Fresh doubts have been cast over some of the UK's big-ticket military aircraft acquisitions by a report that claims the Ministry of Defence cannot afford the equipment it plans to buy.

The independent review - by a former MoD adviser and commissioned last year - describes the procurement process as "overheated", and claims that MoD plans are "significantly in excess of any likely budget that's going to be available to pay for them".

Too many types of equipment are being ordered for "too large a range of tasks at too high a specification", the report says, adding that this way of doing things is "unaffordable on any likely projection of future budgets".

The fault lies with the way the armed forces compete for funding, says the report. The services "naturally seek to secure the largest share of resources for their own needs and have a systematic incentive to underestimate the likely cost of equipment".

The report adds: "As the MoD almost never cancels an equipment order, the process of over-ordering and under-costing is not constrainedby fear on the part of those ordering equipment that the programme will be lost."

Although the report by Bernard Gray does not single out specific programmes, the MoD has come under criticism that troops in Afghanistan face shortages of equipment from helicopters to armoured personnel carriers and body armour. At the same time multi-billion pound programmes such as Airbus Military A400M transports, Eurofighter Typhoons, Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and the CVF aircraft carriers mean major budget commitments in the next decade.

Lord Drayson, minister for strategic defence acquisition reform, says the MoD accepts the report's two main themes: a need to bring equipment plans into line with likely available resources and a need to improve equipment programme planning, management and delivery.

He says the department will implement many of the recommendations in a strategy for acquisition reform to be published next year. This strategy will "ensure we deliver as effectively as possible the equipment the armed forces need".

However, its publication will be closely followed by a general election, due by June, with the opposition Conservatives - currently topping opinion polls - promising an immediate defence review if elected.

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has named the Typhoon, A400M and the aircraft carriers as possible targets of Conservative budgetary cuts.

Source: Flight International