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U.K. contracts bolster faith in carriers

LONDON, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Britain's Aircraft Carrier Alliance has awarded a rash of contracts worth $543 million to companies across the United Kingdom to build the country's next-generation aircraft carriers.

The decision signaled the Ministry of Defense's commitment to the troubled project.

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The new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers are described as the largest and most powerful warships ever to be designed in Britain. But designs to build them have been dogged by delays and a revised cost schedule still awaits approval of the country's Treasury.

The five subcontracts awarded by A.C.A. have gone to suppliers for equipment "to be installed on the ships and services for their assembly," a statement from the U.K Ministry of Defense said.

The subcontracts, the statement added, "brings the total value of contracts on the program to almost $1.8 billion."

The biggest subcontracts were secured by Imtech Marine and Offshore in Billingham for a $196 million order for state-of-the-art heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and Ship Support Services based near Rosyth for a $171 million in supplies of paint and scaffolding for the carriers' building process.

In addition, the Glasgow-based Henry Abrams firm was awarded a $139 million subcontract to transport sections of the carriers while Tyco clinched a $24 million deal for fixed-fire fighting cables.

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The super-carriers are to have three times the displacement of the Royal Navy's current fleet of Invincible Class ships. Of them, the first is set to become operational in 2016.

"This news should reassure those who doubt this government's commitment to the program," said Quentin Davies, minister for defense equipment and support. "These subcontracts will contribute to thousands of jobs throughout the supply chain in addition to the thousands of jobs at the main shipyards that are building the ships," he added.

A report in the Guardian newspaper earlier this month suggested that the new carriers were under threat as the United Kingdom looked unlikely to afford their construction.

Similarly, an independent report by the Royal United Services Institute said the country's Armed Forces could shrink by a fifth in the next six years as the government moves to slash the state's soaring budget deficit as the cost of existing defense commitments mount.

"The A.C.A. has achieved many substantial milestones in the last 12 months, including the commencing of work on the building of HMS Queen Elizabeth in four U.K. Shipyards and completing the work on the huge number of Number One Dock in Rosyth where the ships will finally be assembled," A.C.A Program Director Geoff Searle said in a Ministry of Defense statement.

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"Continuing this level of momentum is essential and the signing of these contracts is testimony that it will continue through 2010 and beyond."

The project was initially estimated to cost $6.37 billion but is now forecast to nearly double, military experts were quoted as predicting in local media.

Each ship is designed to have a capacity for 40 aircraft on board and range of 8,000 to 10,000 nautical miles.

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