Invincible Class Aircraft Carrier

Invincible Class Aircraft Carrier

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Invincible Class Aircraft Carrier

With the demise of the CVA-01, the future looked bleak for fixed wing flying in the Royal Navy. There was still a requirement to fly anti-submarine helicopters though, and for a new class of ship to act as the command and control centre for a task force. Thus in 1966 - 67 a Naval Staff Requirement was issued with respect to a Command Cruiser that could fulfil that function, displace 12,500 tons (later to 17,500), carry six Sea King helicopters, the Sea Dart surface-to-air missile system and have a crew of around 1,000 personnel. As the Government of the day was not prepared to finance such a class of vessel as an aircraft carrier, the Navy came up with a number of euphemisms to hide the true nature of these vessels, such as calling them Through Deck Command Cruisers, and side elevation sketches showing a conventional profile. The first ship was ordered in 1973 (by which point the displacement had grown to 19,500 tons) and was given a name Invincible. A second ship ordered in 1976 (Illustrious) and a third in 1978 (Indomitable, later changed to Ark Royal). Invincible entered service in 1980 and reclassified aircraft carriers. The flight deck was 600 feet long, offset to port, and below this a hanger of 480 feet with two hydraulically operated lifts. The complement was set at nine sea King helicopters, but space was included to accept up to five Harrier VSTOL aircraft. The radar suite was to include Types 965, 992R, 1006 and 909. The propulsion, uniquely for this size of ship, consisted solely of gas turbines (Rolls Royce Marine Olympus). While the first of class was under construction changes were announced, which included the ordering of twenty-four Sea Harriers, to carry out the interceptor role, and would be equipped with the Ferranti Blue Fox monopulse radar, an integrated nav/attack system, provision for air-to-air missiles and a heads-up display. The inclusion of the Harrier presented a problem as normally, such aircraft use short take-off and landing which requires several hundred feet of deck, and this would restrict the helicopter operations. The solution was the inclusion of the ski-ramp at the end of the flight deck. The Falklands War of 1982 represented a major reversal of fortune for the Royal Navy with both Hermes and Invincible conducting operations throughout the campaign. While Hermes sailed for the UK at the end of the conflict, Illustrious remained and was finally relieved by her new sister ship, Invincible. As a result of the Falklands War, the ships were modified in the mid-to-late 1980s to take the Goalkeeper close-in weapons system and two single 20mm guns (30mm on Ark Royal), as well as extra chaff launchers, Type 2016 sonar, Type 996 radar and Sea Gnat decoys. The air groups received the new Sea King helicopter with the Searchwater radar to provide an airborne early warning capability. In the 1990s, the ships have been fitted with extra facilities to act as Joint Force Headquarters and have had the Sea Dart missile system removed to allow extra space for GR7 Harriers.

Names: Invincible, Illustrious, Ark Royal.

Invincible Class Aircraft Carrier - History

The three vessels have seen active service in a number of locations, including the South Atlantic during the Falklands War, the Adriatic during the Bosnian War, and in the Middle East for the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.

Invincible was decommissioned in 2005 and put in reserve in a low state of readiness. She was sold to a Turkish scrapyard in February 2011, and left Portsmouth under tow on 24 March 2011. Pursuant to the Strategic Defence and Security Review, 2010, Ark Royal followed, decommissioning on 13 March 2011. This left Illustrious as the sole remaining ship, serving as a helicopter carrier from 2011 to 2014 when it was decommissioned as well. After Invincible was decommissioned in 2005, and with the retiring of Illustrious in 2014, Royal Navy aircraft carrier usage has temporarily ceased. However, it will restart with the commissioning of the Royal Navy's new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, the first of which was launched in July 2014.

The Invincible class has its origins in a sketch design for a 6,000 ton, guided-missile armed, helicopter carrying escort cruiser intended as a complement to the much larger CVA-01-class fleet aircraft carrier. The cancellation of CVA-01 in 1966 meant that the smaller cruiser would now have to provide the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) taskforce with command and control facilities. Two new designs were prepared for this requirement a 12,500 ton cruiser with missiles forward, six Westland Sea King helicopters and a flight deck aft, somewhat similar to Vittorio Veneto of the Italian Navy and a larger 17,500 ton vessel with a "through-deck", nine Sea Kings and missiles right forward. By 1970, the "through-deck" design had advanced into a Naval Staff Requirement for an 18,750-ton Through-Deck Command Cruiser (TDCC).

