The UK Ministry of Defence has followed Australia's lead by establishing a Projects of Concern list that will expose the problems affecting some of its largest equipment acquisitions.

The Major Projects Review Board met for the first time on 13 June, when its members discussed the status of three development efforts with their respective programme managers. These included the British Army's Thales UK-led Watchkeeper unmanned air system deal, which has a main contract value of £635 million ($1 billion), and a total projected cost of almost £900 million, including support.

RAF Thales Watchkeeper 450 UAV
 © Thales UK

To provide the army with a fleet of WK450 air vehicles and associated equipment to meet intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance needs, Watchkeeper is due to enter operational use in Afghanistan late this year. Original plans had called for the capability to be available in February 2011.

Published last October, the UK National Audit Office's Major Projects Report 2010 revealed that Thales and its U-TacS joint venture partner Elbit Systems had "experienced some technical issues concerning system software development and integration, which have impacted the programme timescales".

The board will meet on a quarterly basis to review any of the UK's top 50 defence procurements - which have a combined value of more than £100 billion - that are running over budget or behind schedule. "Any project that the board decides is failing will be publicly named and shamed" if no improvement is reported by the time of its next meeting, the MoD said. Removal from the Projects of Concern list will be approved only on the demonstration of progress to resolve identified shortcomings.

Intended to help enforce tighter financial controls, the approach will "allow the public and the market to judge how well the MoD and industry are doing in supporting the armed forces and offering taxpayers value for money", the ministry said.

"I want shareholders to see where projects are under-performing so that the market can take action. Those responsible for poor project management must be brought to account," said defence secretary Liam Fox, who chairs the board. Other permanent members include minister for defence equipment, support and technology Peter Luff and chief of defence materiel Bernard Gray.

Thales is due to deliver a Watchkeeper programme update at the Paris air show on 21 June.

Source: Flight International