MoD says contracts show committed to carriers

LONDON (Reuters) - The Ministry of Defence (MoD) awarded contracts worth more than 330 million pounds for the Royal Navy’s planned two aircraft carriers on Thursday, saying it proved its commitment to the troubled project.

Sailors on the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious stand on the flight deck as the ship sails up the River Thames past the old Naval College, before docking at Greenwich in London November 4, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

The new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, which will the largest and most powerful warships ever to be built in Britain, have suffered a series of delays, and a revised cost schedule is currently awaiting Treasury approval.

The MoD’s five sub-contracts, for equipment and their assembly, were awarded to suppliers across the country, bringing the total in sub-contracts awarded so far to almost 1.1 billion pounds.

The biggest sub-contracts went to Imtech NV, which was awarded a 120 million pound order for high-tech climate technology, and Ship Support Services Ltd, based near Rosyth, which will get 105 million pounds for paints and scaffolding.

Glasgow-firm Henry Abrams received a 85 million pound sub-contract to transport sections of the ships, Tyco 15 million pounds for fixed-fire fighting systems, and County Durham firm AEI Cables 8 million pounds to supply cables.

An independent report this week by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) said the armed forces may shrink by a fifth in the next six years as the government seeks to slash the country’s record budget deficit and the cost of existing defence commitments grow, though it did not specifically mention the aircraft carriers.

“This news should reassure those who doubt this government’s commitment to the programme,” defence minister Quentin Davies said in a statement.

He added the build phase of the ships, “the cornerstone of the Royal Navy of the future,” was well under way.

The project was initially due to cost 3.9 billion pounds but is now expected to cost about 5 billion pounds, with the aircraft carriers due come into service in 2016 and 2018 -- two years late.

BAE Systems, Babcock International and Thales are in the consortium involved in the project, which got the go-ahead in July 2007.

The MoD has argued the two 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, are needed to replace the ageing Invincible class.

Reporting by Avril Ormsby; editing by Keith Weir and Karen Foster