In February 1963, the Hawker P.1127 VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft had landed and taken-off from the carrier Ark Royal and the subsequent Hawker-Siddeley Kestrel had undergone trials from the "Commando carrier" (an aircraft carrier operating helicopters) HMS Bulwark. It was therefore perfectly possible that the new "cruisers" could be used to operate VTOL aircraft. The new ships were called "through-deck cruisers" and not "aircraft carrier". This was in part because CVA-01's cancellation was so recent, but also because the ships were intended to serve in traditional cruiser roles of C3I and anti-submarine warfare, and were constructed like cruisers. The "aircraft carrier" name did not officially appear in association with the ships until the 1980 Defence Estimates referred to the Invincibles as such.

Economic problems in the UK in the early 1970s delayed progress on the new ships, but the design continued to evolve. The order for the first ship was given to Vickers (Shipbuilding) on 17 April 1973. By now, the design was for a 19,000 ton "CAH" (helicopter carrying heavy cruiser, styled after the US Navy hull classification symbols) with up to fourteen aircraft and a Sea Dart missile launcher on the bows.

The government decided that the carrier needed fixed-wing aircraft to defend against Soviet reconnaissance aircraft. In May 1975, it authorised the maritime version of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, which was successfully developed into the Sea Harrier. This meant that the design was reworked again to include a small complement of these VTOL aircraft. In order to launch a heavily-laden Harrier more efficiently by STOVL (short take-off vertical landing) from the comparatively short - 170-metre (560 ft) - flight deck, a 'ski-jump' was developed. The slope was initially 7° when incorporated into Invincible and Illustrious and 12° for Ark Royal. The class also has, since 1976, a secondary role as a helicopter carrier, or LPH, in the reinforcement of NATO's Northern flank in Norway. In 1998, HMS Ocean, with a hull form based on that of the Invincible class, was commissioned specifically for this role.

After the 1982 Falklands War, CIWS guns were added to the design. Illustrious had them fitted at the last minute before commissioning, Ark Royal had them added as a normal part of the building process, and Invincible had them fitted during her first overhaul after the Falklands. Initially, Invincible and Illustrious were fitted with two Vulcan Phalanx units these were replaced with three Goalkeeper systems. Ark Royal has the three Phalanx CIWS systems she was fitted with when built (she can be easily distinguished from her sisters by the Phalanx's distinctive white "R2-D2" radome). Electronic countermeasures are provided by a Thales jamming system and ECM system. Seagnat launchers provide for chaff or flare decoys. As part of upgrades during the mid-1990s, all three ships had the Sea Dart removed, with the forecastle filled in to increase the size of the flight deck.

Foreign interest:

In the mid-1970s, the Shah of Iran expressed interest in acquiring three Invincible-class ships and a fleet of twenty-five Sea Harriers to provide fleet defence. When the Iranian Navy could not provide sufficient personnel for manning the vessels and the Royal Navy began to lose interest in the project, the ship order was cancelled in 1976. A later proposal to buy four "Harrier-type" vessels was also discarded, as were later negotiations to buy the Sea Harrier.

The 1981 Defence White Paper and its planned reduction in the size of the carrier fleet saw Invincible marked as surplus to requirements, and the ship was offered for sale to the Royal Australian Navy in July 1981 as a replacement for the ageing aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne. The class had previously been considered and discarded as a potential replacement for the Australian ship, but the low GB£175 million (A$285 million) offer price and the already-constructed state of the vessel prompted the Australian government to announce in February 1982 their intention to accept the British offer. In Australian service, the ship would have been named HMAS Australia, and would operate as a helicopter carrier until a later decision on the acquisition of Sea Harriers was made. Invincible's service during the Falklands War showed that the White Paper's suggested reductions were flawed and both nations withdrew from the deal in July 1982.

