Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Iron Laws of Military Kit

Running later and later

There are three iron laws of military kit. The first is that it always costs miles more than the number they first announce. The second is that it will always be delivered years late. And the third is that it won't do what it said on the original tin.

The Commons Defence Committee has just updated us on how the laws are panning out with MOD's current major procurement projects (and remember these are things that are not yet in service- the eventual over-runs and delays will certainly be greater than the current running tallies):

  • Astute class submarine- 50% (£1.2bn) over budget, and three and-a-half years late; we're supposed to be getting 7, but they're trying to contain costs so we may get fewer; alternatively design economies may be made, potentially worrying given these are nuclear powered and the first one is already having to be repaired having blown up at sea (which is presumably what "power loss leading to damage to the Turbo Generator bearings" means).
  • Type 45 Destroyer- 20% (£1bn) over budget and three years late; we were meant to get 8, but only 6 have been ordered;
  • Nimrod MRA4- 25% (£0.7bn) over budget and seven and a half years late; and as we've blogged before (see all blogs gathered here), the number has been cut from 21 to 12 so the unit cost has gone up by well over 100%;
  • A400M- two years late.

Other programmes don't have such clearcut figures because under the MOD's arcane accounting rules, they haven't actually started yet.

Thus, the £3.9bn programme for two new aircraft carriers effectively started last summer when it was announced by ministers, but it doesn't count because more than six months later no contracts have been signed. Given that the first is due to be in service by 2014, there isn't a ships cat's chance it will come in on time. Or on budget. Unless that is, "economies" are made. The Committee says:

"While it is important to acquire the two carriers within the Approved Cost, the MoD must also take account of the through-life costs of the carriers which will be many times greater than the acquisition costs. The MoD needs to make the necessary investment when acquiring the carriers so that substantial savings through-life will be delivered." (para 166)

Watch out for plywood flight decks (and note that the Committee also questions the need for these carriers at all).

The Joint Strike Fighter project for 150 Short Take Off and Vertical Landing planes developed jointly with the Americans is all over the place. Despite having already spent £1bn, MOD is no longer able to say how many we will get, when, or at what cost. Those brand new carriers will instead be equipped "initially" with some old Harriers- aircraft that first flew in the sixties, quite possibly before their pilots' parents were born. A total shambles.

On the catastrophic Nimrod programme, the Committee sums up:

"This is a programme that has been beset by one problem after another and neither the MoD nor the contractor appears to be able to get a grip on it. We hope that the new Minister for Defence Equipment and Support will look closely at this programme and consider whether it is ever likely to deliver the capability our Armed Forces require in the timescale needed. If it is not the MoD should withdraw from the programme."

In other words, the programme should be canned. We agree.

Overall, a very depressing report.

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