No carrier sharing between UK and France

Sept. 8, 2010 at 4:59 PM
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PARIS, Sept. 8 (UPI) -- Britain's defense secretary has said it's "unrealistic" that Britain and France share a naval carrier.

"I think it is unrealistic to share an aircraft carrier but, in other areas like tactical lift we can see what we can do," British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said after talks with his French counterpart Herve Morin last week, the Daily Telegraph reports. "I can't deny that there is an element of urgency added by budget concerns."

Tactical lift could include assets such as helicopters and the Airbus A400M transport plane, ordered by both nations.

Morin said France was ready to pool resources in times of budget constraints. "Tankers, A400s, naval units, but just to be clear not aircraft carriers, are areas where we can work toward pooling," he said.

The A400M is a European military project that is years later and billions over budget. Both nations have in the past contemplated cutting their orders but during their meeting the ministers indicated that the resource pooling would most likely affect servicing and training of personnel.

"As part of an ongoing dialogue the U.K. and France are looking at ways to maximize efficiency in areas such as maintenance, training and support," the Daily Telegraph quoted the British Ministry of Defense as saying.

Reports in the British press had said that Britain and France would announce in November a plan to share their aircraft carriers in a bid to retain firepower while cutting costs.

The move would allow Britain to downgrade or scrap altogether the second of two carriers the British navy has ordered, the reports said.

Britain next month is to unveil a major strategic defense review, with some analysts claiming that the defense budget will be cut by 20 percent over the next five years.

Britain is currently building two carriers for an estimated $8 billion, a price tag critics say is too high for a remnant of Cold War security strategies.

Built by a consortium including BAE Systems and Babcock International from Britain and France's Thales, the two British carriers, to be called HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, are to replace two aging carriers that these days are mostly in dock. Thousands of workers at six British shipyards are involved in the project, with roughly one-quarter of the work completed.

France operates the powerful Charles de Gaulle, a nuclear-powered vessel capable of launching fixed wing aircraft but it is alone in its class in the French fleet and often in port undergoing maintenance.

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