The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is not currently meeting its targets for the number of trained aircrew it needs, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

In its investigation, published today, the NAO has set out the facts about the MoD’s aircrew requirements, the training that has been delivered to date, and how the MoD is addressing its flying training shortfalls.1

The NAO reports that in the six years to 2018-19, the MoD has failed to meet its training requirements by an average of 45 per cent, which equates to an average shortfall of 125 aircrew per year.2

In the last two years, training has also taken longer because the MoD does not have the capacity to handle the number of students it needs to train. On average it is taking 7.1 years for Royal Air Force fast jet pilots to be trained against the MoD’s aim of 3.9 years. In July 2019, there were 145 RAF students waiting on average 90 weeks to start training, compared to an expected 12 week wait for around 26 students at a time.

The MoD has long recognised issues with flying training. In 2008, it agreed a 25-year contract with Ascent – a joint venture between two defence contractors, Lockheed Martin and Babcock – to design, introduce and manage a new approach to Phase 2 of its three-phase training process, known as the Military Flying Training System (MFTS). This is when aircrew learn basic flying skills.

However, aircrew requirements for MFTS have changed since the contract was awarded in 2008. In 2010, the MoD halved its aircrew requirement under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, which contributed to a six year delay in introducing the system.3 The subsequent 2015 Review committed to new aircraft and extended the service life of some existing aircraft which increased the training requirement. In 2018-19 alone, the requirement increased by 29 per cent – around 76 extra aircrew to be trained that year.

For the MFTS to operate effectively, the MoD and Ascent must both meet their respective contractual obligations. Failure to do so has led to delays and cancellation of courses. As of March 2019, 44 out of the 369 planned training courses (12 per cent) had been cancelled. Of these, 28 related to the MoD not fulfilling its responsibilities including not providing enough qualified instructors or students. There were also occasions where the MoD and Ascent have failed to provide sufficient numbers of aircraft.

Ascent and the Department now have in place most of the training components needed for the MFTS to meet the 2010 requirements. These include 102 aircraft of seven different types, around 20 flight simulators, hangars and training facilities, and 36 certified training courses. To March 2019, the MoD has paid Ascent £514m. To help meet the increased 2015 requirement, the MoD is making use of other external training providers, at a cost of £15m in 2019-20, while it negotiates with Ascent to increase the MFTS capacity. The MOD expects to start incrementally increasing the number of trained students from 2020, with a fully expanded system from 2023.

Read the full report

Investigation into military flying training

Notes for editors

1. To operate aircraft, the MoD must train enough aircrew with the right skills. For aircrew to be able to serve in front-line squadrons, they need to complete a three-phase training process. Students are selected (Phase 1), learn basic flying skills (Phase 2) and train on specific front-line aircraft (Phase 3). 2. Training requirement shows the number of UK aircrew the Department needs to complete Phase 2 training. The number of trained aircrew required is guided by the government’s five-yearly defence reviews. Up to and including 2017-18, the training requirement reflects the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, after which it reflects the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. 3. The NAO previously reported on the Ministry of Defence’s new training system for military aircrew in 2015. This included a review of the causes of the six year delay in introducing the MFTS. The link to that report is here. 4. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website. 5. The National Audit Office (NAO) helps Parliament hold government to account for the way it spends public money. It is independent of government and the civil service. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Gareth Davies, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether government is delivering value for money on behalf of the public, concluding on whether resources have been used efficiently, effectively and with economy. The NAO identifies ways that government can make better use of public money to improve people's lives. It measures this impact annually. In 2018 the NAO's work led to a positive financial impact through reduced costs, improved service delivery, or other benefits to citizens, of £539 million.

Latest press releases