The Ministry of Defence dismisses as “speculation” a report Britain and France could share their naval aircraft carriers in a bid to maintain military strength in the face of planned cost-cuts.
Britain and France are understood to be in talks over the potential money-saving pact, according to a report in The Times. The Ministry of Defence described the report as “pure speculation” ahead of the outcome of the Strategic Defence and Security review, expected next month.
Under the potential plans, British and French aircraft carriers would work together to defend both nations. The strategy would ensure that one of three ships – two French and one British – was always on duty at sea.
The plan would also include provisos in case a uniquely British interest was threatened, such as the Falkland Islands, when the French ship was on duty.
It is thought that Defence Secretary Liam Fox may raise the idea with his French counterparts in talks in Paris on Friday this week.
All types of co-operation are understood to be “on the table” to cope with cost-cutting across the armed forces, including for the Royal Navy.
A deal could be announced in November by Prime Minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The Times quoted a Whitehall 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.”If a move of this type goes ahead, it would make it easier for the UK to scrap or downgrade one of the two replacement carriers currently being built, at a cost of £5.2bn.
Chancellor George Osborne has already made it clear that the armed forces will not escape cuts as he attempts to tackle Britain’s vast budget deficit. The Ministry of Defence is already facing problems over paying for the renewal of the nuclear deterrent Trident programme out of its own budget. As such, money-saving ideas are critical.
An MoD spokesman said: “The defence secretary 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.”
Aircraft carrier programme must be smaller
In the face of current financial constraints and the carrier/Trident issue, though, there is every sign that the forthcoming defence review will be very limited in its remit, and therefore fundamentally inadequate, defence expert Professor Paul Rogers wrote for Channel 4 News.
• the review should be inter-departmental and overseen at Cabinet Office level
• it should be wide-ranging and able to develop integrated policy on broadly-based global security issues, such as climate change, economic marginalisation and conflict-prevention
• it will not be able to do this effectively, unless the carrier/F-35 programme is cancelled and replaced with a smaller and much more versatile option, and the Trident force and its replacement are substantially scaled down
• each constrains an effective and far-sighted review – together they make a genuine review well-nigh impossible.