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The National Audit Office strikes again

Whether we are talking about armoured vehicles or the development of soon-to-be scrapped aircraft carriers, one thing is clear: civilian oversight and due diligence on behalf of the UK taxpayer (through the medium of the National Audit Office) are wreaking their vengeance on the litany of defence decisions originally proffered in FY 2010’s SDSR.

“The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review has radically changed the Carrier Strike concept. It generated £3.4 billion of savings but introduced significant levels of operational, technical, cost and schedule uncertainty. It will take two years for the Department to reach a mature understanding of the consequences of the decision. These consequences include a decade without an operational carrier and the risks after such a time associated with reconstituting the capability.

“The risks to the delivery of the new carriers are compounded by more generic problems with defence acquisition – notably the MoD’s continuing difficulties in balancing its budget.”

Michael Whitehouse, Chief Operating Officer, 7 July 2011

NAO’s earlier report on armoured vehicle expenditure was released in May and specified key expenditures: millions of pounds spent not just on delayed armoured vehicle projects, but also on scrapped programmes. Objectively speaking, many of these projects harken back to an era of ‘open coffer’ Labour policy. Defence IQ’s interview with Peter Luff, however, highlighted what would become a ‘monodrone’ – a standard message disseminated from the MoD (and from No 10) that all fiscal blame lies with the previous generation of decision makers. Perhaps this is partly true.

What the latest round of NAO executive statements and reports provide is a framework of justification for public outrage – at the current government. Clearly, decisions have been made, specifically in carrier strike capability, that are not only unpopular, but have perhaps cut too deep into ‘the muscle’ of military capability. I think we are all aware at this point in history that traditional ‘power projection’ is not a defence priority for the UK. What the carrier decision (and ensuing MoD statements in their own defence) really portends is the sudden and irreversible loss of a national defence asset – and one that was operational, to boot.

Subsequent foreign policy decisions, namely the full-scale committal to NATO operations in Libya, have only served to instill doubt in the minds of taxpayers. It seems that infamous ‘sucking sound’ has returned to political parlance, except that, this time, it would be emitted by UK voters who are bracing themselves. They are steeling themselves for increased defence expenditure abroad, the delay of a balanced budget and further obligation to foreign partners.

That the full NAO report on Carrier Strike capability is likely to be delayed (today’s release raised preliminary figures) will be of no great comfort to the Coalition government. Mr Whitehouse, it would appear, is clearly not optimistic, either.

Armoured Vehicle Infographic designed by Richard de Silva

Robert Densmore is the Editor of


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