Thousands of sorely needed jobs would come to several stricken British yards if Thales, the French-owned defence group, wins the £2.5bn contract to build two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy. Announcing their strategy to win the contract, Thales executives said that yards such as Belfast's Harland & Wolff, Swan Hunter on the Tyne, BAE System's Govan, Vosper Thornycroft's Southampton and the semi-deserted Nigg on the Cromarty Firth would compete with each other to build sections or “superblocks" of the 50,000-tonne vessels.
The two new 290m-long aircraft carriers will be more than double the 20,000-tonne Invincible-class carriers now in service. Thales Naval managing director Peter Robertson said that no British yard had the resources and skills to build the ships and deliver them on time in 2012 and 2015 respectively. The Ministry of Defence has decreed that to drive down costs each part of the carriers should be subject to competitive bids. Under the Thales-led consortium's plans, selected yards would build one or more of up to five "superblocks" for each ship which would be hooked up to form the final ship at one of them. These would displace between 5,000 and 16,000 tonnes, bigger than the new Type 45 destroyers that would defend the carriers.
Thales said 100% of jobs and design work associated with the ships would be British. It is drawing on government support for a viable competitor to BAE for defence contracts to buttress its bid and dismisses suggestions it will lose out because it is French-owned.