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April 12, 2002

French firm's strategy to build next British carriers
A group led by French defense contractorThales (the one-time Thomson-CSF) yesterday announced its strategy for the shipbuilding phase of the UK MoD's future carrier (CVF) program. 

This program heralds a new era of British military capability, provided by the two new 50,000 tonnes aircraft carriers that will each operate up to 50 aircraft. 

Thales as the potential Prime Contractor, is leading a strong team that includes as principal partners:

  • Devonport Management Ltd, which will provide commissioning, through life support and ship procurement expertise,
  • Lockheed Martin, which, following the award of the JSF program and its selection as combat system integrator for the next-generation of US aircraft carrier CVN77, will bring this experience to the team,
  • Alstom Naval Systems of Rugby, which will provide the propulsion and power systems based on solutions already proven in service.
  • Other partners in the team are BMT Defence Services and Raytheon. 

The Thales team is competing against BAE Systems.

Thales says it will ensure that experience gained on large carrier programs in the U.S. and France will be incorporated into CVF.

Thales itself has expertise in prime contracts, systems integration, avionics and air traffic management.

With the Thales team strategy the carriers will be built in five separate sections called SUPERBLOCKS(tm), individually larger than a U.K.Type 45 Destroyer. 

Each is designed to be as self contained as possible, and contiguous with the ship's damage control sections in order to minimize interconnections. 

As each SUPERBLOCK will be fully outfitted, says Thales, a "virtual ship" will be created that can be hooked-up to its adjacent partners to form the complete ship within a couple of months in dry-dock.  This process will be co-ordinated by the Thales team member Halliburton KBR.

Thales says it has carried out extensive studies to show the best way to provide the necessary facilities and resources to design and build these two large ships, along with guaranteeing the delivery dates of 2012 and 2015 required by MoD. 

Britain's shipbuilders will compete to build the SUPERBLOCKS. 

"Clearly," says Thales, " the shipyards will optimise their chances of winning by competing for SUPERBLOCKS that match their own facilities, competencies and cost structures." 

Yards in Thales' baseline strategy plans include Swan Hunter of Newcastle, BAE SYSTEMS Marine in Glasgow, Harland and Wolff of Belfast and Vosper Thornycroft of Portsmouth. 

Harland and Wolff as well as Swan Hunter have engineers contributing to the design concept in Thales' new prime contracting office in Bristol.  To optimize costs, each competing shipbuilder will provide the same segment for the two ships.  The final work-up and commissioning is planned at Devonport Management Limited in Plymouth.

CEO of Thales Plc, Alex Dorrian, commented: "Thales is adapting the expertise from Halliburton KBR's well proven commercial and offshore processes and applying it, for the first time, to the large scale construction of warships.  The new skills and ship construction techniques incorporated into Thales team, will move naval ship construction into a new era, creating an efficient and capable industry that can compete in the world marketplace."

Jaap Kroese, Chairman of Swan Hunter, said: "I am delighted to be contributing the expertise gained on the Alternative Landing Ship Logistics to the design and construction planning of the Thales team.  Swan Hunter is investing in training, steel fabrication and dry dock facilities and will be well placed to win the equivalent of at least one ship."

Harland and Wolff Sales Director, Brian McGrath said: "Harland and Wolff is delighted to join with Thales and the other team members to offer a shipbuilding strategy that will bring benefits to many areas of the United Kingdom. We look forward to playing a full role in the Thales' team baseline strategy for both the design and assembly of these unique vessels."

SUPERBLOCK is a registered Trade Mark.

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