Falklands War:

Prior to 1982, Invincible's air group consisted purely of Sea King HAS.5 anti-submarine helicopters and Sea Harrier FRS.1 aircraft. Typically, nine Sea Kings, and four or five Sea Harriers were embarked. This was due to the fact that the originally envisioned mission for the ships was to provide the heart of ASW hunter-killer groups in the North Atlantic during a war against the Soviet Union. In that context, the main weapon of the carrier would not be its fighter aircraft, but its ASW helicopters. The fighters were on board to shoot down the occasional Soviet maritime patrol aircraft nosing around the ship and its escorts.

The Falklands War changed that posture, since it proved that Britain needed to retain the capability to use carrier air power in its traditional role of power projection, both over land, and against enemy fleets. The Falklands War saw Invincible, and the larger and older HMS Hermes filled to capacity with both the Sea Harrier and the Royal Air Force Harrier GR3 ground attack variant of the aircraft, along with ASW helicopters. The RAF Harriers proved to be a temporary aberration at the time. However a permanent addition to the usual air group was made due to lessons learnt during the war: the Sea King AEW2A (airborne early warning) version. Illustrious carried the first examples of the type when it was rushed south in the aftermath of the Falklands War to relieve Invincible of its guard duty around the islands.

In the aftermath of the Falklands, the typical air group was three AEW Sea Kings, nine ASW Sea Kings and eight or nine Sea Harriers. Analysis of the Sea Harrier's performance during the war lead to the requirement for an upgrade, approval for which was granted in 1984. The Sea Harrier FA2 entered service in 1993 and deployed on Invincible to Bosnia in 1994. The FA2 featured the Blue Vixen radar which is described as one of the most advanced pulse Doppler radars in the world. The FA2 carried the AIM-120 AMRAAM. The final new build Sea Harrier FA2 was delivered on 18 January 1999. Other improvements were made to the class during the 1980s and early 1990s, in particular to increase of the ski jump angle on Invincible and Illustrious to match the 12° slope of Ark Royal.


In later years, three other changes were made. One was the removal of the Sea Dart system, creating an increased deck park for aircraft. The Sea Dart magazines were converted to increase air-to-surface weapons stowage, and new aircrew briefing facilities created under the extended flight deck, both to support the embarkation of RAF Harrier GR7s as a routine part of the air group. The ships were all fitted to handle Merlin helicopters as the Merlin HM1 replaced the Sea King HAS6 in the carrier-borne ASW role. Following the integration of the Harrier GR7, typical deployments included seven or eight of those aircraft, pushing the Merlin onto the carrier's accompanying Fort-class auxiliaries.

The last wartime deployments of the class saw them in their secondary LPH role, as it was officially judged that Sea Harriers could provide no useful role in the missions. During those deployments, the class embarked RAF Chinook helicopters, in lieu of their fixed-wing complement.

Invincible's last refit was in 2004.

Illustrious underwent a 16-month £40 million refit at Rosyth Dockyard during 2010 and 2011 in preparation for her new role as a helicopter carrier during the refit of HMS Ocean.

R 06 HMS Illustrious

USMC Harrier II's aboard HMS Illustrious - July 2007



Royal Army Air Corps Apache helicopter - July 2011

Royal Army Air Corps Apache helicopter - July 2011

Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA.2

Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA.2

Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA.2

Royal Air Force Harrier GR.7

Royal Air Force Harrier GR.7

Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA.2

Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA.2

Royal Air Force Harrier GR.7

Royal Air Force Harrier GR.7

Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA.2

HMS Illustrious is a light aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy and the second of three Invincible-class ships constructed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was the fifth warship and second aircraft carrier to bear the name Illustrious, and was affectionately known to her crew as "Lusty". In 1982, the conflict in the Falklands necessitated that Illustrious be completed and rushed south to join her sister ship HMS Invincible and the veteran carrier HMS Hermes. To this end, she was brought forward by three months for completion at Swan Hunter Shipyard, then commissioned on 20 June 1982 at sea en-route to Portsmouth Dockyard to take on board extra stores and crew. She arrived in the Falklands to relieve Invincible on 28 August 1982 in a steam past. Returning to the United Kingdom, she was not formally commissioned into the fleet until 20 March 1983. After the Falklands War, she was deployed on Operation Southern Watch in Iraq, then Operation Deny Flight in Bosnia during the 1990s and Operation Palliser in Sierra Leone in 2000. An extensive re-fit during 2002 prevented her from involvement in the 2003 Iraq War, but she was repaired in time to assist British citizens trapped by the 2006 Lebanon War.

