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Radar to protect new carrier force delayed

PUBLISHED: 14:05 27 June 2020 | UPDATED: 14:05 27 June 2020

F-35 Lightnings have been taking part in sea trials   Picture: MOD/LPhot Belinda Alker

F-35 Lightnings have been taking part in sea trials Picture: MOD/LPhot Belinda Alker

©UK Ministry of Defence CROWN COPYRIGHT, 2019

The Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carriers and their Norfolk-based warplanes are setting sail without the radar designed to play ‘a key part’ in protecting them, warns a new report.

F-35 Lightning jets from RAF Marham’s 617 Dambusters Squadron are currently carrying out sea trials in the North Sea aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

MORE - RAF Dambusters take off to join aircraft carrier

But a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) into the readiness of the carrier strike force says: “Carrier Strike is planned to reach its ‘initial operating capability’ by December 2020. The MoD expects to meet this date, although it will not have the full level of radar capability that it expected at this point.

“The new airborne radar system (Crowsnest) – which is a key part of Carrier Strike’s protection – is 18 months late. This will affect Carrier Strike’s capabilities for its first two years of operation.”

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The report adds the delay has been caused by a subcontractor failing to meet its contractual commitments for developing equipment and not providing sufficient information on the project’s progress.

It goes on: “Neither MoD nor its prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, were aware of these problems until it was too late, reflecting MoD’s ineffective oversight of its contract with Lockheed Martin.”

The report notes the MoD has also made “slow progress” developing three new support ships, which are crucial to Carrier Strike’s operation.

The 65,000-tonne warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was visible off the coast at Lowestoft earlier this year Picture: David GrahamThe 65,000-tonne warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was visible off the coast at Lowestoft earlier this year Picture: David Graham

The navy has only one ship able to resupply the carriers with the supplies they need, such as ammunition and food.

The report concludes the MoD does not know what Carrier Strike might cost over its lifetime, while the purchase of seven of an initial 48 F-35s has been deferred until 2025 because of “financial pressure”.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “The MoD has made good progress with the big-ticket items needed to deliver Carrier Strike, such as the carriers, the first squadron of jets and new infrastructure. But it must pay much greater attention to the supporting capabilities needed to make full use of Carrier Strike.

“The MoD also needs to get a firmer grip on the future costs of Carrier Strike. By failing to understand their full extent, it risks adding to the financial strain on a defence budget that is already unaffordable.”


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