Richard Norton-Taylor’s article about Ministry of Defence procurement (Cummings is right – if only about the MoD, Journal, 18 December) implies the MoD is wholly to blame for its problems. While there have been incidences of mismanagement, not least in the outsourcing of key functions like army recruitment, many decisions have been out of the MoD’s control.
The global financial crisis resulted in a delay to the carrier programme, causing significant extra costs. Also, the F-35B (STOVL version) was always the aircraft of choice for the carriers. It was the government’s decision in 2010 to change to the carrier variant, with catapults and arrester gear. A study showed this to be too expensive, and the programme reverted to the F-35B, but not before additional costs had been accrued. In 2015 the government announced £24bn of enhancements for the armed forces without any real understanding of how to pay for them. More recently, Brexit has caused paralysis in decision-making, with over 250 MoD personnel being transferred to other departments to assist with no-deal preparations.
A review of defence is due. But it should not start with the premise that the MoD is completely at fault.
• Richard Norton-Taylor overlooked one huge component of “defence” spending: the renewal of the Trident nuclear WMD system, both submarine carriers/launch platforms and multiple nuclear-tipped missiles.
There is a debate over how much this renewal – ie replacement and modernisation – will cost. As a new independent study released on 17 December by the House of Commons library points out: “Ascertaining historical costs for the nuclear deterrent is difficult and complex, as this information is not easily available from public sources. Many records no longer exist, while others were classified. In the past the government has also often not discussed costs on the grounds of operational security.”
The authors stress that the 2015 strategic defence and security review projected that the costs of design and manufacture of four new Trident submarines will be £31bn, with an additional £10bn contingency also set aside. If projected lifetime operational, repair and refit costs are added, according to a Nuclear Educational Trust report in June 2018, this takes the total cost of Trident replacement to £140bn-£205bn.
This is where the Cummings review needs to start.
Dr David Lowry
Former director, European Proliferation Information Centre
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