THE Ministry of Defence was strongly criticised by MPs yesterday over the “flawed” decision to switch fighter aircraft for the Royal Navy’s new carriers.
It was announced in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review that the government would adopt the carrier variant of the US-built F35 Joint Strike Fighter, rather than the “jump-jet” version chosen by the previous Labour government.
Ministers argued the carrier variant was a more capable aircraft and would increase “interoperability” with other navies – even though it meant mothballing one of the two carriers on grounds of affordability.
However, last May, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced the MoD was reverting to the jump-jet version amid fears the costs of fitting the necessary catapults and arrestor gear – “cats and traps” – were spiralling out of control.
In a highly critical report, the Commons defence committee said the 2010 decision to go for the carrier variant was a mistake that led to increased costs and further delays.
“It is clear the decision was rushed and based upon incomplete and inaccurate policy development,” the committee said.
“Perhaps the primary example of how little the MoD understood about this decision is the fact that it was supposed to improve interoperability. This turned out to be incorrect.
“We urge the MoD to learn the lessons of this closed, rushed and flawed decision of 2010.”
The committee complained that the lack of a proper defence industrial strategy put the UK at a disadvantage compared with competitor countries.
Defence equipment minister Philip Dunne said that the MoD’s newly published ten-year equipment plan would ensure the armed forces got the hardware they needed in the years ahead.