NAO endorses MoD aircraft carrier U-turn

10 May 2013

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10 May 2013 | Adam Leach

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) was right to revert back to its original plans for the aircraft carrier strike force, but still faces a number of challenges to deliver value for money, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

Carrier Strike: the 2012 reversion decision published today praised the speed in which the MoD decided to revert to the original short take-off and vertical landing design in May 2012 over poor data and higher forecast costs of the alternative.

It said the reversal, which incurred an initial extra cost of £74 million, would save £1.2 billion over 10 years and be completed three years earlier, but its effectiveness will be slightly lower than the ‘joint striker force’ alternative, which was to fly different jets operated by a catapult system.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said in a statement: “It is good that the MoD acted promptly, once it became clear that pursuing the option to buy the carrier variant aircraft would cost a lot more money and add another three years to the whole programme. But to achieve value for money in this project, the department will have to manage significant technical and affordability risks and be consistent in sticking to the present plan.”

While the decision was endorsed, the audit body raised concerns that value for money was still at threat if the MoD failed to maintain consistency. It highlighted the fact funding delays to Crowsnest - a helicopter-based warning system - would now mean it will not be ready until 2022, two years after the carriers are forecast for completion. This delay will result in the project not reaching full capability by the scheduled completion date.

But defence secretary Phillip Hammond said the system will be in operation by 2020 - reaching fully operational status in 2022 - and extra systems and resources would be utilised to cover the gap.

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