Friday, 16 February 2007

The Royal Navy's new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers (pictured) will be the largest warships in Western Europe and will be only slightly smaller than America's Nimitz Class. The Royal Navy is to get at least two new ones by around 2012. They are very much similar to France's - the French Navy is planning on getting one, unless Segolene Royal has her way. France already has only one aircraft carrier (which causes problems when it is out of action - or if it sinks), compared to the Royal Navy's four (including helicopter carrier HMS Ocean which is even bigger than the other three aircraft carriers).

Plans to build a second aircraft-carrier for the navy were at the heart of France's presidential election campaign Friday after Socialist candidate Segolene Royal said she would scrap the vessel in order to invest in education.

Royal told a meeting in the northern port of Dunkirk on Thursday evening that money needed for schools would come from abandonment of the carrier programme, which is currently in its development phase ahead of a planned launch date in 2014.

Her proposal drew a sharp response from the ruling centre-right, whose presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy said it was a "curious idea to tell the French that you have to choose between educating your children and assuring your security."

"If there are economies to be made, I would make them elsewhere," he said.

Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said it was "irresponsible and misleading" to call for the new carrier to be scrapped.

A second vessel to complement France's existing aircraft-carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is necessary "in order to guarantee France's capacity to intervene with strike aircraft at any time and any place in the world," she said.

Currently the country's capacity is put on hold every time the Charles de Gaulle spends time in dock for maintenance, she said (Britain has four carriers - Invincible, Illustrious, Ark Royal and Ocean).

As an economy measure France and Britain are working together on carrier design, with Britain - whose military strength has traditionally been in its navy - planning to build two ships to France's one.