Following the retirement of her fixed-wing British Aerospace Harrier II aircraft in 2010, Illustrious operated as one of two Royal Navy helicopter carriers. By 2014 she was the oldest ship in the Royal Navy's active fleet: (after 32 years' service) and will not be replaced until HMS Queen Elizabeth is commissioned in 2017. The UK Ministry of Defence announced on 10 September 2012 that once decommissioned, Illustrious would be preserved for the nation.


Illustrious, the second of the three Invincible-class aircraft carriers, was laid down at Swan Hunter on the River Tyne in 1976 and launched in 1978. As the ship neared the end of its fitting out period, the Falklands War broke out. As a consequence, work on Illustrious was greatly speeded up. The war was won before Illustrious could be finished, but she did perform a useful service in the aftermath. Until the RAF airfield on the Falkland Islands was repaired, air defence of the area was the responsibility of the Fleet Air Arm. After Hermes returned to the UK, Invincible remained on station in the South Atlantic until September 1982. To relieve Invincible, the newly completed Illustrious was rapidly deployed, with 809 Naval Air Squadron (Sea Harrier) and 814 Naval Air Squadron (Sea King) embarked. Additionally, a pair of Sea Kings from 824 Naval Air Squadron were attached to the air group, which had been converted to operate in the AEW role. So rapidly was Illustrious deployed that she was commissioned while at sea. Rear Admiral Derek Reffell commanded the relief task group from Illustrious during this period. After the RAF airfield was repaired, Illustrious returned to the UK for a full shakedown cruise and workup period, and was formally commissioned on 20 March 1983.

Operational history:

The ship saw no further action during the remainder of the 1980s, but continued to be a valuable asset for the Royal Navy in showing the flag and participating in exercises all around the world. During those years, the ship received several enhancements during refits, including a steeper ski-jump to enable the Harriers in the air wing to take-off with a larger payload. During an 'Extended Defect and Maintenance Period', numerous modifications were made to the ship including the removal of her Sea Dart missile defences at a cost of twelve million pounds. This allowed for extra deck space that enables her to carry up to 22 aircraft, including the Harrier GR7.

On 3 April 1986 she suffered a catastrophic gearbox failure which almost saw the end of the vessel's naval career. Just starting out on her "fly the flag" around the globe trip, at about 23:30 whilst reaching full engine revs, the oil vapour surrounding the gearbox exploded causing a fire lasting well over four hours. At one point the captain made preparations to abandon ship, but was then overruled by the fleet admiral who believed the ship could be saved. There was no loss of life or serious injury, but the trip was put off for several months whilst the ship was taken out of service for extensive repairs.

During the 1990s, the main task of the aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy was helping to maintain the no-fly zone over Bosnia during the war there. All three of the navy's carriers rotated through the area. In 1998 she operated in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch, the Anglo-Saudi-American enforcement of the no-fly-zone over Southern Iraq.

In 2000 she led Task Group 342.1, a naval task force comprising HM ships - Ocean, Argyll, Iron Duke, Chatham - and numerous Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships in Operation Palliser, which was aimed at restoring peace and stability to Sierra Leone.

A combat deployment for the ship took place in 2001. A large British exercise, Saif Sareea II took place in Oman in late 2001. During the exercise, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center took place. Illustrious remained in theatre while other elements of the task force returned to the United Kingdom. Illustrious had elements of the Royal Marines on board, ready for possible combat operations in Afghanistan. No deployment was made before Illustrious was relieved by Ocean in early 2002 and returned to Portsmouth after seven months at sea.

