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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Fight is on for 2.9bn carrier contract
Artists impression of the BAE aircraft carrier
The carriers would be built for 21st century warfare
A British and a French-owned company are locking horns over a 2.9bn contract to build two giant aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy.

On Wednesday BAE Systems revealed its plans for the ships, which are set to replace the Navy's three existing carriers, Illustrious, Invincible and Ark Royal.

BAE is heading a consortium which is fighting it out for the contract with the French-owned Thales Group.

The Ministry of Defence will weigh up both bids and make its final decision by next February with work starting in 2005.

BAE consortium
BAE Systems
Lockheed Martin
Northrop Grumman
Rolls-Royce
Strachan & Henshaw
QinetiQ
Vosper Thornycroft
Babcock BES
Swan Hunter
Fleet Support Ltd
BAE said if it won it would secure the jobs of 8,000 people across the UK.

But Nick West, a spokesman for Thales Group, told BBC News Online their ships would also be 100% designed and built in the UK, but he said he could not specify how many jobs would be involved.

Huge warships

The carriers would be the biggest warships ever built for the Royal Navy.

Each ship will be 290 metres long - double the size of the existing carriers.

They will have a displacement of 50,000 tonnes and a crew of 1,400.

Artists' impression of the Thales Group ship
The Thales consortium ship would be '100% designed and built in UK'
Both ships would be able to carry 48 fighter aircraft capable of 100 sorties a day as well as four surveillance aircraft and six Merlin helicopters, which are designed for anti-submarine warfare.

Nuclear-free

Unlike similar giant US and French carriers, the new vessels will be electric, not nuclear-powered.

Both consortia say the vessels would be constructed in several giant sections which would be assembled later.

Nigel Stewart, BAE's managing director of the Future Carrier Project, told Wednesday's briefing at the Institute of Strategic Studies in London: "We don't have a single yard with all the resources or capability to build the carrier.

"The only approach is to engage the whole of the UK shipbuilding capability.

"There is going to be work for really the whole of the UK industry.

"Shipbuilding has traditionally been feast and famine.

"Yards build up with resources and then shed resources. We must think of the carrier as another piece of jigsaw.

HMS Invincible
The Invincible saw service in the Falklands conflict
"It must help us to build a long-term future for the industry."

Jobs boost

Mr Stewart said it was vital for UK strategic interests that BAE, and not its French-owned competitor, won the contract.

Thales is 34% owned by the French Government.

But Mr West said Thales employed 200 in its ship design office in Bristol alone and would employ thousands more in the UK if it won the contract.

He said Thales, unlike BAE, did not own any shipyards and did not therefore have a "vested interest" in pushing jobs through any particular yard.

He said they would be sub-contracting the work to the yard which offered the best price and quality of work and said this may well mean giving work to a BAE-owned yard.

See also:

26 Sep 01 | England
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