UK mum on navy merger with France

2010-08-31 10:37

London - The Ministry of Defence in London declined to discuss a report on Tuesday that Britain and France could share their aircraft carrier capability, calling it early "speculation".

The Times newspaper claimed that Britain and France were preparing to share the use of their biggest warships.

Its front-page story, citing government department sources, said the plan was designed to maintain military might at sea while cutting costs.

The arrangement would ensure that one of three ships, two British and one French, would always be on duty patrolling the seas.

The Times suggested that the proposal could be officially unveiled by British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a meeting in November.

Special protocols would be drawn up to make clear what should happen if a uniquely British interest such as the Falkland Islands comes under threat when the French navy is in charge, the report said.

Slashing spending

Britain's new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government is committed to slashing the country's spending in a bid to reduce its debts.

The armed forces are under pressure to cut costs too in the defence review due to come out in October.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: "The defence secretary (Liam Fox) has made clear that tough decisions will need to be made but the complex process of a Strategic Defence and Security Review will be concluded in the autumn.

"Speculation at this stage about its outcome is entirely unfounded."

Britain currently has two aircraft carriers in operation, though there are times when both HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious are in dock.

If confirmed, the reported move could make it easier for Britain to cancel or downgrade one of the two replacement aircraft carriers being built at a cost of $8bn.

The Times quoted its source as saying: "Liam has made it clear that we want more co-operation as we have to face up to the world we are living in.

"The advantage is that if we are going to have one carrier, then at least we can project our power on the sea even if we go down to a single carrier."