30 March 2010
The National Audit Office (NAO) has criticised the Ministry of Defence's £10.5bn PFI deal for new tanker aircraft, saying it was not good value for money for the taxpayer.
The 14 Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft that the MoD ordered will be more than five years late and will still need modifications worth hundreds of millions of pounds before they could be used in Afghanistan.
Airbus's A330-200 aircraft will have a dual role of transporting troops and carrying out air-to-air refuelling. They were due in 2006, but will now not be in service until the end of 2011. Instead, the RAF is relying on ageing Tristars and VC10s to carry out such roles.
The reason for the lack of protection is because the MoD did not envisage the planes would be flying directly into combat zones, the NAO said. If the MoD decided to retro-fit the planes with the required protection, the aircraft would face even longer delays, the report warned.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "Shortcomings in the early stages of the project put the MoD in a position where the operational pressures of an aging fleet and the need to maintain the vital air bridge restricted its ability to deliver a solution which achieved value for money.
"Despite taking five years longer than planned to sign a contract, the MoD's progress in delivering the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft project has improved since contract signature, and the project is meeting its delivery milestones. But there is more work for the MoD and its suppliers to do to get the best out of the deal."
An MoD spokesman said the Tristars currently in operation were "fitted with the highest possible standard" and the new planes' levels of protection would "match or exceed" these.
"The MoD is pleased the NAO has acknowledged that this FSTA [Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft] project has achieved all of its delivery milestones since the contract was signed," the spokesman added.
"We recognise that some aspects of the procurement in the early stages might have been improved but we are content that the UK has secured a good deal for the taxpayer and for the RAF."