A UK Royal Navy report has highlighted a raft of shortcomings in the service's readiness and capabilities.

The Commander-in-Chief Fleet's Risk Register report underlines problems with most of the RN's aircraft. A shortage of pilots for the BAE Systems Sea Harrier FA2 is well known, but the report states:"FA2 pilot numbers are well below requirement, with premature voluntary release rising critically. The maximum capacity of fixed-wing training is insufficient to meet current and future demand. "It adds that the ability to man a second carrier air wing is under threat, and an upgrade to the more powerful Rolls-Royce Pegasus 11-61 engine is "still required to make the aircraft properly operable worldwide".

Other problems include: a growing gap between fleet air defence systems and emerging threats, particularly anti-ship missiles; the shortfall in helicopter lift because of the reduction in the Westland Sea King's payload, through airframe weight growth; and the British Army providing only four AgustaWestland WAH-64 Apache AH1 attack helicopters by 2004 instead of eight. The Sea King and attack helicopter issues are exacerbated by a delayed in-service date for a new utility helicopter and the planned retirement of the AgustaWestland Lynx/TOW anti-tank missile combination in 2002/3.

"Achieving a balanced programme against a background of reducing expenditure limits poses a risk to this top level budget holder. Outputs may need to be cut in order to achieve financial balance. While prudent levels of financial risk can be assumed during programme balancing, no account can be taken for the volatility of fuel prices, a major cost driver in this budget," warns the report.

The Ministry of Defence counters that the defence budget will rise from £23 billion ($31.5 billion) in 2000/01 to £25 billion in 2003/04.

Source: Flight International