Government accused of squandering £250m in carrier U-turn

 

The Government was accused of incompetently squandering £250 million today as it announced a major U-turn in the fighter jets for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced that in the face of "unacceptable cost growth and project delays" ministers were reverting to plans by the former Labour government to acquire the jump jet version of the US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

At the time of the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons that the previous government had “got it badly wrong” and the coalition intended to switch from the F-35B to the more capable F-35C carrier variant.

But today Mr Hammond said the costs of fitting the necessary catapults and arrestor gear - "cats and traps" - had more than doubled to £2 billion and delays meant they would have not been operational until 2023 - three years later than planned.

Mr Hammond said he was prepared to change his mind, "however inconvenient that may be", if it meant "doing right for Britain, not burying your head in the sand and ploughing on regardless as the previous government all-too-often did".

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said the programme was "chaotic" and left the UK open to “international ridicule” with no jets to fly from the carriers for a decade.

He added: "Two years wasted. In tough times £250m has been squandered while our forces are having their allowances cut."

Mr Hammond rejected Mr Murphy’s assessment, insisting it was going to be between £40 and £50 million with extra exit payments to be negotiated with US contractors, adding: "We inherited this programme and frankly I'm not interested in trading insults about what happened in the past.”

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