In mid-2003, the ship underwent a further refit at Rosyth Dockyard. This refit involved the total rebuild of the ski jump, the adding of better communications and reconfiguring the ship so that it can be more quickly switched between the light aircraft carrier and helicopter carrier roles. The refit should have enable her to carry on until 2014, when it was expected that the first of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers would come into service. Illustrious returned to Portsmouth following the completion of the refit in December 2004.

She was re-dedicated in 2005, and following the death of the ship's original sponsor Princess Margaret, her daughter Lady Sarah Chatto agreed to attend in a new role as "ship's friend".

Illustrious along with HMS Gloucester helped in the evacuation of British citizens from Beirut as a result of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon crisis. Later that year, as part of the Royal Navy's Remembrance Day activities, Illustrious sailed up the River Thames on Friday 10 November 2006. She was moored at Wood Wharf, a few hundred yards upriver from the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London, until Wednesday 15 November. Whilst there, the Falklands War commemorative events in 2007 were announced on board her.

Illustrious carried out two weeks of fixed wing flying serials exercises in the North Sea 20 miles (32 km) off Hartlepool in March 2007, during which seven GR9 Harriers from No. 4 Squadron RAF, Joint Force Harrier touched down on her flight-deck. Also during these exercises, seven of her crew had to be airlifted to hospital in Middlesbrough on 13 March suffering from fume inhalation and throat and eye irritation after an accident with chemicals in cleaning a junior ratings' toilet area. Illustrious sailed on to Portsmouth, where they rejoined her on leaving hospital. From 25 to 30 May 2007, after an exercise in the Baltic Sea, Illustrious was the first British aircraft carrier ever to visit Tallinn, Estonia. The visit provided rest for the ship's crew after the Baltic exercise, acted as a diplomatic visit, and also involved naval and air exercises with the Estonian Defence Forces.

Next, in July 2007, Illustrious took part in a US-led Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFX) off the eastern coast of the United States (for which she hosted 14 US Harrier jets and 200 US Marines) before returning to Portsmouth the following month.

The carrier set sail from Portsmouth on 21 January 2008 as head of the multi-national Task Group 328.01, under Operation Orion 08, which from January to May 2008 carried out exercises and diplomatic visits to twenty ports in the Mediterranean, Africa, the Middle East, and south-east Asia. However, on 23 January, whilst still off the coast of southern England, she sailed back to Portsmouth for repairs to a minor fault in a meat freezer. It was felt to be important to repair this before sailing to a warmer climate, and Navy spokesman Anton Hanney stated that flying in an emergency plumber whilst she was underway would be more expensive than turning back whilst Illustrious was still in the English Channel. She sailed back out at 1pm on 24 January[18] and made up the lost 24 hours. Her ports of call included Valletta, Malta 26-29 February 2008.

This 2008 assignment was filmed and shown on Channel 5 as the 6-part TV documentary Warship transmitted on Mondays from 19 May 2008. This documentary aimed to show life on board the now-aging carrier in much the same way that HMS Ark Royal was shown in the 1976 Sailor. Illustrious was commanded by Captain Steve Chick CBE BSc, who had also commanded HMS Chatham during the 2005 BBC documentary Shipmates.

By the end of July, she had returned to Portsmouth where she took part in the 2008 navy open-day. She proved to be popular with visitors and the queue to tour her was long. On board she displayed a life-size model of the F-35 Joint Combat Aircraft which will replace the Harriers then used by the ship. She was the only aircraft carrier to be part of the event, although the inactive Invincible was also visible to the public.

On 17 October she, along with HMS Cattistock, sailed into Liverpool where she was open to the public on Saturday 18 October. On 4 November she moored at Greenwich, arriving to take central part in the Royal Navy's remembrance week. The F-35 mock-up remained on deck.

On 7 May 2009 she returned to Greenwich to serve as the centre piece of the Royal Navy's celebration of a century of British naval aviation on board were examples of all the Navy's operational helicopters.

Beginning on 8 June, she took part in the exercise Loyal Arrow in northern Sweden. The exercise lasted until 16 June. On 17 June 2009, she arrived in Tallinn. On 27 June 2009 she was in the harbour of Oslo, Norway.

