The Ministry of Defence has announced it is ready to go-ahead with a contract for two new future aircraft carriers (CVF). VT and BAE Systems will now finalise the arrangements for a joint venture, which will help build the carriers.

The carriers, to be named HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, will be the biggest and most powerful surface warships ever constructed in the UK. Once they enter service in 2014 and 2016 respectively they are expected to remain in the fleet for up to fifty years.

Defence secretary Des Browne said: ‘The two aircraft carriers will provide our front line forces with the modern, world-class capabilities they will need over the coming decades. They will support peace-keeping and conflict prevention as well as our strategic operational priorities.’

The joint venture will combine the shipbuilding and naval support business and follows a framework agreement signed by VT and BAE Systems in July 2007.

BAE Systems chief executive Mike Turner said: ‘This is an important milestone in the development of the CVF programme and plays a major part in the long term sustainability of the UK naval sector and the transformation of our business. The programme will provide a strong order book and forward workload over the coming years and, most importantly will provide our armed forces with significantly enhanced capability.’

Commenting on the MoD announcement Alex Dorrian, CEO at Thales UK, added: ‘This means that the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, of which Thales UK is a founder partner, can very soon begin construction of these ships on a sound commercial footing. Thales UK will also lead the aviation team responsible for ensuring the integrity of the ship with respect to aviation operations.’

The work on the carriers will create and sustain 10,000 jobs across the UK at the peak of its production.