Over the New Year the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, visited Washington DC for talks with his American counterpart Leon Panetta. High on the agenda: Britain’s future aircraft carriers which, thanks to government changes to the programme, will carry no aircraft for several years after they’ve been constructed.
The government has changed the design of one of the carriers to launch aircraft using catapults & traps (cats & traps) at an extra cost of over £1bn with full estimates likely to be made public at the end of 2012.
Having sold the Harrier fleet to the US , the Government have opted to buy the F35c. This will require UK service personnel to learn how to use an entirely new system – and the two defence secretaries agreed that this training will take place on US vessels. Will there be a new cost implication for this, or will the MoD get this training for free as a result of the Harrier sale?
The F35 has a series of question marks hanging over it as a result of problems thrown up during trials and as a result there are questions as to whether or not the US Department of Defence will remain committed to the programme. As Philip Hammond said: “if there is any slippage in the programme, any reduction in the US numbers required, could have impacts on availability and on unit costs”.
We already know that the F35c, designed for Cats & Traps will need modification to fit the specifications on the new carriers, this too ramps the cost further.
There is a real risk that the Tory-led government’s decision to spend an extra £1bn by changing the design of one of the carriers, to strike a deal with the US over training, could have further cost implications to British taxpayers if the cost of new aircraft goes beyond budget. All these uncertainties and budgetary risks come at a time when the MoD is cutting programmes and service personnel are being made redundant.