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Smaller than the American one, bigger than the French ...

December 15, 2005

Britain expands Aircraft Carrier Alliance

Britain has expanded the Aircraft Carrier Alliance that is to build the Royal Navy's Future Aircraft Carrier.

VT Group. formerly Vosper Thornycroft, and Babcock International Group are joining the the current team of the U.K. Ministry of Defence (MoD), BAE Systems, Thales and Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

U.K. Defence Secretary John Reid announed yesterday that plans for the construction and assembly of the ships at alliance members' yards have been agreed and that MoD is to spend some GBP 300 million ($532 million) to develop the design of the ships to the point at which manufacturing can begin.

Reid said commitment to some long-lead items for the ships will now be made, where necessary, to maintain the programme.

"Work will now commence on finalizing the delta design, which will ultimately provide the U.K. Armed Forces with the largest and most powerful warships ever constructed in the U.K., and an expeditionary capability unparalleled outside of the U.S.," said Reid.

"I am allocating some 60 percent of the ships' construction to named UK yards: BAE Systems at Govan and Barrow; VT in Portsmouth and Babcock in Rosyth," said Reid. "I can also confirm final assembly of both carriers will be at Rosyth."

He added "that there is a substantial opportunity for the involvement of other U.K. shipyards in the remaining parts of the build program that will be open to competition. This could go well beyond traditional shipbuilders since the project will use modern modular production techniques."

Reid said the alliance is being asked to "put forward one integrated plan: not only to maintain the new carriers but to look after the existing carriers until they go out of service. By getting the same people to commit to maintain the existing carriers until the new ones are ready to go we will ensure there is a continuity of capability for the Royal Navy."

"This project is a key to the Defence Industrial Strategy and marks the end to the 'boom and bust' industrial cycle. The introduction of a managed and steady work stream will allow industry to plan efficiently and to retain the highly skilled workforce that has contributed to the fine tradition of shipbuilding in this country. In addition, this project will sustain and create some 10,000 UK jobs around the country."

So called "Main Gate Approval" of the carrier project has been split into two incremental steps. Reid's announcement marks the movement of the project through the first step, from the MOD's assessment phase into the demonstration phase. The MOD says it will be able to announce the expected program costs and "in-service" dates for the new ships once this phase is complete.

The design selected for the carriers from a range of proposals is "Design Delta" has been selected. When the ships are built, they will be fitted with a ski-jump to operate short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) aircraft. However, the design can be altered later in the ships' service life, for example to accommodate catapults and arrestor gear to fly conventional carrier aircraft.

"This is future-proofing for a class of ship expected to have a 50-year life," says MoD.

The new class of carriers will be much larger than the Royal Navy's existing "Invincible" class carriers. It is currently estimated that the new class will have a displacement of 65,000 tonnes, will be 280 m long and 70 m wide, and have a draft of 9 m.

The ships' complement will be around 1500 all-told, including the Joint Force Air Group (JFAG) who will support and fly the embarked aircraft. Each ship will carry about 40 aircraft (Joint Combat Aircraft, Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control system, and Merlin helicopters).

Plans for the construction and assembly of the ships in yards owned by members of the new expanded Alliance include hull block 4 at BAES Govan, block 3 at BAES Barrow, block 2 at VT Group Portsmouth, and the bow (block 1) and final assembly at Babcock Rosyth, all subject to value-for-money and cost-effectiveness considerations. Substantial elements of the remainder of the ship superstructure are to be competed for by other shipyards and manufacturing facilities.

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