Ambitious plans for the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers – each of which cost more than £3bn – will not be met without proper funding, the government spending watchdog National Audit Office (NAO) has said.
The Ministry of Defence said it expects to meet its target of declaring an “initial operating capability” for the carriers by December 2020. But the NAO called the target “tight”.
And it is uncertain whether the first of the ships would be fully ready in time for 2028, when the only existing operational one is due to be taken out of services.
The MoD is yet to commit the funding required for enough Lightning II fighter jets to sustain the carriers over their expected 50-year operating life, the NAO said in its report.
It also said the Navy had just one supply ship able to keep the carriers stocked with food and ammunition while on operations.
And it further warned the carriers’ new Crowsnest airborne radar system – which forms a crucial part of its defences – was running 18 months late, further diminishing its capabilities during its first two years.
Aircraft carriers are often seen as a symbol and tool of global reach and military power.
The carriers need a small armada of ships for protection, refuelling and supplies. They need aircraft for logistics, airborne early warning and to carry out strikes.
NAO criticized British MoD not having a clarity on overall capital spends for Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier and support ships.
What is clear is that all the elements of Carrier Strike will take a significant bite out of the defence budget at a time when it’s already under strain.
Labour MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee which follows the work of the NAO, said the Navy was in danger of being left with a “hollowed-out” capability unless the issues were addressed.
“The Ministry of Defence has lofty ambitions for the carriers but hasn’t put its money where its mouth is,” Ms Hillier added.
“Worryingly, it still doesn’t know the full cost of supporting and operating Carrier Strike.”
A MoD spokesman said: “Carrier Strike is a complex challenge, which relies on a mix of capabilities and platforms.
“We remain committed to investing in this capability, which demonstrates the UK’s global role.
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