On 22 October 2009 she arrived at Liverpool for a six-day visit and moored at the cruise terminal. There was a fly past along The River Mersey on 23 October as part of its celebrations to mark that year’s centenary of naval aviation. Illustrious was open to members of the public on 25-26 October and left Liverpool on 27 October 2009.

As part of Strategic Defence and Security Review, and in addition to the axing of the Harrier force and Illustrious's sister ship Ark Royal, it was announced that a short study would be carried out to determine whether Illustrious or Ocean was the most viable helicopter platform. The decision was subsequently made to retain Ocean for the longer term. In May 2011 Illustrious was made operational after a £40 million refit, and she was handed back to the fleet after sea trials in late July 2011. She took over the helicopter carrier role while Ocean underwent a planned refit, due for completion by 2014 Illustrious was then be withdrawn from service. The Ministry of Defence also announced that Illustrious, as the last of the Invincible-class aircraft carriers, will be preserved as a memorial "in recognition of the service given by these ships in protecting the UK over the last 30 years".

In March 2012, Illustrious took part in Exercise 'Cold Response' with Bulwark, RFA Mounts Bay and other Royal Navy vessels. This was a NATO winter war games exercise being conducted in northern Norway, where she tested her capabilities as a helicopter carrier. Illustrious was awarded the Bambara Trophy, the trophy is given to a unit each year with the best flight safety record, during 'Cold Response'. Following 'Cold Response' she then took part in Exercise 'Joint Warrior' with vessels from Norway, the Netherlands and the United States and Cougar 12 in the Mediterranean. In May 2013, as part of the 70th Anniversary of The Battle of the Atlantic Commemorations, 'Illustrious' sailed up The River Thames and was moored at Greenwich where she was used as the venue for a charity reception in aid of the Royal Navy's Aviation Heritage.

She was deployed as part of Exercise COUGAR 13 during the autumn of 2013 along with HMS Bulwark, HMS Westminster, HMS Montrose and 6 RFA vessels. She was diverted away from the COUGAR 13 task group in December 2013 to assist in Typhoon Haiyan disaster relief efforts in the Philippines and eventually returned to Portsmouth on 10 January 2014.

Illustrious was briefly berthed at Rosyth in the first week of July 2014, in a dock adjacent to HMS Queen Elizabeth, for the naming ceremony of Queen Elizabeth on 4 July 2014 she left Rosyth the following day. She arrived back at HMNB Portsmouth on 22 July at the end of active service. She was decommissioned at HMNB Portsmouth on 28 August 2014. The Royal Navy hopes to preserve the ship, and in August 2014 it was reported that Kingston upon Hull and two other cities had submitted bids for her.

HMS Illustrious (R06)

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 09/26/2016 | Content © | The following text is exclusive to this site.

During World War 2 (1939-1945), the aircraft carrier became the new symbol of power concerning high seas warfare. The United Kingdom joined other world powers - in particular the United States and Japan - in fielding a sizeable carrier force during the war and the ship type was largely responsible for early Japanese successes and the Allies' resounding triumphs during the Pacific Campaign. This war record officially put an end to the reign of the "big-gunned" capital ships in naval history. In the ensuing decades, the Royal Navy ultimately reduced its carrier force and lost much of its fixed-wing launch capabilities amidst budget constraints and a changing political landscape. The promising "CVA-01" initiative was to begin a new generation of British carriers in an effort to replace earlier, aging types that had been constructed even prior to the War. With two vessels planned, this initiative was ultimately scrapped in the 1966 Defence White Paper review.

In 1967, a new endeavor was put forth calling for a "command cruiser" vessel in the 12,500 ton displacement range. Instead of fixed-wing capabilities - which often required a large ship and proved expensive to construct and maintain - this vessel class would be used to support helicopter launching and retrieval (rotary-wing systems). As many as six "Sea King" Navy helicopters would be utilized simultaneously along a flight deck. The base design then increased in scope and a "through-deck" carrier arrangement was selected which increased displacement to 19,500 tons. The through-deck name helped to ensure that the design would go forward within the political sphere - "aircraft carrier" carrying with it the negative connotation of big and expensive. The greater displacement and dimensions would also allow provision for supporting the navalized form of the BAe "Harrier" Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) strike fighter (known as the "Sea Harrier"). The new ship class was named the Invincible-class and would constitute three vessels led by HMS Invincible and followed by HMS Illustrious and HMS Indomitable.

