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Monday, January 25, 1999 Published at 19:53 GMT

UK Politics

'Super' carriers to replace Invincible

Invincible carriers will be dwarfed by the new ships

Six defence companies are bidding for a £1.5bn contract to build two new aircraft carriers for the Ministry of Defence.

The Defence Secretary, George Robertson, said BAe Defence Systems, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Marconi Electronic Systems, Boeing and Thomson-CSF will tender for the "initial assessment phase" for a new generation of super-carriers.

The rapid-response ships, due to be operational by 2012, will replace Britain's existing Invincible class carriers. The MoD will award contracts in the autumn to three of the companies to continue development work on the ships, expected to cost £740m.

The carriers would be capable of operating up to 50 aircraft and helicopters. At 40,000 tonnes each, they will be far larger than conventional carriers, carrying a small army of 1,000 personnel, including air crews.

"The invitation to bid is a demonstration of this government's commitment to equip the Royal Navy for the challenge of the 21st Century," said Mr Roberston.

The final contract for the carriers, which will be built in the UK, will be awarded in 2003.

'Innovative ideas'

"The companies will be given the freedom to use all the latest technology on their designs and innovative ideas will be encouraged as a way of cutting costs and operational effectiveness," said the defence secretary.

"The assessment phase will have two main stages: first, the examination of a wide variety of carrier design options, which will also inform our choice of the Future Carrier Borne Aircraft; and secondly, detailed work to determine the carriers' design parameters and to reduce technological risk.

"This is expected to be completed in 2003, paving the way for the full development and construction of the two new aircraft carriers."

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