The considered view of Vice Adml Bob Cooling as we report today, is that our current system of MoD procurement – and the failure of equipment to pass ‘critical milestones – is a ‘national embarrassment’.
Vice Adml Cooling – the former captain of HMS Illustrious – points to the delays in the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, as well as the increase in costs surrounding the project, and compares this to the Type 45 project.
He’s not happy with the end result of this; as we know only too well, there were originally going to be twice the number of Type 45s until the costs saw the numbers scaled back, and while Duncan, Daring, Dragon et al have performed some vital work for the country, it is a source of some discomfort that Dauntless has been alongside as a training ship for a year, while the others all need serious work done on their propulsion systems to make them ready for the future.
While we don’t want to enter an arms race, most of us are agreed that a military deterrent is necessary. And after the global events of the last couple of weeks, whether involving Spain or North Korea, while any act of aggression could be dangerous, it is important to have a show of strength. A quiet show, but a show nonetheless.
And that is why Vice Adml Cooling is correct to point out that we need to ‘properly weaponise’ the nation’s warships. The correct number of fighter jets for the carriers need to be in place straightaway; the Type 45s need to have their propulsion issues fixed sooner rather than later, and we need to see work start on the Type 26 class of frigates.
We share Vice Adml Cooling’s reservations about procurement too. As has been pointed out before, the delays and prices rises that the MoD has seen simply wouldn’t be tolerated in the private sector. If a cruise firm orders a new ship, it expects it to be ready for its first cruise with no questions asked and no quarter given. An aircraft carrier is more complex, for sure, but why should we not expect that when an order is placed it is fulfilled? In a more uncertain world, the vice admiral’s words are worth heeding.