Naval Air: December 8, 1999


: Britain's Royal Navy has issued two $9.5 million contracts for the design of new aircraft carriers. The teams (British Aerospace and its new merger partner Marconi, vs Thomson-CSF) will study three possible designs: short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR), short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL), and conventional take-off and landing (CTOL, presumably with catapults and possibly with a ski jump). Sometime next year, based partly on these studies, the British will pick their new carrier aircraft. This could be the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-18E Super Hornet, the naval version of the French Rafale fighter, an advanced Harrier, or a navalized version of the Eurofighter Typhoon. At that point, the two teams will receive $38 million contracts for detailed carrier designs based on the selected aircraft. These designs will be completed by 2003 with both teams submitting bids. Contracts would then be signed in 2004 for the two ships, which are to enter service in 2012 and 2015. The ships will displace 40,000 tons and will be 300m long, far smaller than the supercarrier Nimitz. The British have said they will consider a joint program with France, but that they will not tolerate French delays like those that killed the Horizon frigate program. -Stephen V Cole


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