With HMS Invincible laid down during July of 1973, HMS Illustrious followed when ordered during May of 1976. The third of the class followed in December of 1978 and public pressure forced her to be renamed to HMS Ark Royal. The vessels were commissioned July 1980, July 1982 and November 1985 respectively and, despite their "command cruiser" categorization, these vessels were light aircraft carriers through-and-through.

The straight flight deck characterized the group with the lane set over the portside of the hull. At the bow was a ski jump lifting device installed to assist the fixed-wing VTOL Harrier jets during launching (this structure sat over the portside of the bow section). Helicopter launch areas were also positioned to this side as the island superstructure was arranged to starboard. Several elevators serviced the flight deck and hangar decks below. The complete crew complement numbered 685 with a further 366 serving in the air wing (as part of the Fleet Air Arm - FAA).

Dimensionally the completed vessel exhibited a length of 677 feet, a beam of 90 feet and a draught of 24 feet. Displacement was 19,500 tons. Her machinery included 4 x Rolls-Royce Olympus TN1313 gas turbines with 8 x Paxman "Valenta" diesel generators developing a combined 112,000 shaft horsepower to 4 x shafts. Maximum speed in ideal conditions could reach 28 knots with ranges out to 5,000 nautical miles. At the time of her commissioning, Illustrious and her group marked the largest vessels to be powered solely by gas turbines - others being typically powered through nuclear means.

Because of the design nature of aircraft carriers in general, onboard armament beyond the air wing was largely defensive. Illustrious' long range reach was through a twin launcher firing the "Sea Dart" surface-to-air missile system. Twenty-two reloads were carried. Close-in defense was through 2 x 20mm Phalanx CIWS installations fore and aft. These were eventually replaced by the "Goalkeeper" system. A pair of single-barreled 20mm automatic cannons rounded out the defensive fit. Beyond the air wing and armament, Illustrious also carried a slew of defensive- and offensive-minded suites - air search radars, missile guidance radars, navigation/direction radars, a now sonar system, echo sounders and chaff launchers.

Illustrious' commissioning was on June 20th, 1982 which saw it appear operationally during the Falklands War with Argentina. This was not by sheer chance for the Illustrious was purposely hurried in its construction and trials to provide a relief vessel for Invincible during the conflict. She entered the active warzone with a complement of ten Sea Harrier aircraft and eleven Sea King helicopters. Nine of the helicopters were fitted with Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) kits while the remaining pair were for the Airborne Electronic Warfare (AEW) role (a typical peacetime air wing consisted of five Sea Harriers and ten helicopters).

Beyond the stated use of Sea Kings, Illustrious eventually fielded various medium-class helicopter types during her career. This has included the Boeing Ch-47 "Chinook" tandem-rotor transport, the Hughes AH-64 "Apache" attack helicopter, the AgustaWestland AW101 "Merlin" multi-role platform, and the AgustaWestland Lynx series. Before the end, she could field up to 22 Harrier strike fighters.

It was eventually decided to field a rotation of two aircraft carriers at any one time allowing the third to enter scheduled refits as needed. At one point, Invincible was considered for sale to Australia (as the HMAS Australia) but this process was cancelled due to the Falklands commitment. Illustrious was eventually brought up to a modernized standard that began with Ark Royal and Invincible followed.

Illustrious was then on station in the Middle East theater during "Operation Southern Watch" which attempted to curtail airborne actions by the government of Iraq, at odds with the West since its invasion of neighboring oil-rich Kuwait. The warship was then on station during the United Nations involvement in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. Her next major commitment became Sierra Leone during 2000 and she followed this up with a refit period in 2002 - forcing her to miss all of the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003. Her services were in play once more, this time in a humanitarian role, while retrieving British citizens from war-torn Lebanon in 2006.

