Spares shortage keeps Typhoon jets grounded

Friday 15 April 2011 10:13

Pilots of the RAF's most advanced fighter jets are being grounded because shortages of aircraft spares mean they cannot put in enough flying hours to keep their skills up to date, MPs warned today.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said five Typhoon pilots had to be temporarily grounded last year because a lack of aircraft availability meant they could not do the required flying time.

It said the shortages were also affecting the training programme, with only eight of RAF's 48 Typhoon pilots qualified for ground attack operations - the role it is currently being used for in Libya.

Earlier this week the Typhoon fighters carried out their first attack on Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Libya destroying two tanks near Misrata.

It was the first time the Typhoon has fired its weapons in anger in the ground attack role since entering service with the RAF.

The RAF is currently having to cannibalise aircraft for spare parts in order to keep the maximum number of Typhoons in the air on any given day.

The committee said the Ministry of Defence had warned the problems were likely to continue until 2015 when it expects the supply of spares finally to have reached a "steady state".

"The department (MoD) relies on a small group of key industrial suppliers who have the technical and design capability to build, upgrade and support Typhoon," the committee said.

"Problems with the availability of spare parts have meant that Typhoons are not flying as many hours as the department requires

"The Typhoon supply chain is complex and stretches across Europe. However, the department admitted that it had not been managed well enough or delivered all the required parts when needed."

Overall, it said that while the MoD was now buying 30% fewer Typhoons than it had originally planned, the cost of the project had risen by an estimated £3.5 billion - representing a 75% increase in the cost of each individual aircraft.

When the MoD first entered into the contract for the Eurofighter, as it was then known, in 1998 in collaboration with Germany, Italy and Spain, it had envisaged buying a total of 232 aircraft in three tranches.

That has since been cut to 160 - with the 53 oldest aircraft due to be retired from service by 2019, leaving a long-term fleet of 107 aircraft.

The overall cost of the programme is now estimated at £20.2 billion - £3.5 billion more than the original budget - with the cost per plane rising from £72 million to £126 million.

The committee complained that the MoD had been unable to offer a "coherent explanation" for a decision in 2004 to equip the early Typhoons for ground attack operations at a cost of £119 million, only to switch them back to an air defence role in 2009, a year after the upgrade was finally ready.

"The history of the Typhoon fighter aircraft represents yet another example of over-optimism, bad planning and an unacceptably high bill for the taxpayer," said the committee chairman, Margaret Hodge.

"This pattern of decision-making is more about balancing the books in the short-term rather than ensuring value for money over time."

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said the project was "under control and back on track".

"The NAO's March report concluded that after years of financial mismanagement and project delays under the previous government, the Typhoon project has been turned around," he said.

"The project is finally under control and back on track. The PAC report recognises that the MoD and industry have worked to resolve spares issues and performance targets are now being met.

"The Typhoon is a world beating, air-to-air fighter and is fast developing a ground attack capability as is being demonstrated in Libya. We have sufficient numbers of qualified ground attack pilots to meet our operational tasks and this number is increasing all the time.

"As the PAC acknowledges, the UK's operational requirements have changed dramatically since the Typhoon programme began and this has led to tough decisions throughout its life.

"But today it has 'done well (and) collaboration offers significant potential benefits from sharing costs and developing common capabilities with allies'.

"I am determined that in the future such projects are properly run from the outset, and I have announced reforms to reduce equipment delays and cost overruns.

"I will also chair regular major projects review boards to ensure our armed forces are well equipped and taxpayers get value for money."

Air Vice Marshal Phil Osborn, Air Officer Commanding 2 Group, said: "We have sufficient Typhoon aircraft and pilots to undertake the task in Libya with the appropriate training for the systems and weapons carried by the aircraft.

"We wouldn't deploy a capability if we couldn't support it and we weren't able to execute it in the way that you would expect the RAF to execute it, which is in a proportionate, disciplined, reliable way."

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