Works Starts On Second Aircraft Carrier

Defence Secretary Liam Fox has hailed the future of the UK's defence capabilities as he cut the first steel for a new aircraft carrier.

Parts of the HMS Prince of Wales - the second of the new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers - were cut in a ceremony at the BAE Systems shipyard in Govan, Glasgow on Thursday May 26th 2011.

Dr Fox started the computer-guided laser to cut the first piece of hull for the 65,000-tonne ship - the largest to be built for the Royal Navy.

He also met members of the workforce as he was given a tour of the facility.

Dr Fox said the new carriers marked a ''step change'' in the UK's strike capability.

He said: ''We are committed to delivering this next generation of powerful British aircraft carriers that will mark a step change in our carrier strike capability and form the cornerstone of the Royal Navy's future force 2020.

''This major construction project is creating and sustaining thousands of jobs in shipyards around the country.''

The 280-metre vessel, along with its sister HMS Queen Elizabeth, survived last autumn's defence review despite massive cuts elsewhere in the Ministry of Defence budget.

The new carriers are being built by an alliance of BAE, Babcock, Thales UK and the Ministry of Defence, and will give the Royal Navy a four-acre military operating base which can be deployed worldwide.

Both will have nine decks, plus a flight deck the size of three football pitches.

Each carrier will have two propellers weighing 33 tonnes - nearly two and half times as heavy as a double decker bus - producing a maximum speed of more than 25 knots.

Both vessels will be converted to accommodate Joint Strike Fighter jets. The HMS Prince of Wales is expected to be operational from 2020.

Second Sea Lord Vice-Admiral Charles Montgomery, who also attended the steel cutting ceremony, said:

''The Queen Elizabeth Class will provide Britain with the means to deliver air power from the sea, wherever and whenever required, and in a stronger and more decisive form than ever before.

''In addition they will be able to undertake a wide range of tasks, including support to peacekeeping operations and delivery of humanitarian aid in times of crisis. They will undoubtedly prove a tremendous asset both to the Royal Navy and to the UK as a whole.''

Major sections of HMS Prince of Wales will be constructed at six shipyards around the UK and then transported to Rosyth dockyard in Fife, where the two ships will be assembled. Construction of the HMS Queen Elizabeth is already under way with components being brought together to be assembled using a 223ft crane.

Completion of the first ship is expected towards the end of the decade. They will both be based in Portsmouth.

In April, official sources confirmed the final cost of the Royal Navy's two new aircraft carriers will not be known until the end of next year, amid reports that it could rise by up to £2 billion.

Reports had suggested that building the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales could end up costing the taxpayer #7 billion, up from the £5.2 billion expected at the time of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

The SDSR last autumn cut a number of programmes and put back the launch date of the new carriers.

Earlier this week, former First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathon Band warned of ''potentially destructive'' capability gaps left by the loss of assets like the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and Harrier jump-jets in last October's SDSR.