Britain wastes up to £2.2 billion (R26 billion) a year because of over-ambitious defence projects getting out of control, a government-commissioned report said.
The scathing report, by former Ministry of Defence adviser Bernard Gray, found the average defence equipment programme takes five years longer and costs 40 % more than originally planned, Reuters reports.
The government’s need to rein in a soaring budget deficit has raised questions about the future of multi-billion-pound defence projects such as replacements to the Trident nuclear weapons system, Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes and the Airbus A400M military transporter project.
The report was released a day after Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced a plan to increase British troop numbers in Afghanistan to 9500.
The premier said Britain was ready to send a further 500 troops if certain conditions were met – including that all soldiers would have the correct military equipment.
Retired generals and relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have accused Brown of failing to provide enough helicopters or enough heavily armoured vehicles to protect troops from roadside bombs.
With public borrowing forecast to hit a record £175 billion (R2093 billion) this year due to the recession, all major political parties have said there is a need for spending cuts.
The report found the Ministry of Defence had a “substantially overheated equipment programme, with too many types of equipment being ordered for too large a range of tasks at too high a specification.”
“This programme is unaffordable on any likely projection of future budgets,” it said.
Potential enemies “who would attack us in new or unconventional ways are unlikely to wait for our sclerotic acquisition systems to catch up,” it said.
Delays raise costs
The report said the government’s response to budgetary pressures to slow down projects lowered spending in the short term, but increased the long-term cost because of overheads.
“Between £1 billion (R11 billion) and £2.2 billion is being lost each year,” it said.
The government said last December it would delay a contract for two Royal Navy aircraft carriers by up to two years.
The opposition Conservatives, favourites to win an election due by next June, have pledged to overhaul the defence ministry.
The report recommended governments hold strategic defence reviews in the first session of each new parliament and said a rolling, 10-year defence budget should be agreed.
Brown’s government announced plans in July for the first strategic defence review in more than a decade.
The government said it accepted most of the recommendations.
“We will work to adjust our equipment programme to bring it into balance with future requirements and the likely availability of resources,” Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said in a statement to parliament.
However, Ainsworth rejected Gray’s suggestion that Defence Equipment and Support, the Ministry of Defence’s delivery arm, should be turned into a “contractor-operated entity”, to put it more at arm’s length from the rest of the ministry.