EU Referendum

Masters of incompetence


The F-35B undergoing carrier trials.  Will we buy it, or will we won't?

The state we're got ourselves into with the carrier project is almost unbelievable – or would be if we had any faith that government could get it right in the first place. And part of the problems are not ours, as the delay to the F-35 programme is not the fault of the British government and we are to a very great extent dependent on the American builders.

That said, Thomas Harding in The Daily Telegraph charts the latest development in this rolling disaster.

First, we decide to buy the F-35B – the short take off and vertical-landing variant, and design the carriers accordingly (then deciding to mothball on of the two). Then we go for (in my view) the better option of the F-35C, the carrier-based variant, catapult and arrester hook fitted – having then to redesign the carrier at inordinate cost.

And now, we want to go back to the F-35B, which apparently is going to cost £250 million to reverse work already done.

Why this is the case I really don't want to know, finding myself in agreement with Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, who says that the reversal would be "one of the biggest public procurement messes for many decades".

In fact, this is probably the biggest disaster since Conservative defence secretary Michael Portillo ordered the Nimrod MR4 in 1996, ending up with nine aircraft at £3.8 billion which were then cancelled … by a Conservative administration.

As always though, neither party comes out at all well out of our never-ending list of procurement disasters, wasting more money overall than many countries actually spend on defence. The only thing we seem now capable of mastering is incompetence.