Cameron: UK Will Operate 2 Aircraft Carriers

NEWPORT, WALES — The UK Royal Navy is to get a second operational aircraft carrier, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Friday as the two-day NATO summit came to an end.

Britain is building two 65,000-ton aircraft carriers in a £6.2 billion (US $10 billion) deal with a BAE Systems-led industry alliance, but the Conservative-led coalition had previously said it would mothball or sell the second warship due to the cost of operating two carriers.

The British government said it would reconsider the issue as part of the 2015 strategic defense and security review following next year’s general election.

Now though the decision has been brought forward 12 months, with Cameron saying the Royal Navy will operate the second warship, the Prince of Wales, when it is commissioned in 2020.

“The second carrier will be brought into service. It’s means the Royal Navy will be able deploy a carrier 100 percent of the time,” Cameron said.

While the move would give Britain two operational aircraft carriers, there is a question about the number of F-35B short-takeoff-vertical-landing aircraft that would go on them. An order for the first 14 aircraft set to be operated by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force is still awaited.

A Defence Ministry spokeswoman declined to say when the deal would be completed but did confirm it was still the intention to receive the first operational aircraft in 2016.

The first of class, Queen Elizabeth, was launched on July 4 and is now being fitted out ahead of commissioning in 2017 and achieving the initial operating capability in 2020.

The decision to operate Prince of Wales is the second policy reverse by the government on the carrier program since it came to office in 2010.

As part of the 2010 strategic defense and security review, the government decided to ditch the F-35B variant and instead purchase the F-35C carrier version of the Lockheed Martin strike jet.

It later reverted to the F-35B once the heavy cost of remodeling the carriers to launch the conventional aircraft were prohibitive.

The decision to operate the second carrier is the second capability hike announced by the British prime minister in the past few days.

On the eve of the summit, Cameron announced a £3.5 billion deal with General Dynamics UK to build a new generation of specialist armored vehicles for the British Army.

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