Home U.K. Waste of money! Warning Royal Navy's £3bn aircraft carriers could be ‘sitting...

Waste of money! Warning Royal Navy’s £3bn aircraft carriers could be ‘sitting ducks’

It comes after the National Audit Office (NAO) said the Navy had just one supply ship able to keep the Carrier Strike force stocked with food and ammunition while on operations.

The Whitehall spending watchdog warned this could hamper the Royal Navy’s ability to operate its two new aircraft carriers.

Tobias Ellwood, Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, warned that the aircraft carriers “it’ll be hotched and potched, only available for short operational journeys” without any support ships.

He told The Telegraph: “It will be for display purposes only and that’s a very expensive toy.”

He compared it to “getting all these trains to arrive at the station at the same time” and warned of further delays.

The report also warned the new Crowsnest airborne radar systems, a crucial part of its defences for the new carriers, were running 18 months late further diminishing its capabilities during its first two years.

The NAO published its latest report on the vast “Carrier Strike” project which includes HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales warships.

The NAO report said that “MoD has made slow progress” developing three new support ships, which are crucial to Carrier Strike’s operation.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Image: Getty)

HMS Queen Elizabeth is one of the new aircraft carriers. (Image: Getty)

A competition to build three new vessels was scrapped due to concerns about value for money, delaying their introduction by up to three years.

The report added: “It has only one ship able to resupply the carriers with the supplies they need, such as ammunition and food.

“The MoD has long been aware that this will restrict Carrier Strike, and the cancellation of a recent competition to build new supply ships – because of concerns over value for money – mean they will not be available until the late 2020s.”

It also the MoD had yet to commit the funding required for enough Lightning II fighter jets to sustain the carriers over their expected 50-year operating life.

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READ MORE: UK bolsters Royal Navy presence in Gibraltar with two new vessels

The NAO report raises concerns for the aircraft carriers. (Image: Getty)

It warned the NAO faced a “tight timetable” if it was to achieve its next milestone of developing a “full operating capability” – with two Lighting II squadrons operating from one of the carriers – by 2023.

It said the MoD had long been aware the lack of support ships would restrict the force’s “operational freedom” but had yet to come up with a solution.

The MoD had originally planned to acquire 138 Lightning IIs, to sustain Carrier Strike to the 2060s, it has so far only committed to buying 48.

But since 2017, the approved cost of the Lightning II project has risen from £9.1 billion to £10.5 billion, due to capability upgrades, with further increases expected.

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HMS Prince of Wales in Liverpool. (Image: Getty)

At the same time, the report revealed that the MoD had failed to develop an airlift capacity to support the force and was relying on ageing Merlin Mk 4 helicopters.

The helicopters were supposed to go out of service at the end of 2021. 

Overall, it warned the MoD may not have made sufficient provision in future years’ budgets to reflect the full costs of operating the carriers.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “It [The MoD] must pay much greater attention to the supporting capabilities needed to make full use of Carrier Strike.

The NAO report raises the raising costs to the taxpayer. (Image: Getty)

“The MoD also needs to get a firmer grip on the future costs of Carrier Strike. By failing to understand their full extent, it risks adding to the financial strain on a defence budget that is already unaffordable.”

In response, an MoD spokesman, said: “Carrier Strike is a complex challenge, which relies on a mix of capabilities and platforms.

“We remain committed to investing in this capability, which demonstrates the UK’s global role.

“Despite the disruptions of Covid-19, the Carrier Strike group is on track for its first operational deployment.”

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