Two u-turns by U.K. ministers over the type of aircraft to fly off the aircraft carriers under construction will cost UK taxpayers at least 74 million pounds, according to a Carrier Strike report published by the Public Accounts Committee.
When the programme got the green light in 2007, the two carriers were to be completed between 2016 and 2018, at a cost of £3.65 billion. The bill now stands at £5.5 billion with no aircraft carrier capability for nearly a decade.
According to the report, in October 2010, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) decided on the basis of deeply flawed information to change the type of aircraft from the Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the carrier variant.
The decision was justified by claiming the alternative aircraft would both save money and enhance capability. In May 2012, the MoD realised that the benefits expected from switching to the carrier variant of the aircraft would not be achieved, the costs of would be significantly higher than projected and it would delay the operation of the new carriers. The MoD made another u-turn and announced that it would once again be purchasing the STOVL variant.
History of poor decisions
The report summarises that the MoD has a history of making poor decisions, based on inadequate information. In this case, the Department provided decision makers with deeply flawed information on the benefits of changing the type aircraft.
The MoD attributed these mistakes to the process being rushed and secret, a decision that will cost UK taxpayers at least £74 million, although final costs will not be known until 2014.
The report stated that despite having some 400 staff working on Carrier Strike project, there is a risk the MoD is not managing the programme effectively and may not have the right procurement skills to deliver the aircraft carriers to the Royal Navy. There is also a concern that the Department’s staff are weighted down with bureaucracy and inefficiency.
The National Audit office concluded by recommending that the National Accounts Office (NAO) should examine whether the MoD has the appropriate skills and capability in procuring equipment and support from industry and whether the Department’s processes for managing contracts are fit for purpose.