Flop Gun

The recent fiasco over the government’s overpriced acquisition of F-35B Lightning II Joint Combat Fighter is yet more reason for a shake-up of military procurement.

In response to the latest report in the Times, our chief executive John O'Connell said: “The first duty of the government is to keep its citizens safe and defend the realm, but the scale of procurement problems on the F-35 order threaten its ability to do just that. When it comes to military spending, taxpayers want to know they’re getting the best deal but the procurement system as it currently operates can’t provide that.”

To date, the government has dished out over £1 trillion on the F-35 program in the face of spiralling cost and lower standards. It is even unclear how useful or effective these planes will be at protecting British citizens. Recently, the planes’ stealth classification has moved from “Very Low Observable” to “Low Observable”, changing the signature the plane creates on enemy radar from the size of a marble to that of a beach ball. Yet, this pales in comparison to its other problems.

In America, four F-35B planes have been identified as being too heavy to take off and land vertically in a safe manner, even though this model of warplane has been designed to perform exactly that function. Others have been kept on the ground as a result of software glitches. All this has led Donald Trump, US president, to describe the project as ‘out of control’.

Moving into the future, the government must learn from past mistakes like the F-35 saga and improve its procurement methods. There are simple things that can be done. Encouraging the government to cancel orders for over-ordered equipment seems an obvious place to start. But other measures include:

• Clarifying roles and responsibilities between the MoD, Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) and commands
• Factoring in reasonable expectations for equipment cost increases, especially when allocating budgets to the different branches of the armed forces
• Improving skills and management (In 2010, £1.5bn was wasted by this)

Taxpayers must be assured that their hard earned money is not squandered on poorly chosen, ineffective equipment like the F-35s.