The Ministry of Defence has been slammed for its failure to get a grip on the procurement of the Typhoon fighter aircraft programme, resulting in surging costs and poor availability.
The influential House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts said the Typhoon project represented yet another example of over-optimism, bad planning and an unacceptably high bill for the taxpayer. “The Ministry of Defence is now buying 30% fewer Typhoon fighter aircraft than originally planned, the cost of the project is now expected to be £3.5 billion more than was originally approved and, if we take all expenditure into account, the cost of each aircraft has increased by 75%,” said Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts.
Hodge said that the MoD was unable to give a coherent explanation of its 2004 decision to equip the early Typhoons with ground-attack capability, or of its subsequent decision not to use it. The department could also not adequately explain why it cancelled the third phase of the contract in 2004 on the grounds it did not need the capability, simply to reinstate the third phase in 2009 at a cost of £2.7 billion.
The MoD was also accused of not making the best use of the fighter aircraft. Lack of spares forces it to ground and cannibalise some fighters to keep other fighter planes in service. Lack of availability of aircraft means pilots aren’t properly trained to fly the fighter planes. “Indeed only eight pilots are trained to carry out ground-attack missions and five pilots have been grounded,” said Hodge.
The committee said that the pattern of decision-making on the programme was more about balancing the books in the short-term rather than ensuring value for money over time. It said that, in future, reducing the size of the defence budget would require more collaboration with EU partners. If done well, this had the potential to deliver cost and military benefits. But if not done well, as in the case of Typhoon, it could result in huge delays and spiralling cost increases.
“The MoD must examine the collaborative projects it has been involved in to understand better the factors contributing to success and failure,” added Hodge.
In response to the report into the Typhoon aircraft, defence secretary Dr Liam Fox insisted that the project was “under control and back on track”.
Fox said: “After years of financial mismanagement and project delays under the previous government, the Typhoon project has been turned around. The project is finally under control and back on track. MoD and industry have worked to resolve spares issues and performance targets are now being met.”
He said that he was determined that in the future such projects would be properly run from the outset, and that reforms had been announced to reduce equipment delays and cost overruns. “I will also chair regular Major Projects Review Boards to ensure our armed forces are well equipped and taxpayers get value for money,” he said.