MoD numbers game is fuel for thought

Headline writers in the UK traditionally drool over the once-a-year opportunity to tear into the procurement acts of its Ministry of Defence, reporting as the government’s National Audit Office (NAO) lets rip in its warts-and-all Major Projects Report.

While the newly published version for the 2011-2012 financial year does not exactly disappoint in its detail, MoD-bashers might have been surprised to see an in-year cost spike of a mere £468 million ($750 million). Hardly peanuts during a time of financial hardship, but the numbers reveal that estimates of future fuel costs for the Royal Air Force’s Voyager tankers and an export-levy payment linked to Europe’s A400M transport account for the vast bulk of the increase.

Where is the programme crisis of past years? Of course, the government axed the report’s enfant terrible – the Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft – in its 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), instantly improving the situation. But if defence secretary “Forensic” Philip Hammond is to be believed, real transformation is now being seen at the project level.

The NAO report also points to looming capability gaps which have yet to emerge in other parts of the “air domain” as a result of the SDSR’s cuts. More on this will emerge after the body completes an independent assessment of the MoD’s 10-year equipment plan. That, again, might just make for less comfortable reading.

(This first appeared as leading article in 15 January 2013 issue of Flight International)

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