HMS Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage has been put back by three months to the back end of summer
THE Royal Navy’s new £6.2bn aircraft carriers face delays and soaring costs, a bombshell report today warns.
HMS Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage has been put back by three months to the back end of summer due to technical niggles.
Sister ship HMS Prince of Wales was expected to make her first voyage next year.
But plans to have both monsters ships – the biggest in the navy’s history – sea worthy by 2020 could be further “delayed by technical issues which have yet to be resolved.”
The gloomy assessment was made by Government spending watchdog the National Audit Office in their latest assessment released today.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today: “The Department has made good progress and clear plans to achieve an initial Carrier Strike operating capability by December 2020, but it still has a lot to do as it brings together the equipment, trained crews, infrastructure and support.
“Problems in any of these areas could mean use of the carriers is delayed or reduced.”
Current cost estimates for the Carrier Strike force – including the ships and jets – up to March 2021 are a whopping £14.3bn.
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But the NAO found “increasing pressure on a few highly trained personnel” to operate the new carriers.
It comes amid a staffing crisis within the Armed Forces – with the entire UK military four per cent below their target strength of 145,560.
Crunch job gaps include prised maritime engineering roles and warfighting specialists – which the MoD is trying to plug with a recruitment campaign.
There is also pressure to have enough pilots ready to fly the new Lightning II fighters which will launch off the carrier’s decks.
On top of this, the report highlighted a number of “strategic risks” over the next three “critical” years which could yet derail the carrier schedule.
It includes finishing the ships, getting jets on decks, training crew and finishing the massive support network needed to back the carrier’s work.
Meanwhile the MoD are grappling with potential cost increases of between 1 per cent and 2 per cent on the £6.212 billion agreed carrier price tag.
And the £5.8bn cost of Lightning II jets could change if foreign exchange rates shift the wrong way.
The costs of supporting and operating the carriers are also shaky.
Support and maintenance costs up to March 2021 are forecast at £1.3 billion, but not all contracts have been signed.
The report said: “Historically, the Department has underestimated the costs of supporting its equipment. Operational costs up to March 2021 are estimated to be £0.6 billion.”
There also remains concern over whether the navy will have a sufficient fleet to support the carriers on operations.
When the task force sails – including frigates, destroyers and submarines – it will represent 27 per cent by tonnage of the entire Royal Navy.
Despite this the Aircraft Carrier Alliance – the MoD and industry team behind the build – should finish the first vessel, Queen Elizabeth this year.
Next year Lightning II jets will conduct test flights from the carrier at sea.
And next year the second ship in the class HMS Prince of Wales should make its first voyage.
By 2026 the MoD expects to have a fully operational carrier strike capability including both vessels.
An MOD Spokesperson said: “With sea trials expected to start in the summer, we recognise that there are challenges ahead and remain committed to delivering the full range of joint F-35 and Carrier operations by 2026.”