The British Royal Navy's plan to achieve initial carrier strike operating capability by December 2020 could be delayed due to technical issues that are yet to be resolved, according to the UK's National Audit Office (NAO).
HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first carrier, is now expected to sail for the first time in the summer of this year, nearly three months later than originally planned.
The UK’s planned carrier strike group will be the first to be deployed since the Invincible-class aircraft carrier left service.
NAO head Amyas Morse said: “The department has made good progress and clear plans to achieve an initial carrier strike operating capability by December 2020, but it still has a lot to do as it brings together the equipment, trained crews, infrastructure and support.
“Problems in any of these areas could mean use of the carriers is delayed or reduced. The programme will shortly move into a high-risk period of trials, testing and training which may affect plans and increase costs.
“The closely timed sequence of tasks offers no further room for slippage and there remain significant risks to value for money.”
NAO noted that the next three years will be critical to establishing the capability and deploying it in 2021.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) will have to bring together the carriers, Lightning II jets and Crowsnest radar, along with trained crew members and supporting infrastructure, logistics, communications and surveillance.
The MoD will be required to test and operate all these elements together in preparation for the capability deployment. The department will also have to address any operational unknowns that may be revealed during testing.
Fully flexible carrier-enabled power projection (CEPP) capability is expected to be achieved by the MoD by April 2026.
NAO has found that the Royal Navy is currently lacking in numbers of trained military personnel, running 4% short of its target strength of 145,560.
The watchdog has also noted that in order to address the slippage in reaching set targets, the MoD have had to take several decisions that have compressed the overall production schedule, and added risk with limited contingency in the process.