The defence ministers of France and the UK have signed an agreement outlining their joint desire to "explore opportunities for mutual benefit through industry-to-industry co-operation" on the countries' next- generation aircraft carrier projects.

Michele Alliot-Marie and Geoff Hoon signed the pact during a 9 June ceremony aboard the French navy's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. France plans to field a conventionally powered sister ship for the vessel from 2015, while the UK wants its two Future Aircraft Carriers (CVF) to replace its current Invincible-class ships in 2012 and 2015.

Possible synergies between the French and UK projects had led to earlier talk of a possible collaboration, but industry sources close to the BAE Systems/Thales team negotiating a CVF contract with the UK Ministry of Defence stress any co-operation will be at a subsystem level. While similar in size, the vessels will deploy different air wings, with France flying Dassault's Rafale M and the UK the short take-off and vertical landing Lockheed Martin F-35BJoint Strike Fighter.

France's state-owned shipbuilder DCN and Thales also last week announced plans to establish a joint company to lead France's future aircraft carrier project, if they are awarded the contract by the French government. DCN will hold a 65% stake and Thales 35%, which the latter says "about reflects the workshare on an aircraft carrier, which carries much less electronics than a frigate". In addition to serving as an integrated prime contract office, the joint venture will also be able to assist in any potential co-operation between France and the UK.



Source: Flight International