Scrapping British Nimrod leaves 'capability gap'

The scrapping a new fleet of Nimrod maritime surveillance aircraft has created a "capability gap" and left Britain reliant on support from other nations, lawmakers warned Wednesday.

A cross-party group of MPs voiced serious concerns about the decision to cancel a project to procure nine MRA4 Nimrods which had run hundreds of millions of pounds over budget.

Ministers elected to abandon the £4-billion ($6.4 billion, 4.6-billion-euro) fleet of planes, the latest version of the veteran sub-hunter, as part of deep defence cuts in 2010.

The Nimrods can detect and sink submarines and play a key role in drug-smuggling and counter-terrorism operations.

A House of Commons defence committee report published Wednesday said a decision on a possible alternative to the Nimrods would not be taken for another three years, leaving Britain vulnerable in the interim.

Committee chairman James Arbuthnot, a lawmaker from Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party, said: "We are unconvinced that the MoD (Ministry of Defence) has the capacity to respond to any escalation in the risks that may appear beyond the UK's shores.

"Furthermore we believe the risk is likely to worsen in the medium term as further maritime surveillance capabilities are withdrawn or not yet filled."

The report highlighted the loss of four Broadsword-class Type 22 frigates and the planned withdrawal of Sea King helicopters in 2016, which it said heightened the risk.

The MoD has earmarked maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) as an alternative surveillance solution for the next 20 years, but the committee warned that no decision on whether to commission these would be taken until the next defence and security review in 2015.

"The MoD must explain why it is satisfactory to wait until 2015 or beyond before deciding how to close the capability gap in maritime surveillance, particularly as the MoD acknowledge that a MPA is the solution in the short to medium term," the report said.

Armed forces minister Andrew Robathan defended the decision to abandon the new generation of Nimrods, part of a raft of measures aimed at cutting a £38 billion defence budget deficit.

"Tough decisions had to be taken to get the MoD's books back into balance and cancelling the Nimrod MRA4 programme was the right decision," Robathan said.

"Only one Nimrod MRA4 had been delivered to the RAF and it had not passed air worthiness tests, the project was hundreds of millions over budget, years late and needed considerable further funding to rectify ongoing technical problems."

The MoD has said cancelling the programme will save £2 billion over 10 years.

by Andrew Gully © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Sep 18, 2012