The Associated Press August 31, 2010, 8:05AM ET

Report: UK, France closer to carrier sharing deal

Britain and France are moving closer to a deal to share aircraft carriers, a British newspaper reported Tuesday -- a move that could save the one-time rivals money in an age of austerity.

The possibility of pooling carriers has been suggested before, but The Times of London claimed that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron were due to outline the proposal during a planned November summit.

The newspaper cited unidentified navy and government sources.

A spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defense dismissed the report as speculation, while a French defense official said that discussions were still in their early stages.

However, the French official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military policy, acknowledged that the countries' common strategic interests and near-"catastrophic" budget situations were driving them to work closer together.

Leaders of both countries have emphasized that cooperation will be key during the financial crunch. In a speech to foreign ambassadors Wednesday, Sarkozy said that France was "ready to engage on serious projects."

"I've heard statements from our British allies about bilateral cooperation with France," he said. "We'll speak with them, setting aside taboos, and we'll take important decisions during the next Franco-British summit in November."

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox is expected in France on Friday.

His department is undergoing a strategic review that could include deep cuts to its armed services. A deal with France might help justify scrapping one of Britain's two replacement carriers, being built at a cost of more than 5 billion pounds ($8 billion.)

A sharing plan would reportedly see the two countries coordinate on the deployment of their carriers so that at least one ship would be at sea at any one time. At the moment, there are times when both of Britain's carriers, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious, are in dock.

But it's unclear if such cooperation would result in British aircraft being based on a French carrier or vice versa.

The Times said advanced jets envisioned for the prospective new British ships would not be able to use France's carrier, the Charles de Gaulle. The paper also said that both carriers would always remain under their respective militaries' chain of command.

Reports of a possible British-French naval tie-up have been circulating for years, but they tend to get attention in Britain, a nation whose proud navy once ruled the seas -- and often traded canon-shot with the French.

The victory of Adm. Horatio Nelson over Napoleon's fleet in the 1805 battle of Trafalgar is still celebrated as one of the nation's greatest triumphs.

In an article for The Times, London School of Economics researcher Gwyn Prins said sharing ships wouldn't work.

"The French have always had different priorities," he said. "Ask Nelson."

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Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.


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