Britain's Royal Navy two new aircraft carriers are likely to be delayed by up to two years following a cash-saving review of Ministry of Defence equipment spending, it was announced this week.
Defence Secretary John Hutton also announced £70 million of new spending on Lynx helicopter upgrades which he said would provide significant extra capability to commanders in Afghanistan. There were calls for Mr Hutton to ensure the expected delays in the £4 billion aircraft carrier project would not impact on jobs at shipyards in Portsmouth, Barrow-in-Furness, Glasgow and Rosyth. He assured workers that the program would still provide "stability for the core shipyard workforce", sustaining or creating 10,000 jobs in the UK. The MoD spending review will also mean delays in the Army's Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) armoured vehicle programme and the provision of fleet tankers under the MARS (Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability) project. Work on the aircraft carrier project was due to begin in earnest next spring, with the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales entering service in 2014 and 2016 as the biggest and most powerful surface warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy. But Mr Hutton said that their production timetable was being put back to bring it more closely in line with the introduction of the Joint Combat Aircraft which will provide their strike force. The ships' entry into service was likely to be delayed by 1-2 years, he said in a written statement to the House of Commons. Britain is expected to buy around 150 Joint Combat Aircraft, to replace the Navy's Sea Harrier FA2 and the RAF's Harrier GR7, in a £1.3 billion deal with US aerospace giants Lockheed Martin. Their in-service date will not be announced until the deal is finalised following tests on prototype models in the New Year. The Defence Secretary said that the MoD review was designed to respond to the rising cost of state-of-the-art military equipment and to allow greater support to ongoing operations, including in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Inevitably this has required a reprioritisation of investment to ensure that we deliver those capabilities of the highest immediate urgency, while continuing to invest in capabilities needed to respond to future threats", underlined Hutton.