Carrier Strike: The 2012 reversion decision


Whilst I am mulling over the future of Think Defence, the National Audit Office has released their long awaited report to the 2012 Carrier Strike reversion decision, or in other words, the CVF F35 Switcheroo

The Ministry of Defence acted quickly once it realized, in early 2012, the extent to which its 2010 decision to procure the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) had been based on immature data and flawed assumptions. In May 2012, the Department announced that it was reverting to procuring the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the fighter. In a report published today examining that 2012 decision, the National Audit Office has called for the Department to introduce a degree of consistency in decision-making not previously apparent in the Carrier Strike programme and to work within the financial and capability assumptions underpinning the decision, if it is to deliver value for money.

By February 2012, the estimated cost of converting the aircraft carrier for the carrier variant of the JSF, requiring the ship to be fitted with catapults and arrestor gear (‘cats and traps’), had increased by 150 per cent: from £800 million to about £2 billion.  As a result, the Department estimated that, over the next ten years, the STOVL option would be £1.2 billion cheaper than the carrier variant. This difference halves to £600 million over 30 years.

Another key factor was that the carrier variant option of the JSF could also not be delivered until 2023, three years later than the planned date of 2020. The Chief of Defence Staff judged that, in the emerging security environment, such a gap in capability would be undesirable. When the Department reverted to the STOVL option, it announced that it would deliver the Carrier Strike by 2020. However, a week later, it delayed investment in Crowsnest, the helicopter based radar system making up the third element of Carrier Strike, meaning that the system is not now scheduled to be fully operational until 2022, two years later than the carriers and aircraft.

Resolving the future of the Carrier Strike programme (comprising the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft operating from them and Crowsnest) was central to the Department’s efforts to balance its ten-year equipment budget. When the implications of the 2010 decision became clear, the Department acted quickly to put in place a unique, streamlined approvals structure, with focused attention from senior officials. This was crucial to the pace of decision-making.

The Department expects to write off £74 million as a result of the reversion decision; but this cost could have been ten times higher if the decision had been made after May 2012.

Successful delivery will require the Department to manage significant affordability and technical risks. There are cost, schedule and technical risks across the JSF programme over which the Department has limited control. The highest risk phases of carrier construction and integration are yet to come and the Department must successfully conclude complicated negotiations with commercial partners.

Today’s report notes that the carrier variant of the JSF has a greater range and payload than the STOVL variant and would have provided a more effective strike capability. However, STOVL creates the option to operate Carrier Strike from two carriers, providing continuous capability. By contrast, the carrier variant could operate from only the one carrier installed with cats and traps and therefore could provide capability for only 70 per cent of the time.

Pick the bones out of that one but in the meantime, some selected reading from Think Defence towers on the issue;

This one being the most up to date, so if you only read one, read this


And my all time favourite post on the subject

mmm, we do seem to have spent rather a lot of time discussing this one:)

A Summary of the Decision Making Process

On the decision itself, summarising from the first linked post;

  • For some reason, the NSC’s Option 1, by far the most pragmatic option was rejected
  • Liam Fox and the Service Chiefs were dazzled by the Strategic Raiding fad and prestige of operating a mini me USN style ‘proper carrier’
  • Liam Fox allowed the switch decision to proceed based on estimated costs because he could not resist scoring a political point over the previous government
  • Liam Fox did not have the balls to defer any decision until after the SDSR deadline and so went forward with cost estimated prepared in weeks
  • The Civil Service failed in its duty to provide some measure of decision making governance
  • The Service Chiefs had the same cavalier attitude to information assurance and ignored all the previous work that consistently pointed to STOVL as being the most sensible option
  • The Service Chiefs were tempted by the delights on offer from the F35C
  • The RAF, specifically, saw an opportunity to simultaneously protect Typhoon and get a Tornado replacement at the expense of operational flexibility
  • Everyone was prepared to ignore the realities of the F35B development issues because it fitted their agenda
  • Phil Hammond, to his great credit, stood up to the Service Chiefs and demanded a rigourous analysis, the same rigourous analysis that should have happened, and in fact, did happen many times before
  • Phil Hammond made a brave decision to revert
  • There are still a whole gaggle of bitter and twisted people who just don’t get it and are prepared to put in jeopardy the programme(s) to further their agendas

The only one who comes out of this debacle well is Phil Hammond

The Guardian

You may have seen the article this morning from Nick Hopkins of the Guardian

This is exactly the reason I started Think Defence, to counter complete and utter nonsense like that headline.

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