‘Debilitating Lack of Clarity’ Threatens Royal Navy Carrier Force

“Debilitating” Lack of Funded Plan for Carrier Strike Threatens UK Military Power

(Source: House of Commons Public Accounts Committee; issued Nov. 13, 2020)

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has flagged shortcomings in the Royal Navy carriers’ support vessels and small number of F-35 aircraft, and said that their capabilities are compromised by lack of a funding plan. (RN photo)

In a report published today, Friday 13 November 2020, the Public Accounts Committee commends the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for delivering two aircraft carriers that form the bases for Carrier Strike, the largest ever built for the Royal Navy, into service on time - but says this success risks being undermined by failure to provide the capabilities essential for the carriers to do their job.

The radar system for Carrier Strike has been delayed by poor contractor performance and inadequate departmental oversight, the MoD lacks the support ships it needs to supply the carriers, and it cannot yet move people and goods to and from a carrier group.

There also remains a lack of clarity about the costs associated with purchasing and supporting the [F-35B] Lightning II jets that will operate from the carriers, as well as about how many more the UK will need - or can afford - in the future.

These issues remain unresolved after many years and there has been “little discernible progress” since the Committee’s 2018 report on the programme, despite it being a “vital component of the UK’s military power”.

PAC says the MoD must translate its ambitions into a clear, funded plan – and deliver it. The link between funding and delivering the major projects necessary for future capability is clear. Decisions are needed to deliver the UK’s defence capability and to avoid yet more additional costs because of delays and uncertainty.

Chair's comment

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “As things stand the UK has two world-class aircraft carriers with limited capability because the wider debate about the UK’s strategic defence capability - and funding - has been repeatedly delayed.

“This debilitating lack of clarity threatens our national defences yet it’s not likely to be resolved when the strategic defence review and the comprehensive spending review look likely to be out of step with each other once again.

“The MoD and the nation it’s responsible for defending cannot afford for this rare beacon of success, in delivering the two carriers, to descend into yet another failure to deliver defence capability. The MoD must recognise that is a real risk, a real risk to a vital part of our national defences, and it must demonstrate now a clear plan to capitalise on the massive investment the UK has already made - and deliver Carrier Strike.”

Click here for the full report (21 PDF pages), on the UK Parliament website.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The real problem, which this report only mentions in passing, is the very low availability and higher than expected operating cost of the Lockheed F-35B fighters that are to operate from the two carriers.
During the recent exercise, HMS Queen Elisabeth sailed with only four – later five – F-35Bs out of the 18 received to date by the Royal Air Force, as no more were available.
The bulk of the ship’s air wing – another 11 aircraft – was in fact constituted by F-35Bs of the US Marine Corps VFMA-211 squadron.)


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