THE TYPE 45 DARING-CLASS DESTROYER: How Project Management Problems Led to Fewer Ships

Article excerpt

In 1998, the British government led by Prime Minister Tony Blair released the Strategic Defence Review (SDR), in which it identified a requirement for twelve state-of-the-art warships for the Royal Navy (RN) to be configured for antiair warfare.1 This new naval platform was conceived as a replacement for the Type 42 destroyers, which had first entered service in 1978; its development was initially associated with the Anglo-French-Italian Horizon project that had replaced the NATO Frigate Replacement, from which Britain withdrew in 1989. That vision, however, had a very short shelf life. Some months after the SDR's release, Britain withdrew from the Horizon project and launched an indigenous Type 45 destroyer program. Production of the first ship, HMS Daring, began in 2003.

From the outset, the Type 45 suffered from repeated changes in government direction. Six years after the Blair government identified the requirement for new air-defense frigates, the number of warships to be acquired was revised downward. In 2004, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that "the reduced conventional threat, our revised concurrency assumptions and improved network capability" meant that only eight ships were required. 2 Two years later it was decided to build only six Type 45s, while reserving a decision on the acquisition of the seventh and eighth ships. When Gordon Brown, Blair's Chancellor of the Exchequer (i.e., finance minister), took over as prime minister in 2007 that position was maintained, but the pressing exigencies of government finances began to assume greater prominence. "Six Type 45 destroyers are currently on order," a government minister at the time observed, adding that "further orders will depend on the affordability of industry proposals, value for money and the wider implementation of the maritime industrial strategy by industry and the Ministry of Defence."3 In early 2008 the MoD informed a parliamentary committee that only six Type 45s had been ordered and that "anything beyond that is subject to the review process now going on."4 Four years later, and with a new government (the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition under David Cameron) slashing defense spending as part of an austerity program, it is certain that only six of these ships will ever be acquired.

Characterized by cost overruns, delivery delays, and, initially, reduced capabilities, the Type 45 program has become a symbol in the United Kingdom for mismanagement of procurement. The 2009 Gray Report, which examined defense procurement, noted that the reduction in the number of Type 45s was in part linked to the soaring costs of each ship: "HMS Daring and her sisters will cost £1 billion each, a price so high the United Kingdom can only afford six ships. This level of expenditure is well beyond any other current navy in the world barring the US and France."5 That argument is shared by many members of the British parliament who reviewed the program on several occasions. In early 2008, for example, the House of Commons Defence Committee assessed the Type 45 program as the third worst of the major naval programs, behind the Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraftand the Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, with Daring's delivery three years behind schedule and costs nearly £1 billion over budget (at £6.45 billion). Perhaps even more disturbing, the capability set that had been used by MoD officials to justify the scaling back of the numbers from the original twelve has also been reduced. Looking back, it is arguable that however capable the Type 45 class is, the impact of its procurement (on the defense budget and on fleet size) has been anything but strategic, underscoring the Gray Report's suggestion that the acquisition of such expensive platforms "may seem bizarre."

What went wrong? Testifying before a parliamentary committee in March 2009, Sir Bill Jeffrey, then the Permanent Under-Secretary in the MoD and the department's most senior civil servant, stated that "it is clear that what principally went wrong was that we were substantially overoptimistic about the time it would take to deliver this, about the technical challenge it would represent and about what it would cost. …