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
    +11

    Comment number 530.

    We had a perfectly good carrier force, but we got rid of them. Waiting until 2030 is totally unacceptable. I know we have financial problems and we have to cut the deficit, but cutting defence spending is never a good idea. Let's put the "Great" back in Britain please!

  • Comment number 529.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 528.

    525.
    Bibi"Complete waste of money ! Stop spending funds on warfare and start spending them on forcing employers to keep staff in work"

    We have had that for years , called it make the taxpayer fund non jobs in te public sector

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 527.

    Our last conventional Air Craft carrier, HMS Hermes is still floating round the world with the Indian Navy as INS Viraat, and will still be at current forecasts when HMS Queen Elizabeth is operational. Now there's a lesson in short sighted policy.....

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 526.

    Carriers cost a horrendous amount of money to build, a horrendous amount of money to service/maintain and upset ever country that sees them hanging round their coast, thus needing horrendously expensive diplomats to pacify these far flung furrowed brows, and that is why we went out of them in the first place. Aircraft Carriers are natures way of saying you have too much money: at least we did.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 525.

    Complete waste of money ! Stop spending funds on warfare and start spending them on forcing employers to keep staff in work (far cheaper than financing jobless people through benefits). This country has wantonly squandered hundreds of thousands of lives through wars over the past 100 years - it is high time we took a civilised stance and became a neutral nation

  • rate this
    -11

    Comment number 524.

    @TOTAL MASSS RESTRAIN

    WHY SHOULD I MOVE IN TO SMALL APARTEMENT.

    NO NEED FOR CARRIERS OR ARMY

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 523.

    Technical point.

    The tree huggers can't hug that many trees anymore because most of them were used on ships,a lot of which were for the navies of the various rulers of this land.

    I'm just saying.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 522.

    By the time we get these Aircraft Carriers, the Falkland Islanders would have been under Argentinean rule for 18 years.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 521.

    "SpeakerOfTruth
    We don't need an aircraft carrier who the hell is going to invade us get real."

    Erm, an aircraft carrier would be of limited use if we had been invaded. But as you think no one would invade us we should definately scrap all our defence capability.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 520.

    So what happens if Argentina invades the Falklands again? Should we ask them to wait until 2030? Maybe we could borrow the French aircraft carrier! Or perhaps one from the US Navy!
    But on a serious note should we not be thinking of the thousands of jobs involved? Not only during construction but also in the maintaining of the carriers. These skills are too important to loose.

  • Comment number 519.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 518.

    Am I the only one who thinks that we're long overdue a decent world war??

    I'm sick of all this half hearted messing about in the sand that the army seems to have been doing.

    Let's get these carriers built, a shed load of tanks, planes and subs too and let's get cracking!!!

  • Comment number 517.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 516.

    498.
    Trevor_Mallery

    Hope it doesnt shock you too much to hear the Russians quite like and indeed respect the British. They get a bit peed off when Britain happily gives asylum and even instant citizenship to Russian criminals and terrorists or blames them for wars they didnt start. You should go there and find out for yourself. As for the carrier delay, this would never happen in Rassiya

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 515.

    This is the failiure that this government will go down in history for, as it has let slip the defence ofn the realm, which should be a governments' first priority.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 514.

    This is an absolute joke. These carriers have been planned since the late 90s. to be in service by the 2030s, isn't good enough and is typical of the penny pinching Conservatives and the daisy dancing Lib-dems who think this is value for money. this is a waste of money and time , just spend the money and fast track the carriers to be in service as they were originally planned.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 513.

    "locust
    looking at what is happening in Iran as i type something is needed now!"

    Yessiree. A handful of disaffected people smash the windows of an embassy = we need an aircraft carrier. Yehaw!!!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 512.

    Shhhh!! Don't let the pesky enemies know!! Let's build one out of plywood, and tell everyone that it's the latest sooper dooper aircraft carrier equipped with 300 nuclear-death-Phantom-megakill aircraft and it's captained by James Bond. That should scare them off until we build a real one.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 511.

    We don't need carriers, we need a general election.

    The enemy is within.

 

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