Defence cuts: Carrier 'fully operational in 2030'

Computer generated image of aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are being built, but one will be mothballed

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Britain may be without a fully operational aircraft carrier until 2030, according to a report published by the Commons spending watchdog.

The public accounts committee said two carriers being built would cost more, offer less military capability and be ready much later than planned.

It said the Royal Navy would be without a carrier until 2020.

The MoD said carrier-based joint strike fighter capability would begin in 2020 and increase over subsequent years.

The public accounts committee also said the cost of scaling back the carriers was not fully known.

The government says it expects to save £4.4bn over 10 years on the programme.

But the committee's Labour chairman Margaret Hodge said the final cost could end up being £12bn over budget.

"Whilst today we're reporting predicted costs for this of £6.2bn, my fear is that that's not the end of the story," she said.

"Indeed one insider said to me that the cost could escalate up to an amazing £12bn for this project."

The ships - HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales which were to be based in Portsmouth - were saved from defence cuts under the coalition government because, it said, it would cost more to cancel the projects than proceed with them.

Over budget

In last year's strategic defence review, ministers agreed to change the design of one, or both, of the aircraft carriers to make them compatible with the US Navy's version of the Joint Strike Fighter, rather than the short take-off, vertical-landing (STOVL) version that had been planned.

Start Quote

Rather than two carriers, available from 2016 and 2018, at a cost of £3.65bn, we will now spend more than £6bn, get one operational carrier and have no aircraft carrier capability until 2020”

End Quote Margaret Hodge Public Accounts Committee chairman

HMS Prince of Wales will be mothballed and kept as a reserve vessel - while HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to go into service around 2020, with both said to cost £5.9bn.

The government said the two carriers were already £1.6bn over budget when it came to power - and that changes in the defence review reduced overall spending on the "carrier strike programme" by £4.4bn over 10 years.

But the committee disagreed, saying the government concentrated on immediate cash savings and not on long-term value for money.

"Changes to the aircraft carriers and the aircraft flying from them in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review have changed the risks and costs involved in ways that are not fully understood," said Mrs Hodge.

"Rather than two carriers, available from 2016 and 2018, at a cost of £3.65 billion, we will now spend more than £6bn, get one operational carrier and have no aircraft carrier capability until 2020 - almost a decade."

The report also said there is "considerable uncertainty" about the costs of modifying one of the carriers to accommodate a different type of fighter jet - and the full costs would not be known until December 2012.

'Gaping hole'

While the change had reduced the technical risks associated with the STOVL aircraft - the fact that its full costs would not be known for another year left the project "at risk of cost growth and slippage", the report said.

And it added there were other technical risks associated with integrating new aircraft with the carriers and suggested full carrier strike capability might not be achieved until 2030.

Start Quote

The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have both acknowledged that our decision to build a second aircraft carrier makes financial sense”

End Quote Philip Hammond Defence Secretary

Labour said the report showed there was a "gaping hole" in the government's credibility on defence.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: "It is high time ministers took responsibility for their actions. The rushed, Treasury-driven defence review left Britain without aircraft flying from an aircraft carrier for a decade."

But Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the government was trying to get the MoD's finances "back into balance" having inherited a "black hole" from Labour.

He stressed the two aircraft carriers were already £1.6bn over budget when the coalition came to power - and said government spending cuts would save £4.4bn over 10 years on the carrier strike programme.

"The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have both acknowledged that our decision to build a second aircraft carrier makes financial sense, he said.

"Converting one of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers to operate the more capable carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter fast jet from 2020 will maximise our military capability and enhance inter-operability with our allies.

"Operating the more cost effective carrier variant fast jet will, in the long-term, offset the conversion costs and provide us with aircraft that have a longer range and carry a greater payload."

He added that the Libya campaign had showed how Britain could use its bases and over-flight rights to "project decisive air power", before its new aircraft carrier capability came into service.

An MoD spokeswoman said: "It is incorrect to claim that a full carrier strike capability will not be achieved until 2030.

"The more capable carrier variant of the joint strike fighter fast jet will begin operating from our aircraft carrier from 2020, with six UK jets available for operations.

"By 2023, this number will increase to 12 UK jets onboard and we will be able to work with our allies to increase that number because of the interoperability that the carrier variant joint strike fighter allows."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Why do people post when they know nothing about the subject?

    Aircraft Carriers sent in during an emergency can:-
    1. Provide electricity.
    2. Provide fresh water from sea water.
    3. Provide hot meals.
    4. On board Hospitals.
    The list goes on and on. It's not always about defending empires.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    Americans can build 10 Nimitz class Air Craft carriers in 25 years for $4.5 each .All we have is a double bottom floating deck and thats all we are going to be left with in 2030. Should we not go to the Newport News and buy one off the shelf for less money and have a fully operational Aircraft Carrier by 2014/2015. We can't even afford the fuel for the support group so what is the point?

