THE future of Scottish shipbuilding is at risk politicians have claimed, after it was revealed there may be a delay in building the Royal Navy's two massive new aircraft carriers.
A hold up could mean thousands of job losses in Fife, while union officials fear that the new golden age on the Clyde may end before it begins.
The government has promised the bulk of the work on the 3.5 billion carriers to yards on the Clyde, Rosyth, Southampton and Barrow-in-Furness.
BAE Systems would build gigantic self-contained "blocks" on the Clyde and Barrow, while Babcock at Rosyth would assemble the finished vessels.
It was understood the first carrier would be in service by 2012 and the second by 2015.
But it emerged yesterday that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is no longer fully committed to that time scale.
Addressing the House of Commons defence committee, Lord Drayson, the defence procurement minister, told MPs he did not want to be held down to those dates.
And he added that the "main gate" stage - the signing of contracts - would probably not be by the end of this year, as was planned.
The news was greeted with dismay in Scotland.
Bruce Crawford, the SNP MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, said: "The effect on Rosyth may be devastating, placing thousands of jobs at risk. Rosyth has already lost 1,599 jobs and they desperately need this work to fill their order book gap.
"This is bad news which could be a body blow to the economy of the Fife and the east of Scotland."
On the Clyde, Jim Moohan, the secretary of the Scottish shipbuilding and engineering unions, said: "Winning contracts for the Type-45 destroyers on the Clyde brought a certain stability.
"The super-carriers were for the golden age - stability and jobs for a generation and the way into the commercial market.
"Anything that affects that badly affects the industry."
Lord Drayson is due to address the trade unions' maritime forum in London today and he is certain to be given a rough ride by officials.
Bernie Hamilton, the Scottish regional officer for Amicus, said: "I will certainly raise the issue. We have said all along that the industry was wrecked by peaks and troughs.
"The vital thing is the timing of orders. I'm very concerned and disappointed by this news."
A spokesman for BAE Systems in Glasgow admitted that any delay would force the company to "re-look at its forward planning".
The spokesman added: "We need to be conscious of the skills we can't afford to lose. We need to secure long-term working on the Clyde and delays are not ideal."