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Aircraft Carrier Programme

Volume 409: debated on Friday 18 July 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the estimated cost of the aircraft carrier programme. [126807]

Our estimate for the cost of the demonstration and manufacture contract is around £3 billion. These cost estimates will be further refined during the remainder of the Assessment Phase.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to use the Eurofighter Typhoon on the new aircraft carriers. [126808]

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer my right hon. Friend, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces gave on 20 May 2003 Official Report, column 678W.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what the (a) tactical and (b) strategic implications are of building two aircraft carriers each with a capability of carrying 20 aircraft instead of the 48 originally specified; [126969](2) what the implications would be for UK plans to acquire the future Joint Strike Fighter, if the specifications of the two projected fleet aircraft carriers are downgraded; [126974](3) what changes he estimates to the in-service dates of

(a) the first and (b) the second future fleet aircraft carrier, if the projected cost of the ships rises to £4 billion. [126977]

The Ministry of Defence is not considering any proposals to build two Future Aircraft Carriers capable of carrying only 20 aircraft.The Future Aircraft Carrier programme is currently midway through its Assessment Phase. This phase is intended to reduce risk in emerging design solutions and balance the key parameters of performance, time and cost in order to best meet our developing capability requirements, both in terms of the ships themselves and in the aircraft they will operate. The current forecast cost estimate for the Demonstration and Manufacture (D&M) contract is around £3 billion. Our target In-Service Dates for the two carriers remain 2012 and 2015 respectively and these will be confirmed prior to the award of the D&M contract, currently planned for Spring 2004.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) if he will make it his policy to rule out the acquisition of smaller aircraft carriers than the two fleet aircraft carriers originally specified; [126970](2) what plans he has to ensure that the two projected fleet aircraft carriers are built in accordance with their original specifications. [126981]

In the Strategic Defence Review published in 1998, it was envisaged that the two new Future Aircraft Carriers would be in the order of 30,000-40,000 tonnes and be capable of carrying up to 50 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The intention, as with any other new equipment project, has always been to refine the design during the assessment phase in order to best meet our developing capability requirements. The Carrier programme is currently midway through this assessment phase. The key specifications will be determined in capability terms prior to the award of the demonstration and manufacture contract, currently planned for Spring 2004.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) if he plans to rescind the awarding of the construction contract for the two fleet aircraft carriers to BAE Systems following that firm's altered estimate of the costs of the project; [126971](2) whether he plans to bring the design and construction of the two projected fleet aircraft carriers under the control of a single company; [126976](3) what mechanism he put in place to ensure that BAE Systems' construction project conformed to Thales' design project for the two fleet aircraft carriers. [126983]

The Future Aircraft Carrier (CVF) programme is currently in its assessment phase and we have not yet placed a contract for the construction of the vessels. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced on 30 January 2003, the best means of delivering the carrier programme is via an alliance approach involving BAe Systems as preferred prime contractor with responsibility for project and shipbuilding management, Thales UK as key supplier of the whole ship design, and the Ministry of Defence. That remains our view. Subject to reaching a satisfactory outcome to the final stage of the assessment phase and to contractual negotiations, we plan to reach the final investment decision for award of the Demonstration and Manufacture contract in spring 2004.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what adjustments he will make to the (a) overall defence budget and (b) proportion of the defence budget allocated to the Royal Navy following the altered estimate of the costs of the future fleet aircraft carrier project. [126972]

The 2002 Spending Review set out defence spending plans for 2003–04 to 2005–06. Every year the Ministry of Defence re-examines its programme to ensure that it delivers the required military capability in the most cost-effective way. The equipment programme is constructed on a capability, not single Service, basis.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to maintain existing plans for (a) the construction of new and (b) the maintaining in service of existing Royal Navy warships of other classes, following the altered estimate of the costs of the future fleet aircraft carrier project. [126973]

The Future Aircraft Carrier (CVF) programme is currently midway through its assessment phase. This phase is being used to refine the design specifications in order to best meet our developing capability requirements. No decisions have yet been reached on the final costs of the project.Our plans for the construction of new, and the maintaining in service of existing, Royal Navy Warships of other classes are based on how to deliver capability requirements in the most cost effective manner across the full Defence programme. There is no direct linkage to the costs of the CVF project.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what assessment he has made of the accuracy of BAe Systems' revised estimate of the cost of the two future fleet aircraft carriers; [126975](2) what explanation he has received from BAE Systems for the revision of the estimated cost of two fleet aircraft carriers. [126982]

The CVF Programme is still in the Assessment Phase, which is intended to reduce risk in emerging design solutions and balance the key parameters of performance, time and cost. Our cost estimates will be further refined during the remainder of the Assessment Phase to take into account maturing design and price information from BAE Systems and Thales UK.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the future viability in service of (a) HMS Ark Royal, (b) HMS Illustrious and (c) HMS Invincible. [126978]

The Royal Navy Invincible Class carriers (CVS) are currently scheduled to remain in service until replaced by the newer, larger and more capable carriers (CVF) in the first half of the next decade.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to scrap additional Royal Navy ships to enable the budget for the two future fleet aircraft carriers to be increased. [126979]

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the role of the two projected fleet aircraft carriers in a future expeditionary strategy. [126980]

The Future Aircraft Carriers, CVF, will have the primary role of providing the United Kingdom with a flexible expeditionary offensive air capability. It is intended that CVF will operate the STOVL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control (MASC) capability and other rotary wing aircraft from all three services in a variety of roles.With the increasing likelihood of future operations being conducted by forces far from home bases and without the guarantee of host nation support, CVF will form a major element of our Joint Rapid Reaction Forces. It will be able to operate world-wide and contribute to a full scope of military tasks, either as part of a national or multinational task force.It is planned that CVF will be available continuously at high readiness and be capable of rapid deployment over extended periods in order to maximise the potential to influence the early stages of a developing crisis.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what meetings he has had with French (a) ministers and (b) officials to discuss the CVF programme; whether the CVF contractors have been asked by his Department to prepare carrier designs smaller than 50,000 tonnes; and if he will make a statement. [125599]

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the other Defence Ministers routinely meet with their French opposite numbers and the United Kingdom's Future Aircraft Carrier programme has frequently been discussed in that context. There is a high level steering group which helps to facilitate UK French co-operation and, in addition, there have been regular meetings on the subject both between project officials from the UK's Defence Procurement Agency and their equivalents in the DGA and on a navy-to-navy basis. These meetings have identified several areas for potential co-operation.The CVF project is currently in the Assessment Phase which is designed to balance performance, cost and time considerations and to maximise cost effectiveness and value for money for the capability required. Nothing will be fixed until the investment decision is taken next year and the award of the Demonstration and Manufacture contract in Spring 2004 as originally planned.