oh and a little tax for the Government)

    ...and as for the banks - well in case you haven't woken up to the fact yet, the problem in the banks is a pre-cursor to all our future financial woes. You think this contract cancellation is bad - you wait until everything North of Watford is shut down because the spiral of decline in credit. You won't be crying about 500 redundancies then - try 5 million!

  • Comment number 82.

    uk_abz_scot wrote:

    "What do we need a warm water fleet, a desert army and Trident for? Delusions of grandeur! Our politicians (supported and encouraged by the press and people living in the past)."

    A valid question - but not necessarily anwered as you assume. In a country as small as the UK and with the rapidity of movement and striking range available to modern forces, it is better for us to be able to confront an enemy on his doorstep rather than have to wait for his fleet to be operating in the Channel and his ground-based forces in the Home Counties. Nothing to do with delusions of grandeur - just a given if you want a meaningful defence.

  • Comment number 83.

    #77 Raul_Magister
    "Good defence policy should be based on preparing for the worst - not hoping for the best." what about Japan - how many times have they been invaded since they turned to Pacifism?

    What about the hundreds of small nations that have survived quite nicely in the world without a great military?

    The ONLY reason this country insists on 'playing war' is because it fear reparations for all the harm it's done to the world in the past.

    Read uk_abz_scot on #75 - he sums it up quite nicely.

    If there is a war, we the people will stand up and fight, we don't need a ready armed forces to defend against a non-existent enemy.

    Your argument is the same that the NRA uses for gun ownership in the states "You need to be armed in case your bugular is"
    ...whats the result? More people are shot by members of their own families in the dark thinking they're burgulars - and the criminals just get bigger guns anyway.

    Do tell me - how does a new aircraft carrier defeat the Taliban in the hills of Afghanistan?

    How does a new Aircraft carrier stop North Korea / Iran developing Nuclear weapons?

    How does a new Aircraft carrier produce peace in the middle East?

    How does a new Aircraft carrier stop terrorists bombing the underground?

    These are the defence issues people really care about - not some major land / sea /air battle that's never going to happen.

  • Comment number 84.

    #78 IR35_SURVIVOR
    What century are you living in man?

    "some of us do not want to be dependant on the US or Europe"

    We're totally dependent on both of these - whether it's Economically, Militarily or Politically. You have no choice mate - because you certainly cannot compete with them on a military spending scale.

    That is proper small England talk - still think we're running the world with the East India trading company do we?
    Perhaps we send out Nelson to sort out those Somalian pirates.

    The military might of a country is irrelevant to whether we got involved in Iraq or not. Our Prime minister took us into that war for political gain with the states - nothing to do with not having military independence or not.

    Are you saying only boys who are the most powerful at school were the ones who didn't get involved in fights? I think you'll find it's the other way around - the mightier your power, the more challengers there are too it (as the US know better than anyone else).

    If I remember correctly the Iraq war was led by Nato - so that means there were many, many nations who did not get involved.

    I still can't get over the fact you think we're independent from Europe or the US.....or that we ever can be again.

    Try this for size - all national borders and religion are man made - humanity is the binding for us all (i.e. we're all human). Wars therefore is simply a man made exercise in human extermination.

  • Comment number 85.


    "These are the defence issues people really care about - not some major land / sea /air battle that's never going to happen."

    You just cannot assume this based on what you - or anyone knows.

    The reason that the immediate threats against us are limited to terrorist attacks is that our enemies currently perceive that they cannot match us in the sort of major confrontation you mention. Should that perception change, then who knows?

  • Comment number 86.

    I think we should keep the carriers and for the following very good reasons.

    1) They will be built in Britain using British labour and British produced steel. This will keep not only our skills in building large militray vessels but also the skills involved in production of large scale metal objects to be very blunt about it.

    2) The production, fitting out and steel manufacturing will keep a large number of skilled workers in productive work at a time when their jobs and skills could easily go. Once lost they could never be recovered.

    3) We do not know what the World will be like in 10 let alone 20 or 30 years. For all people may moan a large scale carrier with a variety of planes and copters on it allows Britain to project its influence and interests abroad. Britain's wealth was built on trade supported by our maritime power.

    4) We have chucked billions of pounds to no apparent purpose at the banks which we control but cannot stop from making thousands redundant almost every week. If we can afford that and the huge amount of borrowing involved in that then the extra for two carriers is a mere bagatelle in comparison.

    5) Their operation and maintenance would help to maintain skills needed for a maritimie nation. We are after all suroounded by the stuff so protection of our seas should be a key part of government.

    In my mind the government has three main aims.

    a) Defence of the nation.

    b) Provision of law and order.

    c) Enabling a basic minimum standard of living for all of its citizens. That means provision of education, basic health care and basic muncipal utlities such as heat, light, clean water and sanitation. It doesn't means paying for their sky subscriptions or drink and cigarettes.

