Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
Yet more bad news regarding Britain’s beleaguered aircraft carrier programme. We read in yesterday’s Guardian that the defence secretary has recommended a U-turn on the decision to replace the planes to be flown from the carrier.
This news comes as HMS Illustrious is forced to return home for repairs, leaving Britain without an operational aircraft carrier at sea at a time of instability in the Middle East and the Falkland Islands.
These stories demonstrate the real impact of the Tory-led coalition’s savage defence cuts, and highlight a major capability gap that could severely hinder our ability to project military power.
In the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, Liam Fox decided that costs could be cut by purchasing the carrier variant model of the Joint Strike Fighter, rather than the short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) model originally agreed when Labour were in government. This decision, Fox claimed, would reduce through-life costs by 25 per cent.
Now, however, the prime minister is going to have to decide whether to put the needs of our military before his own pride, having been told to reverse his decision to avoid cost increases and further delays of up to seven years.
As I wrote previously on this site, this decision has led to a costly reorganisation of the programme, as expensive catapult and arrestor technology had to be added to the carriers. Our military capabilities are already being slashed in the name of austerity, but ministerial incompetence in procurement is exacerbating the problem.
The world is a dangerous place, and our brave servicemen and women deserve the equipment they need to keep us safe. Delays to the carrier programme, along with the HMS Illustrious’ return to shore, has exposed the gaps in British military capabilities, leaving us without carrier strike capability for a decade.
With Argentina’s escalating rhetoric around the Falkland Islands many military experts are questioning Britain’s ability to protect the territory without an aircraft carrier. These are important considerations that ministers should be taking into account when making decisions.
This government seems incapable of joined up thinking in defence procurement, and this has created great uncertainty within the armed forces over potential future capability, not to mention the appalling waste of taxpayers’ money. The government needs to get a grip on this project quickly, and come clean to parliament, the country and (most importantly) the military, on the decision and its cost.