27 Nov 05. Peter Spiegel of the FT reported that £1bn cuts are needed to hit forces’ target. The Ministry of Defence has been forced to make more than £1bn of cuts in the numbers and capabilities of some of its most high-profile new weapons programmes to prevent additional cost overruns in its procurement budget, the National Audit Office will report today. The MoD reported this week that, for the first time since 2002, it had reduced the projected costs of its 20 largest weapons projects last year. But the NAO report, which details how the MoD managed to find the £699m in savings, said that almost all reductions came from cutting the amount of certain weapons the armed forces would buy, or by reducing the capabilities of ships and aircraft being built. The cuts in new weapons follow a series of early retirements of existing armaments, including the Jaguar and Sea Harrier fighter jets and six of the Royal Navy’s frigates and destroyers, highlighting the pressures facing the MoD’s equipment budget.
The pressures have been intensified by a series of delays that have led many of the armed services’ largest and most complicated programmes to be built at the same time.
Traditionally, the MoD, like other defence departments, such as the Pentagon, has tried to spread out the acquisition of large weapons so that their high costs are staggered.
However, the ministry is in the middle of its most expensive warship programme ever, the Type 45 destroyer; a hugely complex and long-delayed submarine, the Astute; the £65m-per-plane Eurofighter; and the problem-plagued Nimrod patrol plane.
Within the next year to 18 months, the MoD must also decide whether to move forward on two other expensive programmes, the £3.5bn Royal Navy aircraft carriers and the Royal Air Force’s Joint Strike Fighter.
Those large commitments have led to a squeeze, in which the ministry must find ways to cut spending on both its current and future forces even though many of the weapons are still years from being delivered.
The MoD believes it can keep up its fighting power by improving the capabilities of current forces even as they are being reduced, but critics charge the ministry is “hollowing out” the armed forces – even if temporarily – to bridge the gap.
Some of the latest cuts revealed by the NAO came in programmes that were originally intended to fight enemies during the cold war era.
For example, the Meteor missile, whose cost was slashed by £120m through a cut in the number of missiles ordered and the cancellation of a related upgrade, is being developed so that fighter aircraft can shoot down enemy aircraft before they come into visual range. Few enemy air forces now exist, however, that can challenge RAF air superiority.
Similarly, the Sting Ray torpedo, which was cut by £187m by reducing the number to be bought, is used by aircraft and surface ships to destroy enemy submarines, a threat much reduced since the fall of the Soviet Union.
But other cuts unearthed by the NAO came in programmes seen as more central to the armed forces’ future posture.
The biggest single cut, £428m, came in the Joint Strike Fighter, a US-led jet that the RAF will use to fly off the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers.
Most of that saving came from the decision to scrap a planned group of bombs and missiles that would have been fitted to the fighter a decade into its life. The MoD said the RAF had decided the family of weapons, which it would not specify, was no longer needed.
In addition, the Type 45 destroyer, a surface warship that will be used to protect the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers, saw its budget cut by £145m following the decision to reduce the amount spent on the ship’s combat systems and the scrapping of a still-classified capability that the NAO would not detail.
The first Type 45, HMS Daring, is scheduled to be launched in February.
Perhaps the most conspicuous cut, which had been previously announced by the MoD, came in the