New aircraft carriers delayed

Click to follow

The Royal Navy's two new aircraft carriers are likely to enter service one or two years later than expected following a review of spending, Defence Secretary John Hutton announced today.

Work on the £4bn project was due to begin next spring, with the vessels entering service in 2014 and 2016, but Mr Hutton said today it was being brought more closely in line with the introduction of the Joint Combat Aircraft which they will carry.

In a written statement to the House of Commons, Mr Hutton also said that £70m will be spent on upgrading 12 Lynx Mark 9 helicopters with new engines, with the first of the aircraft to be available at the end of next year.

The changes will allow the helicopters to operate effectively all year round in the heat and high altitudes of Afghanistan, freeing up other aircraft for different tasks, said Mr Hutton.

Coupled with a previously-announced upgrade to the Chinook Mark 3, plans for additional Apache attack craft and the transfer of Merlins when they complete their mission in Iraq next year, the improvements to the Lynx will deliver "a significant increase in helicopter capacity" to military commanders in Afghanistan, said Mr Hutton.

The aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will be the biggest and most powerful surface warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy.

They received the long-awaited green light in May from Mr Hutton's predecessor as defence secretary Des Browne.

Their construction and assembly at shipyards in Portsmouth, Barrow-in-Furness, Glasgow and Rosyth is expected to create or sustain 10,000 jobs across the UK.

The strike force for the two new carriers will be drawn from a new fleet of 150 Joint Combat Aircraft being constructed under a £1.3bn deal with US aerospace manufacturers Lockheed Martin.

The first of the new supersonic planes is due to come into service in 2012, replacing the Navy's Sea Harrier FA2 and the RAF's Harrier GR7.

Mr Hutton today said: "We have concluded that there is scope for bringing more closely into line the introduction of the Joint Combat Aircraft and the aircraft carrier. This is likely to mean delaying the in-service date of the new carriers by one to two years.

"We are in close consultation with the Aircraft Carrier Alliance on how this might best be done. Construction is already under way and will continue. The programme will still provide stability for the core shipyard workforce, including 10,000 UK jobs."

The defence industry welcomed the lack of major cuts to programmes but expressed regret at the lack of new investment.

Ian Godden, secretary of the Defence Industries Council, said: "While companies will be disappointed with some of the programme-specific decisions there is a real willingness amongst them to work constructively with the MoD to help make the most of the available budget so that our armed forces can get the equipment they need.

"As the Government seeks to provide an economic stimulus to the country the defence industry believes it is the ideal sector in which to achieve this and is disappointed not to have featured in the package of measures announced so far.

"The rewarding, high-tech, highly skilled jobs that currently exist will attract the next generation of able young people into the industry that we will need to protect our nation's interests."