By John O'Doherty
MPs have criticised the management of the UK's purchase of Typhoon fighter jets –currently being used in Libya –saying the Ministry of Defence failed to cost the project correctly in advance, or provide evidence that the contract achieved value for money.
The report also criticised the management of Typhoon's maintenance and upkeep, saying that there was a lack of spare parts for the jet.
"The history of the Typhoon fighter aircraft represents yet another example of over-optimism, bad planning and an unacceptably high bill for the taxpayer," said Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee on Public Accounts, which released a report on the matter on Friday.
"The MoD is now buying 30 per cent fewer Typhoon fighter aircraft than originally planned, the cost of the project is now expected to be £3.5bn more than was originally approved and if we take all expenditure into account, the cost of each aircraft has increased by 75 per cent."
Along with the older Tornado, the Typhoon is Britain's main fighter jet. The first batch ordered by the UK were so-called "air-superiority" fighters, intended to defend UK airspace against enemy combat planes, and have been upgraded to make them ground-attack capable.
The second tranche all have the capacity to strike targets on the ground as well as in the air. However, in the current operations on Libya, the RAF has mostly used the Tornado for ground attacks.
The Typhoon is built by a consortium of BAE Systems, Finmeccanica and EADS in conjunction with Germany, Italy and Spain. The project is expected to cost the UK £37bn, including acquisition and support of the aircraft over the next 20 years.
The report criticised the way in which the MoD managed the changing roles of the Tornado and Typhoon. It said that the £119m upgrade to equip the Typhoon for ground attack was subsequently negated by a decision to reprioritise it for air-superiority, calling into question the value of the £119m spent.
Because of the lack of spare parts, mechanics had been forced to "cannibalise" parts from other aircraft to keep Typhoons flying.
This reduced the number available to the MoD, and five pilots had to be grounded in 2010. The report said that this reduced availability left only 8 out of 48 pilots trained in the plane's ground attack capability.
Liam Fox, the defence secretary, said the problems had now been resolved.
"The NAO's March report concluded that after years of financial mismanagement and project delays under the previous government, the Typhoon project has been turned around," he said.
"The Typhoon is a world beating air-to-air fighter and is fast developing a ground attack capability as is being demonstrated in Libya. We have sufficient numbers of qualified ground attack pilots to meet our operational tasks and this number is increasing all the time."