MoD failure to provide F-35 cost estimate is unacceptable, say MPs | World Defense

MoD failure to provide F-35 cost estimate is unacceptable, say MPs


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Nov 17, 2017
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MoD failure to provide F-35 cost estimate is unacceptable, say MPs
Defence committee says lack of transparency risks undermining public confidence in fighter jet programme
Ewen MacAskill - Defence correspondent

19 December 2017

The Ministry of Defence has been reprimanded by the Commons defence committee for failing to provide an estimate of the cost to the UK of the F-35 fighter, already one of the most expensive projects in military history.

The cross-party committee said it was unacceptable for the MoD to keep parliament and the public in the dark about the costs.

The UK has bought 14 jets from the US to fly from its two new aircraft carriers, Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, and there are plans to buy a further 124. British personnel are testing the aircraft in the US, and trials from Queen Elizabeth are due to begin next year.

Work on the F-35, by a consortium led by the US-based Lockheed Martin, began in 1996 and was scheduled for completion in 2012 but has been beset by problems. The US estimate of the total cost of the programme jumped from £174bn in 2001 to £283bn this year.

The MoD has so far refused to provide the estimated cost to the UK of buying the F-35, beyond referring to a National Audit Office report that put the total UK cost of the programme through to 2026 at £9.1bn. The MoD declined to offer even a rough figure beyond 2026.

The defence committee said: “[We view] the MoD’s failure to provide adequate cost estimates, either on an overall programme basis or on a per-aircraft basis, as wholly unsatisfactory. It amounts to an open-ended financial commitment which can be quantified only in retrospect.”

The committee said it recognised the difficulties in arriving at an estimate. “However, it is simply not acceptable for the MoD to refuse to disclose to parliament and the public its estimates for the total cost of the programme and to suggest instead that we must wait until the mid-2030s (when all 138 F-35s have been procured) to be able to work out a full unit cost for each aircraft, once spares and upgrades are included.”

It added: “The lack of transparency over the costs of the F-35 is unacceptable and risks undermining public confidence in the programme.”

The committee called on the MoD to provide six-monthly updates on the F-35 programme, including details of progress on various problems that have been identified.

The committee launched its inquiry after the Times reported in July that the F-35 was way over budget and bedevilled by software glitches. Among the claims was that the broadband on the Queen Elizabeth was four times slower than that for the average UK household, a serious drawback given one of the advantages of the F-35 is billed as hoovering up data to relay back to the carrier.

“If the potential benefits of the F-35 to the UK’s future carrier strike capabilities are to be realised, then the Queen Elizabeth carriers will require a broadband capacity beyond eight megabits,” the committee said.

It also took a swipe at the minister for defence procurement, Harriett Baldwin, for sending a letter and briefing document about the F-35 only to Conservative members.

“In future, where the government is responding to claims made in public about defence projects, it should ensure that both sides of the house, rather than just members on its own side, are kept informed,” the committee said.

The MoD said it would be “irresponsible” to publish estimates of the costs of the F-35 programme beyond 2026 because this was a commercial arrangement and would undermine negotiations.

A spokesman said: “We strongly refute any suggestion of a lack of transparency in the F-35 programme.” The spokesman added the programme is on track, on time and within costs.

The MoD also insisted the broadband bandwidth on Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers is sufficient to “carry out the scope of carrier strike operations”, adding that it is not constrained by design and could grow.