The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has taken a pummelling during the latest meeting of the defence committee in parliament.
It comes as the powerful body of MPs looks to scrutinise the effectiveness of Whitehall’s strategy to buy new kit for the armed forces.
Military top brass are still battling to plug a £7bn black hole in its 10-year plan to equip the army, navy and RAF.
Last year, a damning report by the public accounts committee, the Commons’ spending watchdog, revealed the MoD lacked the ability to ‘accurately cost programmes’ and that the shortfall could reach £14.8bn by 2028.
The cash crisis today enraged former armed forces minister, Mark Francois, who sits on the defence committee.
‘One of the reasons the MoD gets ripped off so frequently is because it hardly ever cancels a programme unless it absolutely has to, and it hardly ever fires or sacks a contractor that goes massively over budget,’ the former minister for Portsmouth said.
‘It always fudges it somehow and eventually you end up with fewer and fewer units that individually cost more and more.
‘The MoD is a weak customer and is very bad at managing the contractors that it deals with who often end up leaning the MoD over a barrel or even something worse.’
The criticism comes as MPs heard about looming woes facing the Royal Navy and the procurement of its latest generation of hi-tech frigates.
During the virtual meeting, defence expert and journalist Francis Tusa told MPs the management of defence programmes across the board was ‘not brilliant’.
He warned the committee the navy was facing a serious issue introducing its state-of-the-art Type 26 frigate and its cheaper, general purpose Type 31 frigate.
‘We’re going to see a perfect storm in about five years’ time with both Type 31 and Type 26 delivering their first-of-class ships almost to identical timescales and the Royal Navy will not have the resources to take both ships into service,’ he told MPs.
‘It does not have the manpower, skilled manpower and expertise to be able to manage two complex warships’ introduction at the same time. This is where an industrial strategy would have helped them.’
Earlier this year, the MoD’s permanent secretary, Stephen Lovegrove let slip that the five new Type 31 frigates won’t come into service until May 2027 – four years late.
The delay will mean that by the mid 2020s the navy will have just 15 frigates and destroyers in action.
This breaks the government’s long-standing promise never to go below 19.
The news outraged former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord Alan West, who said: ‘For a great nation like ours, just five frigates on task is a national embarrassment and disgrace.’
An MoD spokesman said it was ‘committed to ensuring’ the navy has the ships ‘required to fulfil’ defence needs.
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