Jim Murphy, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, today released a letter he has sent to David Cameron demanding answers to serious questions about Britain’s future defence capability:
Text of Letter below:
Dear Prime Minister,
The aircraft carrier programme is one of the most strategically important elements of national defence. Having the ability to deploy jets from carriers at sea enables Britain, a proud maritime nation, to project power and defend our interests. The Government’s handling of the carrier programme has, regrettably, been shambolic and has downgraded our nation’s power.
There has been much speculation about the future of the carrier programme and the Joint Strike Fighter and I believe there are serious questions to answer.
Labour had a plan for year-round carrier strike capability. You overturned this, calling those plans a “mistake” and an “error”, choosing an alternative variant of the Joint Str ike Fighter, the ‘F35C’, and converting the aircraft carriers accordingly. This is, however, now being abandoned since Ministerial decisions have proved misguided, costly and undeliverable.
You said your policy would be “less expensive”, yet the costs of conversion soared to nearly £2bn over estimates. The Government’s Defence Review said we would have carrier strike by 2020, but those plans would reportedly in fact be deliverable up to 7 years later. Interoperability with the French was promised but the F35C, the Review’s chosen aircraft, cannot land on the French Charles de Gaulle carrier. “Continuous carrier-strike availability” was pledged and yet plans outlined would deliver just one operational carrier which would not be able to operate year-round. You said “the right decisions are now being made in the right way”, and yet we now know risks were taken over cost, timescale and technicality, as has been made clear by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office, which says the plans “increase the challenge facing the Department”.
It is now reported that the Government is reverting to Labour’s original plan and to purchase the ‘F35B’, with serious damage to the confidence the country has in the Government’s ability to manage major defence projects.
There are real worries throughout the country over your decision to scrap the Harrier fleet, leaving Britain without aircraft to deploy from carriers for at least a decade. Allies deployed carrier strike in Libya while Britain could not. This could have been avoided since the Harrier is a short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft as is the F35B and defence experts claim there therefore could have been a smooth transition between the two, avoiding a capability gap. It will be deeply concerning to many that the reported cost of your u-turn is a wasted £250m.
It is now essential that you answer the questions below.
- How much in total has been spent on plans now being abandoned?
- What is the justification for the sale of the Harrier?
- When precisely will Britain have JSF aircraft operating from an active aircraft carrier?
- Will you publish advice you received at the time of the Defence Review concerning the risks associated with your decision to purchase the F35C?
- Can you guarantee Britain will have year-round, continuous carrier strike capability?
I look forward to your response.
Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP
Shadow Defence Secretary