Typhoon is a multi-role aircraft capable of both air defence and ground attack. The Ministry of Defence (the Department) entered into a contract for the first 53 aircraft in 1998, and is buying Typhoon in collaboration with Germany, Italy and Spain. The total cost to the United Kingdom of buying the aircraft and supporting them in service over the next 20 years is estimated to be £37 billion.
Typhoon is a highly capable air defence fighter and is now being used to defend United Kingdom and Falkland Islands airspace, as well as being part of recent efforts to impose a no fly zone in Libya. However, Typhoon was commissioned during the Cold War and it took 20 years, and a higher budget, from the start of development to the aircraft being deployed operationally.
The Department originally planned to buy 232 aircraft. However, in light of changed operational requirements and significant funding constraints arising from the pressures of the defence budget, it is now ordering 160 aircraft and will retire the 53 oldest aircraft by 2019, leaving a long-term fleet of 107 aircraft. It is unclear as to whether the acquisition of the third phase in this contract, for the last 16 aircraft, was driven by contractual obligations or by operational need.
The project began in the 1980s and the Department was over-optimistic on costs. In particular, it failed to anticipate significant cost increases and delays from the rigid and complex collaborative arrangements. Overall, it is costing the Department £20.2 billion, £3.5 billion more than it first expected, to buy a third fewer aircraft. This is equivalent to the purchase cost of each aircraft rising by 75%, from £72 million to £126 million.
In 2004, the Department decided to retire the ground attack Jaguar aircraft early and to spend £119 million to install ground attack upgrades on early Typhoons to cover the resulting capability gap. These upgrades were ready for use by 2008. A year later, the Department decided to retire the air defence Tornado F3 aircraft early to save money and therefore re-prioritised Typhoon away from ground attack missions to air defence tasks. It is now not using Typhoon's ground attack capability.
Problems with the availability of spares mean that Typhoons are not flying the hours required and the Department is forced to cannibalise parts from other aircraft to maximise the number of aircraft available on a given day. As a result, it is not fully training all its pilots, and only eight of the 48 Typhoon pilots were capable of undertaking ground attack missions on Typhoon. In addition, the Department had to ground five pilots temporarily in 2010. The problem is likely to be exacerbated as the number of Typhoons in-service increases and they are used in a wider range of operational roles.
Support costs are budgeted at £13.1 billion, but reviews by the Department have suggested costs could be as high as £16.6 billion across the life of the aircraft. The Department has identified potential savings of £3.5 billion to keep support costs within budget, albeit that this budget was meant to cover 232 aircraft not the 160 now being bought. We are concerned that the Department has budgeted for cuts to meet overall expenditure targets and that, over time, the costs will creep up again. To ensure good value from this expenditure, the Department will need to both reduce the cost and increase the timeliness of future collaborative spares and repairs contracts. At present, the contracts do little to incentivise better industry performance and to penalise failure.
The Department has appointed a Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) to be the person accountable for delivering each major procurement project. However the SRO on Typhoon has limited decision making powers and merely co-ordinates activity. That is not good enough.
On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from witnesses from the Ministry of Defence on the past decisions taken on Typhoon, and on the improvements that the Department can make to the delivery model to get more from industry in terms of reduced costs and better performance in the future.