Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers lack purpose because there aren’t enough jets and support ships 

The Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers lack purpose because ‘penny-pinching’ means there aren’t enough jets and support ships, the Commons spending watchdog has said. 

Ministers were accused by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of a "debilitating lack of clarity" about what they want the £6.4 billion HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales to achieve.

It comes after the National Audit Office said in June that the carriers’ could become nothing more than "very expensive toys" due to a lack of support fleet. 

Meanwhile, the PAC warned problems with the carriers’ Crowsnest airborne radar and surveillance system, which monitors the skies, land and sea around the Navy’s aircraft carriers, was running 18 months late and will leave them with "less protection than planned". 

The two aircraft carriers cost over £6 billion in total 

Credit: MoD

It also agreed with the NAO that there is a lack of support vessels to supply the carriers and an uncertainty around how many Lightning II jets will now be needed.

The UK has so far ordered 48 Lightning II jets, far less than its original intention to purchase 138, although its assumptions on how the carriers will be used have changed since then.

The cross-party committee warned that the Ministry of Defence’s "failure to fund several key supporting capabilities will restrict how it can use the carriers for many years".

Highlighting problems with the carrier strike programme, the committee said that the Crowsnest delay was due to “poor contractor performance and inadequate departmental oversight”.

"The department also lacks the support ships it needs to supply the carriers and has not yet developed a long-term solution to move people and goods to and from a carrier group,” the MPs said.

"There remains a disturbing lack of clarity about the costs associated with purchasing and supporting the Lightning II jets, as well as about how many more the department will need or can afford in the future."

Further problems could be caused by the highly anticipated integrated defence review, which is due to be released ahead of the delayed multi-year Whitehall spending settlement.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said: "As things stand the UK has two world-class aircraft carriers with limited capability because the wider debate about the UK’s strategic defence capability – and funding – has been repeatedly delayed.

"This debilitating lack of clarity threatens our national defences yet it’s not likely to be resolved when the strategic defence review and the comprehensive spending review look likely to be out of step with each other once again.”

Ms Hillier called on the MoD to “capitalise” on the investment the UK has made “and deliver Carrier Strike”. 

An MoD spokesman said the committee and the National Audit Office had recognised that "considerable progress" had been made since their last reports in 2017.

"Carrier strike is a complex challenge which relies on a mix of capabilities and platforms. We remain committed to investing in this capability.”