A government watchdog has warned over the performance of several UK defence acquisitions, with a trio of programmes – including the Tempest future fighter effort – moved to a list of projects whose delivery or cost targets appear unachievable.
In its latest annual report, published last month but covering the financial year to end-March 2023, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) said that the performance of three programmes – the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) involving an industry team of BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and the UK arms of Leonardo and MBDA, and those relating to the MBDA Brimstone and Spear air-to-ground missiles – had worsened during the period under review.
The IPA gives projects a “delivery confidence assessment” rating – grading them as green, amber or red – against schedule and cost targets; it says all three programmes have moved from amber to red.
FCAS, which has since morphed into the Global Combat Air Programme and now involves Italy and Japan, has a target to reach initial operating capability (IOC) by 2035.
But justifying its downgrade, the IPA says the project is being affected by “ongoing dependencies” from other parts of the Ministry of Defence “and a shortage of resources impacting skills and capabilities”.
“Remedial action for a route to amber is being implemented but it is expected to take several years to achieve due to the size and complexity of the programme,” the IPA states.
Projects involving the Brimstone and Spear munitions are being hampered by challenges with recruiting “sufficient suitably qualified and experienced people across the programme and delivery teams, and within industry”, the IPA says.
“Opportunities are being identified to bring schedule back within the approved timeline,” the report adds.
Spear was due to be fielded on the Lockheed Martin F-35 from 2025, although this has since been delayed.
Another notable project to be downgraded – moving from green to amber – is the Chinook Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP), under which the Royal Air Force (RAF) is to acquire an additional 14 Boeing heavy-lift helicopters for special forces support, while older examples are to be retired.
“Inflationary pressures and supply chain delays will increase affordability risk and programme success relies heavily on the release of capability information from the US to the UK,” the IPA says.
“The programme is currently working through rescheduling activities with the US Department of Defense [DoD] which will culminate in a revised schedule and financial profile,” it adds.
Delays caused by issues with the US DoD have led to a cost increase, with the project’s whole-life cost rising from £1.5 billion ($1.9 billion) to £1.6 billion in the period to its scheduled end in December 2030.
Elsewhere, the IPA has maintained its amber rating for the ongoing New Medium Helicopter (NMH) programme, noting that the delivery assessment has not improved due to “the delay in securing the outline business case approval”, for the acquisition of up to 44 rotorcraft.
“Significant work is ongoing to secure approval which will enable the main part of the NMH competition to proceed through the release of an Invitation-to-Negotiate which is expected later this year,” it says.
Due to the schedule shift, the project is now set to run until September 2030, an increase over the previous target of July 2028. In addition, the whole-life cost has risen to £1.33 billion having “received a [budget] uplift to safeguard the capabilities that the NMH programme plans to deliver”.
Acquisition of the Protector RG1 – the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9B SkyGuardian – unmanned air vehicle also stays at amber as the “programme continues to manage risks and work through mitigations to progress towards the key milestones”.
But the IPA warns of “considerable increased costs for the planned programme technical infrastructure at RAF Waddington”.
Although contingency plan is in place to deliver IOC “utilising existing infrastructure” and is awaiting approval, the report adds, “Compounded with delays to critical software development, this has led to a delay in the programme.
“In response, it is planned to re-baseline the programme milestones and seek an increase to the approved budgetary limit.”
There is better news for the Airbus Defence & Space A400M, however. Although still classed as amber, the IPA says the airlifter is “rapidly gaining capabilities at a faster rate than expected” – in some cases years ahead of schedule. However “residual risk remains”, it adds.