By stewartb:

Cost to Scotland of global ‘power projection’ – a blank cheque!

Paying anything is too much for what you don’t need!

The National Audit Office (NAO) has just published (26 June, 2020) a report on the UK Ministry of Defence and its ‘Carrier Strike – Preparing for deployment’ programme.

The NAO states: “In this report, we examine how the Department has managed the programme since 2017 and how it is addressing the risks towards achieving the full capabilities of a carrier strike group.”


The present article follows on from recent TuSC alerts regarding Westminster government cost over-runs and mismanagement that cost Scotland’s tax payers money and for items of spend that Scotland doesn’t need nor want.



The NAO report describes the UK’s ‘Carrier Strike’ in the following terms: it “provides the ability to launch fixed-wing aircraft from a ship to undertake a range of military tasks. It is central to the government’s plans for the country’s armed forces and the first step towards Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP), which is the government’s ambition to be able to respond to conflicts and support humanitarian relief efforts anywhere in the world at short notice. It intends Carrier Strike to be interoperable with NATO allies. The UK has been without such a capability since 2010, when the Ministry of Defence (the Department) retired the Harrier aircraft that had operated from its Invincible Class aircraft carriers.” (with my emphasis)

Carrier Strike is based around two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers – the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy – together with Lightning II jets, which are being bought through the United States (US) Department of Defense’s international programme. The Department is also buying a new airborne radar system, Crowsnest, to help protect a carrier strike group. Depending on the type of deployment, the carriers will be accompanied by at least one destroyer, an anti-submarine warfare frigate, and ships for support and resupply. This all adds up!

Costs according to the NAO

£6.4bn: forecast build costs of two new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, £193 million (3%) above the revised budget.

£6.0bn: expenditure to date on new Lightning II jets, out of an approved project budget of £10.5 billion.

But here’s the ‘good’ bit!

Not forecast: the Ministry of Defence has not estimated the full future costs of Carrier Strike.

More revelations from the NAO

“The Crowsnest airborne radar system will provide a crucial element of protection for a carrier strike group, .… The Department did not oversee its contract with Lockheed Martin effectively and, despite earlier problems on the project, neither was aware of the sub-contractor’s lack of progress until it was too late to meet the target delivery date.”

“The Department has not yet made funding available for enough Lightning II jets to sustain Carrier Strike operations over its life. From 2015, its intention has been to buy 138 Lightning II jets, which will sustain Carrier Strike operations to the 2060s. The Department initially ordered 48 jets but has not yet committed to buying any more.

“.. the Department has only one ship able to resupply a carrier group, which slows the tempo and reach at which this can be done. It has long been aware that this will restrict the operational freedom of Carrier Strike but has not yet developed a solution.”  And then this: “… this will delay the introduction of new ships by between 18 and 36 months, making it uncertain the first new ship will be operational before the existing support ship leaves service in 2028.”

This does seem just bizarre: “The Department has still not provided the necessary funding for logistics projects and munitions. We highlighted the importance of these requirements in our 2017 report, but the Department still does not have funding to develop a long-term capability to move people and goods, including Lightning II parts, to or within a carrier group. Nor has it developed a stockpile strategy capable of supporting CEPP, or identified the consequent funding requirements.

“The aircraft carriers have a 50-year lifespan but many capabilities in a carrier strike group will retire before then. However, the Department has not established a consolidated view of the enhancements that are needed to continue to develop Carrier Strike’s capabilities, or their cost. It will need to make funding decisions in the next 10 years, such as deciding how to replace or extend Merlin helicopters, which are due to go out of service in 2030. These decisions will create added funding pressures at a time when the Equipment Plan is already unaffordable.

“Given the strategic importance of Carrier Strike, we would expect the Department to develop a clear view of support and operating costs. It estimated the additional costs of Carrier Strike in 2017, but this did not include all elements of a carrier strike group.

“The Department may not have made sufficient provision in later years’ budgets to reflect the full costs of operating Carrier Strike. Failure to make realistic cost estimates creates a risk that the Department will face increased financial pressure in the future, perpetuating the cycle of short-term decision-making that we have seen in our reports on the Equipment Plan.”

“ … there is a risk that budget provisions may not cover all of Carrier Strike’s future needs; for instance, there are doubts that budgets for future years will be sufficient to fund routine deployments and keep both carriers ready for use at short notice.”

To sum up

Once again Scottish taxpayers:

  • have already contributed their financial share of a costly project – we could have invested in useful naval defences for Scotland
    • pursued by a Tory government a majority in Scotland didn’t vote for
    • aimed at achieving a military ambition that has no relevance to a country like Scotland
    • the final costs of which to the Scottish taxpayer remains unknown
    • all part of a programme of dubious financial and operational management; and
    • whose military capability at the end of the day remains in doubt even in its own terms

Am I missing something?