    If we cannot have a) you cannot control b) or c).

    Now its time to move on and talk about the big issue. Why the economy shrunk by the most in 51 years in Q1 2009. So much for Shriti vadera's green shoots!

  • Comment number 87.

    #82 RaulMagister

    "In a country as small as the UK and with the rapidity of movement and striking range available to modern forces, it is better for us to be able to confront an enemy on his doorstep rather than have to wait for his fleet to be operating in the Channel and his ground-based forces in the Home Counties. Nothing to do with delusions of grandeur - just a given if you want a meaningful defence."

    ...yeah - perhaps in 1588 when the Spanish Armada was on it's way here!

    Pop quiz - which country has a sizeable Navy and isn't a nuclear power - oh and is also likely to attack this country?

    In case you haven't noticed the biggest threats to this country come from within - not from the 'enemies on our doorstep' as seems to be your paranoid delusion.

  • Comment number 88.

    Have you spoken with Ali Baghi ?(not sure of spelling). You may find it useful. He was original MOD project manager for carriers and in a lecture he gave that I attended (RMCS Shrivenham circa 2000 I think), he acurately predicted the "recent" failings you have reported. Indeed, I believe he will be more able than anybody to explain most of the real, underlying reasons the carrier project has been so badly run. Institutional ineptitude - the real faults with our defence procurement which waste billions each and every year. Reasons that the MOD are too scared properly to uncover, too stupid fully to understand and too arrogant honestly to admit.

  • Comment number 89.


    I wish I could share your confidence (or perhaps crystall ball?) when it comes to predicting what the future holds in terms of facing our threats at sea. But I would contend that a defence policy developed by the mildly paranoid is likely to be able to be more flexible and counter more unexpected threats than one developed by an eternal optimist!

    Don't get me wrong - I'm not here rooting for aircraft carriers or any other particular project. I'm just not as confident as some of the comments that I see here that all we need to plan for are a few Taliban and domestic terrorism.

    Flexibility and capability is the key. In the 1900's the Brtish assumed that in any coming European conflict, they would be able to avoid having to fight a major land campaign - and given our naval supremacy at the time that would have seemed a sensible assumption. So we started the war with an army and military infrastructure totally unprepared to put the numbers of trained troops into the field that were actually required. The result was near defeat in 1914 and the disaster of the Somme. It took another two years to sort out a problem that arose - at base - from an over-rigid view of the type of war that would be fought and Britain's role in it.

  • Comment number 90.

    2 reasons for this
    1) incompetence, Governments of all shades are useless as spending OUR money and should do as little as possible.

    2) Economic with the truth/lying/spin - Sadly the only thing this labour government have excelled at, they constantly throw out meaningless figures hoping no one can add up, very sad.

  • Comment number 91.

    All these defence spending stories are a smokescreen. The govt wants people to argue about £4.5bn of carriers and to divert attention from the hundreds of billions going on their pet departments: benefits, NHS, education.

    Even worse: why are we borrowing money from poor people in China to give it to poor people in Africa. Charity is good, but it should not be done with borrowed money - cut the aid budget to zero till we get our borrowing under control.

  • Comment number 92.


    afternoon ME HEARTIES; please don't discourage Robert from writing about the Quantitatively Eased carriers, and steam vs electric catapults instead of Fred the Shred, as this current string is hilariously funny AND interesting

    seems like a fairly even division between the proponents of a BIG NAVY and the people who point out that it is just plain silly

    so let me throw my tricorn hat into the ring


    I sumbit that the battle of Midway has been fought and won't happen again; and that the Japanese (or whoever our natural enemy with a navy might be - can't think of anyone except maybe Iceland and they are broke) are unlikely to launch a sneak attack against our carriers while they are moored in Loch Long or Portsmouth Habour; but there's a 1:billion chance I guess; should we risk it? ummm yes I think we could take the risk..........

    seems to me that the pro-military is running the City of London's Square Mile a close 2nd as the biggest, most corrupt and self-serving vested interest in the UK; pigs at the trough again!

    of course all the fat cat admirals and desk-bound/sofa-sitting pretend admirals want some BIG SHIPS

    just like the City boys want BIG BANKS

    if you want to fight dirty wars against terrorists in Afghanistan etc (beats me why) then YOU DO NOT need a DEEP WATER NAVY

    and you can't afford FLAT TOPS anyway; same goes for TRIDENT

    it is just a status symbol; and of utterly no use even for catching pirates; and again, I would ask, WHY BOTHER?

    if the UK govt is after bragging rights and/or the chance (and money) to effectively act as a mercenary helpmate for US foreign policy, well I think they would be happy with well-trained troops; if you really want to relive past glories and fight wars now and then, keep a decent professional army and merchant navy to supply them with equipment

    oh and by the way what other country has BIG CARRIERS aside from the US?

