More broadly the report highlights the wider problems facing the UK. Firstly it notes that the RAF scrapped the DPOC requirement, meaning that there is going to be no replacement for the Tornado GR4 until the 2030s as the Typhoon OSD approaches. In practical terms this means the RAF is losing a very substantial chunk of capability within the next few years without replacement. The Tornado force is already beginning to be run down, and is likely to be out of service by 2018 without direct replacement. This means the RAF will have lost over 140 airframes, and a huge swathe of capability. In the same timeframe it will be operating a Typhoon force optimised for air defence, and which seemingly still hasn’t got a fully integrated ability to operate Storm Shadow or Brimstone (both immensely capable weapons) and which will have only a limited number of assets to cover both the air defence and expeditionary warfare roles. If as publicly reported the JSF is only beginning to enter service in very limited numbers, then you quickly realise just how limited RAF capability will be soon. In 2003 it operated four fast jet fleets totalling some 450 aircraft, but by 2018, barely 15 years later it will be down to the Typhoon fleet which is likely to only have some 100 aircraft operational at anyone time, and also maybe 16 JSF as a shared RN/RAF asset.
Finally one has to consider the financial challenges ahead. Humphrey has previously written about the problems of the current equipment programme funding, and the limited ability to absorb risk in the contingency fund. Reading the NAO report one notes that firstly the cost of absorbing the operation of a second carrier could be as high as £60 million per year, which would be extremely challenging to find in the current RN budget without commensurate cuts elsewhere. Secondly it notes that the costs of the CVF project is likely to rise as final costings are not yet known – given the limited ability of the EP to absorb cost growth, one has to worry about the 2015 defence review and whether sufficient funding really exists to bring the carriers into service without having to make further cuts to other programmes.