MoD pilot contract delayed by six years, says watchdog

RAF Typhoon jet taking off Image copyright Crown Copyright
Image caption The contract to train military pilots was awarded in 2008

An MoD project to contract out the training of military pilots is six years behind schedule, the Whitehall spending watchdog has said.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the £3.2bn scheme was scheduled to be running at full capacity by 2014 but will not now do so until 2019.

The Ascent consortium was awarded the 25-year contract in 2008 in a bid to reduce costs and training times.

Ministers said early difficulties with the programme had been overcome.

The NAO said there was still "much to do" to achieve the planned benefits.

The watchdog found that the early years of the contract were affected by "significant concerns" about the performance of Ascent, a consortium of Lockheed Martin and Babcock.

The MoD had managed to recover only £308,000 from Ascent for its failure to meet its responsibilities out of more than £143m spent so far.

'Right number, right time'

The NAO said the delays were in part due to "substantial" reductions in the numbers of aircrew undergoing training, because of defence cuts, resulting in the value of the contract being more than halved from £6.8bn.

Ascent's performance was considered by NAO to have improved since 2012 after the MoD raised concerns with shareholders.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "The department needs to understand better actual training performance and what affects performance before it can secure significant improvements from Ascent.

"Otherwise, there is a real risk that moving to the new training will affect the military's ability to train the right number of aircrew at the right time."

Defence procurement minister Philip Dunne said: "The programme was thoroughly overhauled in 2012 and early implementation issues are now behind us.

"We are now on a much firmer footing and moving forward to deliver flight training for aircrew, more rapidly and efficiently, with greater flexibility to adapt to new platforms."

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