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    I pass a homeless guy with a dog on my way to work every morning, he sleeps out in the cold but whenever I speak to him he is nothing but gracious. This man should not have to live out in the cold and money should be spend on humanity, not war. What do so many people believe that we all hate each other so much? My ideals are for peace yes, why anyone would not agree with that is beyond me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    What a joke. Billions down the pan. In case people have forgotten this is an island. We depend on sea trade. We couldn't defend the Grand Union canal never mind our sea lanes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    This is the best time for Argentina to retake the Falkland Islands. Without aircraft carriers, you are a sitting duck. UK would have lost WW2 without the help of aircraft carreirs

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    DFF wrote "Are most posters teenagers"

    I'm nearly still a teenager. A bit of levity brightens things up. Gets the comments thread going a bit. Flumoxes the serious conventional BBC

    A bit of 'Ive got news for you,' style takes the edge off the inevitable middle aged armchair experts who know all about the ins and out aircraft carriers. Very boring chaps at best. Probaly train spotters!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    And the government has just sold all of our perfectly servicable Harriers to the americans for next to nothing! Carriers are not just there to sabre rattle they are floating control centres in the event of a humanitarian disaster. They can be equipped with food and supplies and have surgical suites. The hangers can be converted into wards or accomodation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    Oh dear! I am so scared! What if the French or Germans invade?

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    @ 344.matt-stone.... you think it was prudent of the last LAB Govt to spend so much on the UK credit card? That is like me saying I'm going to have a job for life so no need to worry about maxing my credit cards, getting loads of loans and buying a house I cannot afford. Govt and everyone else should live within their means, if that means lower public spending on all aspects incl MOD then so be it

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    And BAE are rubbing their hands at the thought of £12bn going into their pockets sponsored by the hard working taxpayers... no matter if the order goes ahead or is cancelled they still get paid at our expenses. Excellent deal there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    #330 It goes over-budget, not because the 'builder' overspends, which as you say would be down to them, but because the client hasn't got a clue what it wants and keeps changing its mind, in which case the client has to bear the cost of all the changes and rework i.e. you, me and every other tax payer ....

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    243 milvusvestal

    Depends what you want really. Making this carrier at least keeps the skills in this country. Whereas with better health education and people acting more and more responsibly we will need less hospitals and police force. Also fewer fire service, doctors, benefit agency staff to administer the reduction in benefits. So we have to do something to transfer skills and this is the way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    It's the previous Labour Government & BAE who are to blame. They wrote the contracts and BAE treat the Tax payers pocket as a bottomless pit of money. Having worked on this project it comes as no surprise that it has been a complete disaster due to poor management. It used to be the Engineers that built ships. A public enquiry needs to be held and personnel held to account.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    Margaret Hodge voted for the war in iraq, for keeping the trident missle system and for ID cards...and now shes messed this carrier situation up.

    why isnt there a stong millitary presence in these things?

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    I have long thought that most of the pro defence arguments are put up by computers with no insight or analytical power.
    By 2030 most of Wave Rulers here with be over 80, and in need of expensive health care. The pilots who will fly jets are still unborn or toddlers. How long are they going to fight the Cold War?
    18 years is a long time ahead.

    Make the shipyards etc build saleable products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    Dear xxx

    With regard to your impending humanitarian crisis/request for military assistance, I regret that HM Gov is unable to commit forces at this time due to a lack of ships.
    Would it be possible, please, for your starving refugees/heavily outnumbered armed forces (who we are sworn to support) to 'hold the fort' for, say, the next 20 years? I thank you for your assistance in this matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    The things to worry about are not the carriers but the drones.

    Once perfected they will be used to watch us.

    For our own safety,of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    Why do we always debate our military needs? Why do we compromise due to political/budgetary arguments? Its crazy!

    These Aircraft Carriers are essential. Not only that, but they create much needed high-level jobs, ensures UK military sovereignty and will showcase our excellence in engineering.

    Build them, and build them better than than emerging powers ever could!... or, concede defeat...

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    "And it added there were other technical risks associated with integrating new aircraft with the carriers"

    So its late, costs twice as much and has trouble actually carrying aircraft? Dear god, what has happened to this once great country. Im embarassed to be British.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    Im not sure how much you guys know but we don't need an Empire to have a super carrier.

    We have got Islands to protect one of which next to a hostile Agentina. Also the carrier would be defending the country and allow us to strike back anywhere in the world and right now there is a lot of tension with Syria, Germany and Russia.
    We need that carrier our last defense is the sea might as well use it


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