Equipment delays threatening UK military capability -report

LONDON, March 18 (Reuters) - The fighting capability of Britain's armed forces is being put at risk by delays in producing important new pieces of equipment, the government's spending watchdog warned on Wednesday.

Delays have hit a wide range of projects including the F-35 fighter jet, offshore patrol vessels and battlefield communication systems.

A report by National Audit Office (NAO) found about a third of the military's 32 most important projects are behind schedule. The new equipment is on average more than two years late before it can be at full operating capability, the report said.

Failure to deliver these projects on time will lead to overuse of existing assets and increase costs, it added.

"Things need to change and change fast. There are risks to national security if not," said Meg Hillier, who chairs parliament's public accounts committee. "The whole culture needs an overhaul."

The watchdog's conclusions come after Prime minister Boris Johnson announced a review of Britain's defence and security strategy, which will include a focus on military procurement.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson's senior adviser, a critic of past procurement, last year described the military procurement process as a farce and accused the forces of "squandering billions of pounds" on unnecessary hardware.

According to the NAO report, a persistent problem is equipment delivered either late or faulty by suppliers.

The military's delivery teams are under-resourced and lack essential skills, contributing to delays, the report said. Six of the 32 projects face shortfalls of more than 20% in their programme teams.

"It is essential that the MoD improves the way it introduces important new defence capabilities into service," said Gareth Davies, head of the NAO.

"This includes ensuring that pressure to be seen to deliver quickly does not lead to it accepting incomplete projects."

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; editing by Stephen Addison)