Thu, Jul 26, 2007 - Page 6 News List

UK announcement expected on two new aircraft carriers

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The British government was expected to give the go-ahead yesterday for the construction of two 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy, the biggest warships ever built in Britain.

The decision to order the carriers, which together are predicted to cost up to ?3.9 billion (US$8.05 billion), is expected to trigger a key move in the consolidation of Britain's shipbuilding capability.

BAE Systems and VT Group, partners in the alliance that will build the carriers, are to merge their shipbuilding and naval support operations, though the agreement, also expected to be announced today, will exclude BAE's submarine building facility at Barrow, northwest England.

The British Ministry of Defence declined to comment on the timing of any announcement but ministers are understood to be pressing for an announcement this week. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said last week that he expected an announcement soon, suggesting it would come before parliament rises tomorrow. If an announcement is not made by that time it will probably have to be put back until the autumn, risking further delays to the program. Ministers have said in the past that the carrier order is expected to safeguard or create up to 10,000 jobs.

The new ships, which will be three times larger than Britain's existing carriers, were meant to come into service in 2012 and 2015 but the project has been hit by delays and it is unclear if the original timetable can be maintained.

Lord Drayson, the defense procurement minister, has been pressing for consolidation within the warship building sector as part of the defense industrial strategy, a program designed to ensure that Britain retains key skills and facilities in the defense sector.

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