New £10bn aircraft carriers may be axed

Can we really afford two new aircraft carriers? The National Audit Office (NAO) claims our new two 65,000-tonne carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, look 'vulnerable' unless more cash is thrown at them. They could even be scrapped entirely, or sold on to save crew costs.

Spiraling expense

It's already been confirmed that HMS Prince of Wales will not enter service - built but not kitted out - and kept on as a reserve vessel, or even flogged off. HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to go into service in 2020, but its current £6bn cost is also expected to spiral.

What's concerning is that the NAO were not given full access to Cabinet Office papers about the funding program for the carriers. "This lack of transparency over such a crucial and costly decision is not acceptable," says Margaret Hodge, chair of the public accounts committee.

Cock-up Central

"They [the NAO] were not given access to particular papers which they needed to understand." Allegedly this included MoD affordability details, military capability and industrial implications.

Meanwhile we have the best part of a decade without any aircraft carrier capability at all. The NAO is also asking awkward questions about highly expensive changes to the two carriers - including making them compatible with US Navy strike fighters - are worth the price.

MoD cock-ups - it blew around £140m last year in a series of howlers including crash-landing a new £49m Typhoon figher and a sinking Navy ship fitted with wrongly connecting air lines - are not new.

There was also the small matter of nine brand new Nimrod surveillance aircraft - cost to taxpayers £3.6 billion - which were dismantled and scrapped without ever flying.

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