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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 February 2007, 01:42 GMT
Aircraft carrier 'delays' warning
Artist's impression of carrier
An artist's impression of one of the new aircraft carriers
Two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers could be delayed while Britain's shipbuilding industry is restructured, a committee of MPs has said.

The Commons Defence Committee warned that if the carriers were late, it could damage the country's defence.

While the new ships are due to replace existing vessels in 2013, the order will not be placed until the industry consolidation is in place.

But the industry has yet to agree on a new structure.

This in turn may lead to a capability gap which could be both damaging to the defence of the country and expensive to deal with
Defence Committee report

"It is possible, though not inevitable, that this may result in later delivery of the carriers," the committee noted in its report.

"This in turn may lead to a capability gap which could be both damaging to the defence of the country and expensive to deal with".

The Ministry of Defence has called for a consolidation of the shipbuilding industry, to cope with an expected reduction in demand, once the aircraft carriers are built.

Powerful warships

The committee also acknowledged that once the restructuring was in place, it could result in the carrier programme being better managed.

The ships will be the largest and most powerful surface warships ever built in the UK, according to the Royal Navy.

In December Sir Alan West, the former head of the navy, said it was vital the UK pressed ahead with the plans, amid fears they might be shelved due to costs.

He said he had set aside 3.5bn for the project, but warned: "There are officials within the MoD who are casting lascivious looks at [the programme]."

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