One of Britain’s top military officers has revealed a “series of technical issues” are behind delays to the launch of Britain’s new aircraft carrier.
The government said yesterday it expected sea trials of HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Summer, just weeks after publishing a document that said she would sail in the Spring.
After Labour challenged ministers in the commons yesterday, it was raised again as the Defence Procurement Minister Harriett Baldwin faced the Commons Defence Committee.
Asked by Labour’s Madeleine Moon what was behind the change in timetable she said:
"I acknowledge that the carrier is due in Portsmouth this year but what I can’t give the committee is the specific days of the week."
"By the very definition of what you’re going through when you’re going through trials is that you’re potentially in that trial process have to make some corrections to something, that’s the whole point of a trial."
She said the crew was stood up ready to serve and that there were no delays through budgetary problems.
Then the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff for Military Capability, Lt. Gen. Mark Poffley, offered a more candid answer:
"There have been a series of technical issues associated with bringing the vessel to the point where she can commence her sea trials."
But he tried to reassure MP’s this was not outside the tolerance they had anticipated in the programme and told them it would have been a ‘fantastic achievement well beyond any other programme’ if they’d not had some difficulties at this stage.
As the first ship of her kind, it is not terribly surprising that HMS Queen Elizabeth has some teething troubles to be sorted.
What matters is whether those troubles can be fixed quickly and simply, or if they pose much bigger challenges.
It is clear now that there has been some small slippage in the programme to bring back carrier strike capability to the UK.
That capability isn’t due to be in service until 2020 so right now it isn’t causing too much alarm.
But it is a warning light, and if HMS Queen Elizabeth has not sailed by the autumn, ministers may face some harder questions.