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Delivering carrier strike


Carrier Strike is a military programme to provide the ability to launch aircraft from a ship to undertake a range of military tasks. It is central to the government’s plans for the country’s armed forces and the first step towards Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP), which is the government’s ambition to be able to respond to conflicts and support humanitarian relief efforts anywhere in the world at short notice.

Carrier Strike will be based around two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers – the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy – together with Lightning II jets, which are being procured through the United States Department of Defense.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is also buying a new airborne radar system, Crowsnest, to help protect a carrier strike group. Depending on the type of deployment, the carriers will be accompanied by at least one destroyer, an anti submarine warfare frigate, and ships for support and resupply.

The NAO has previously stated, in 2017, that the project phase to 2020 would be crucial, with little room for manoeuvre in the delivery schedule. Since then, the Department has received two new aircraft carriers into service, now has 18 Lightning II jets and has developed much of the UK infrastructure to support them.

It has delivered the carriers for £6.4 billion, which is 3% above the revised figure announced to Parliament in 2013. The Department has conducted sea trials and is working closely with the US to be ready for its first joint deployment in 2021. It has also established plans for using Carrier Strike in its early years.

The latest NAO report though finds that the MoD is now making slower progress in developing the crucial supporting activities that are needed to make full use of a carrier strike group, such as the Crowsnest radar system and the ability to resupply the carriers. In addition, it has not established a clear view on the future cost of enhancing, operating and supporting Carrier Strike, which creates the risk of future affordability pressures. The Department will not achieve value for money from its investment to date unless it provides clarity on its future ambitions; develops its understanding of future development and operating costs; and ensures cross-command coherence and collaboration to develop the full capabilities of Carrier Strike.

Later in September we will question senior MoD and military officials on the Carrier Strike programme and the work around it needed to make Carrier Strike fully operational.

If you have evidence on the issues raised in this inquiry, please submit it here by Monday 21 September 2020.