Providing the UK's Carrier Strike Capability - Public Accounts Committee Contents

2  Part 2: Managing risks

9. The construction of the carriers is progressing well.[20] So far the Aircraft Carrier Alliance has delivered 98 per cent of the work originally planned and the project achieved 48 of the 53 target milestones in 2010-11 on time. In cost terms, the project is currently forecast by the Alliance to cost £5.461 billion, £219 million higher than the contracted Targeted Cost, with a planning trajectory to meet the Target Cost.[21]

10. Converting the carrier to fly the carrier variant of Joint Strike Fighter requires the installation of catapults and arrestor gear. The Department's preferred solution is to use an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) rather than steam powered catapults.[22] This system is currently untested in the UK configuration and dependent upon USA trials.[23] If this system is found to be unfeasible, the Department will need to go back to using steam powered catapults which will require significant redesign of the carriers.[24]

11. The carrier variant aircraft now chosen is a more capable aircraft than the STOVL variant. The carrier variant is a less complex aircraft and has the ability to fly further and carry a greater payload.[25] However, the Department's understanding of the risks associated with the carrier variant is not as developed as they are for the STOVL variant.[26]

12. Changing the aircraft will necessitate modifying the carrier after it has been built and before it becomes operational. The cost of up to £1.2 billion for conversion of the operational carrier remains an estimate and the Department does not expect to have a better understanding of costs for 18 months.[27] There is a lack of competition in the market for the provision of the EMALS system with only one supplier and the Department is exposed to the price the US Navy will pay for their systems.[28] Furthermore whilst the USA is building a system with four catapults the UK requires a system with only two catapults and estimates of the cost of this modification remain uncertain. The Department is still examining how it might trade capabilities on the programme if the costs increase.[29]

13. The SDSR decision to use carrier variant aircraft instead of the STOVL variant has also resulted in a nine year capability gap for Carrier Strike and lower levels of capability when it is reintroduced.[30] The conversion of the carriers to using catapults and arrestor gear will push back the in-service date by two years to 2020 and sortie rates will not reach the maximum full operating capability until 2031.[31] When the carrier is introduced it will be able to operate at sea for only 150 to 200 days a year, compared with the original plan to provide carrier capability for 435 days a year using two carriers.[32] However, the choice of aircraft has offered the prospect of improved interoperability with allies.[33]

14. There is no single person responsible for all the risks to the delivery of the Carrier Strike programme below the Accounting Officer. The Senior Responsible Owner confirmed he had a co-ordinating role, but does not have responsibility over the budget for manpower and training and the Chief of Defence Materiel is responsible for the equipment budget.[34]

20   Q 164 Back

21   C&AG's Report, para 3.3 Back

22   Qq 55-61, 67 Back

23   Qq 55, 59-60 Back

24   Q 67 Back

25   Qq 13, 111 Back

26   Q 112 Back

27   Qq 15-17 Back

28   Qq 62-65 Back

29   Qq 43-47 Back

30   Q 100 Back

31   Qq 91, 98, 117 Back

32   Q 100, C&AG's Report, para 2.28 Back

33   Q 116, C&AG's Report, para 2.29 Back

34   Qq 128-132 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 29 November 2011