Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Friday, 13 March 2009

Destroyers 'late and over budget'


Promotional video of the Type 45

The Royal Navy's new Type 45 destroyers will be at least two years late and 1.5bn over-budget, the government's spending watchdog has said.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the vessels would also initially set to sea without their crucial anti-aircraft missile system because of delays.

Ministers insisted the programme was back "on track" after early problems.

But the Lib Dems said it was the latest in a "catalogue of procurement disasters" and would spark "outrage".

The destroyers are the workhorses of the Navy's fleet, providing defence from air attack for larger ships, as well as giving supporting fire for troops on land.

They also carry out a range of other tasks such as anti-piracy patrols and emergency disaster relief.

Ageing fleet

The MoD originally planned to buy 12 Type 45 destroyers, but that was reduced to eight in 2004 and last year to just six.

Nevertheless, the NAO said the procurement programme, initially meant to total 5bn, would eventually cost an estimated 6.5bn.

The first of the destroyers, HMS Daring - which was launched in 2006 - is without its full communications system and will not get its new principal anti-air missile system (PAAMS) - which can shoot down multiple enemy aircraft or missiles simultaneously - until 2011.

Even by MoD standards this is a colossal budget overspend
Nick Harvey, Lib Dems

It will have to wait until 2014 to be fitted with the co-operative engagement capability (CEC), which links together weapons systems and sensors on a number of ships, improving their ability to work together in combat.

The NAO said these delays would leave the Navy "struggling" to make do with its ageing Type 42 destroyers, which were designed and built for the Cold War and which the Type 45 is set to replace.

"Project control and decision-making were poor [and] governance structures were ineffective," it continued.

The situation was so bad in the early stages that relations between the MoD and the shipbuilders had completely broken down, it added.

However, it acknowledged that the situation improved after the contract was renegotiated in 2007 and that no delays or cost increases had been reported since then.

'Gripped the issue'

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee which oversees the NAO, said: "There is a familiar ring about a major MoD equipment procurement which begins with over-optimism about costs and timescales and commercial arrangements failing to reflect the risks, and ends with costs soaring, significant delays to delivery and ageing existing equipment having to be patched up until the new kit becomes operational."

But Quentin Davies, minister for defence equipment, said construction and sea trials for the ships were going "very well".

"These are complex, sophisticated warships and where problems arose in the early stages the MoD gripped the issue, renegotiated contracts where required and got the programme on track," he said.

"The first of these impressive destroyers, HMS Daring, sailed into Portsmouth, her future base port in January this year."

The NAO did acknowledge that the MoD had always planned to install the ships' capabilities "incrementally" and that the building programme was now running more smoothly.

But Lib Dem defence spokesman Nick Harvey said the poor standard of project management "beggars belief".

"Even by MoD standards this is a colossal budget overspend and will be met with genuine outrage," he said.

"1.5bn could buy vitally-needed resources on the frontline."

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