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'More costs' for aircraft carriers

Britain's aircraft carrier programme faces further spiralling costs and the project remains a "high risk", MPs have warned.

Significant technical problems have not been resolved and there is potential for "uncontrolled growth" in the final bill, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

MPs warn they are "still not convinced" that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has a grip on the project and suggested it has "little control" over the costs of acquiring the aircraft They heap criticism on the MoD for providing "deeply flawed information" that led to plans to switch the type of aircraft to be flown from the carriers. The move was later abandoned at a cost to taxpayers of £74 million, the National Audit Office revealed earlier this year.

In a report, MPs said they are "still not convinced" that the MoD has got the Carrier Strike programme under control and also raised concerns that the early warning radar system that protects the carriers will not be available until two years after the first one is delivered.

They accused the MoD of "a history of making poor decisions, based on inadequate information" and also warned the department it must be more consistent in assessing what capability it needs.

Around 400 employees are working on the programme, but MPs said they were concerned that "staff are wasting their time with bureaucracy and duplicated effort" in their checks on contractors.

Last May, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond decided to revert to plans by the former Labour government to acquire the jump jet version of the US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Under proposals set out in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), the coalition had intended to switch to the more capable F-35C carrier variant of the aircraft - even though it meant mothballing one of the two carriers on grounds of affordability - but the costs of fitting the necessary catapults and arrester gear, "cats and traps", had more than doubled to £2 billion.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the PAC, said: "The committee is still not convinced that the MoD has this programme under control. It remains subject to huge technical and commercial risks, with the potential for further uncontrolled growth in costs. We are also concerned that, according to current plans, the early warning radar system essential for protecting the carrier will not be available for operation until 2022, two years after the first carrier and aircraft are delivered and initially operated. And the MoD does not yet have the funding to replace the shipping needed to support the new carrier. To avoid making the same mistakes again, the MoD needs to start planning now for the next SDSR in 2015 - including making sure that this time it has the right information on which to base decisions."

Shadow armed forces minister Kevan Jones said: "The chaos of the Government's carrier U-turn gets worse and worse. Having announced this triumphantly, David Cameron has cost the taxpayer millions of pounds and has left the country without aircraft on an aircraft carrier for a decade. When defence budgets are tight, this looks incompetent and wasteful. The price of the programme has gone up but the capability has gone down."


From Belfast Telegraph