    CHINA NEVER HAS (though they are building one so as to thumb their noses at the USA); Japan's have been at the bottom of the ocean for 65 years; Russia's are rusting away; Germany has none; I believe the French have a medium sized one



    anyone notice the complete absence of women on this blog by the way? another telling bit of evidence that this is all bonkers, I think

  • Comment number 93.

    We are a small nearly bankrupt country. Why do we need any aircraft carriers? What are we doing with all these armed forces? Who is threatening to attack us? Why are we in Afghanistan?
    It all looks like 'folie de grandeur' to me.

  • Comment number 94.

    #87 writingonthewall ok I give up; what country has a navy, isn't nuclear and might want to attack the UK?

    the Germans? doubt it but at least it would be traditional; Iceland in another cod war? they're broke

    I'd be all for Canada attacking you but they're more concerned about keeping the US and Russia out of their part of the arctic

    so who is it? is the attack imminent? the military brass may need to adjust their budgets upwards again to prepare properly

  • Comment number 95.

    Someone once wrote or said that to have peace you must prepare for war. Guess what we are doing by building these new aircraft carriers and upgrading Trident?

    Now all these people who are saying that Afghanistan is so many hundred miles from the ocean and that most "military" incidents now are to do with terrorism are quite right. Could these soothsayers and clairvoyants please let the rest of us know whether that will be the case in 5, 10 or 15 years time please? Better yet please let HM Government know now so that they can put in to effect the plan to have designed, built, deployed and modified the weapons systems to counteract whatever the perceived threats will be in 5, 10 or 15 years time.

    The UK has always used the Royal Navy as a means to show the flag, project force, and assist with humanitarian aid requirements. I seem to recall that the first ship to survey the changes in the seabed after the Boxing Day tsunami was a Royal Navy survey ship. I did not hear of any US, French or other sea power sending a survey ship to Indonesia.

  • Comment number 96.

    #95 why on earth do you think that the UK would need to take part in a war in 15 years, even if there were to be one; you don't need to be a participant in every war going you know; I guess Russia could be a bit of a worry but any Russian threats to western Europe could only be countered by the USA

    as for the Falklands, the UK was very fortunate to retake it in 1982 and I can't see it happening again, but you'd need US permission and help for any operation

    oh I know, perhaps you could use a big navy to seize Quebec again......... Plains of Abraham and all that; not quite as good as attacking France itself of course but they are French-speaking

    is there going to be a scrappage scheme for trading in the old worn-out flat-tops and subs for the new ones? and will they be green - I hear that the new German Merkel-class dreadnoughts will use the latest hybrid technology; might cost a bit more but one needs to think about these things and money is no object, after all

    I am currently planning to demast my good ship NUMPTY and make it into a flat-top; once the Somali navy has a carrier we will command world-wide respect

  • Comment number 97.

    All very weird, this. The Defence Committee asked for the costs of delaying the new carriers in their defence expenditure 2009 review ( good question) and the Government refused to provide as it was against national interest to give precise information ( or something like that). Suggestion then was that delays were being forced by: need to bring forward properly reinforced troop carrier vehicles and helicopters to protect our boys in the field ( which they should have had in the first place) etc - move delivery out to accomodate US jet deliveries for use on the carriers - I suppose leading to budget restructuring. In March the Scottish BBC carried a story that the Aircraft Carrier Alliance ( whoever they are)/MOD was altering programme to switch construction from Barrow to Glasgow.Something about Barrow lacking capacity. I dont see this mentioned now.

    Dont worry - there's an army of mandarins and officials handling this called the Capital Ships Directorate, Geoff Searle Tony Graham and a hundred odd others. They often appear on the 'good news' press releases. Why not ask them to give a statement. Geoff thought it was all going to be a "cost effective and low risk build strategy" - March 2009.

  • Comment number 98.

    Isn't this a consequence of the difference in accounting practices between private and public sector? When a company buys equipment to last say ten years, a tenth of its cost is written into the next ten years' accounts. When the government or a local council buys something, the entire cost appears immediately in the accounts. This encourages government to make otherwise irrational decisions such as patching up roads every year rather than doing a thorough resurfacing every ten years, borrowing money at great cost via a 'public-private partnership' or indeed with the example above overpaying in total just to improve this year's accounts.

    Is there any discussion of changing this practice which so clearly encourages short-termism?

  • Comment number 99.

    Most of the discussion here follows the wisdom of spending money on aircraft carriers at all, which is somewhat off topic. For what it's worth though, I agree that they are a waste of money however you pay for them.

  • Comment number 100.

    I thought carriers needed a substantial battle group as support:
    destroyers, submarines, frigates AMS cruisers etc
    Surely we no longer have enough of a navy to supply this support. Or are we going to commission a completely new navy? I suspect we cannot support both simultaneously.

    TSR2 would have been a considerable aircraft even now.

    Good old Labour screwed that one too.


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