All things changed for the vessel when the aging Harrier line (by this time improved "Harrier II" models) was eventually removed from her flight deck in 2010. From this point forward, the warship was used strictly as a conventional helicopter carrier until she was decommissioned on August 28th, 2014. It is intended that the vessel will be spared the scrapman's torch and set aside for preservation. Her successor is to become HMS Queen Elizabeth, the new generation of British carrier that includes HMS Prince of Wales. Commissioning of these vessels is scheduled around 2016.

During her time at sea, she fought under the motto of "Vox Non Incerta", meaning
No Uncertain Sound", and earned herself the nickname of "Lusty".

Invincible-class aircraft carrier

The Invincible class was a class of light aircraft carrier operated by the Royal Navy. Three ships were constructed: HMS Invincible, HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal. The vessels were built as aviation-capable anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platforms to counter the Cold War North Atlantic Soviet submarine threat, and initially embarked Sea Harrier aircraft and Sea King HAS.1 anti-submarine helicopters. With cancellation of the aircraft carriers renewal programme in the 1960s, the three ships became the replacements for Ark Royal and Eagle fleet carriers and the  Centaur-class light fleet carriers, and the Royal Navy's sole class of aircraft carrier.

The three vessels saw active service in a number of locations, including the South Atlantic during the Falklands War, the Adriatic during the Bosnian War, and in the Middle East for the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.

Invincible was decommissioned in 2005 and put in reserve in a low state of readiness. [4] [5] She was sold to a Turkish scrapyard in February 2011, [6] and left Portsmouth under tow on 24 March 2011. [7] Pursuant to the Strategic Defence and Security Review,�, Ark Royal followed, decommissioning on 13 March 2011. This left Illustrious as the sole remaining ship, serving as a helicopter carrier from 2011 to 2014 when it was decommissioned as well. [8] [9] The Royal Navy was without an aircraft carrier for the first time in nearly a century, until the commissioning of the first of two  Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers in December 2017.

HMS Ark Royal was armed with three mk15 Phalanx close-in weapon systems (CIWS) from Raytheon and General Dynamics. Each Phalanx CIWS had one 20mm M61A1 Vulcan Gatling-principle gun which fired 3,000 rounds a minute to a range of 1.5km.

HMS Invincible and Illustrious each had three Thales Nederland (formerly Signaal) Goalkeeper CIWS. Goalkeeper’s Gatling principle 30mm gun provided a maximum firing rate of 4,200 rounds a minute with a range of 1,500m.

All three carriers were also equipped with two GAM-B01 20mm guns from Oerlikon-Contraves and BAE Systems, which have a maximum range of 2km and firing rate of 1,000 rounds a minute.


In later years, three other changes were made. One was the removal of the Sea Dart system, creating an increased deck park for aircraft. The Sea Dart magazines were converted to increase air-to-surface weapons stowage, and new aircrew briefing facilities created under the extended flight deck, both to support the embarkation of RAF Harrier GR7s as a routine part of the air group. The ships were all fitted to handle Merlin helicopters as the Merlin HM1 replaced the Sea King HAS6 in the carrier-borne ASW role. Following the integration of the Harrier GR7, typical deployments included seven or eight of those aircraft, pushing the Merlin onto the carrier's accompanying Fort-class auxiliaries.

The last wartime deployments of the class saw them in their secondary LPH role, as it was officially judged that Sea Harriers could provide no useful role in the missions. During those deployments, the class embarked RAF Chinook helicopters, in lieu of their fixed-wing complement.

Invincible ' s last refit was in 2004. [5]

Illustrious underwent a 16-month £40 million refit at Rosyth Dockyard during 2010 and 2011 in preparation for her new role as a helicopter carrier during the refit of HMS Ocean. [9]

The U.S. Navy's Future: What About a Light Aircraft Carrier?

They have the added benefit of being significantly cheaper.

Here's What You Need To Remember: A new Ford-class supercarrier costs around $13 billion. An America-class assault ship costs just $3 billion.

The U.S. Navy is beginning to deploy its nine amphibious assault ships with large numbers of fixed-wing F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters, in essence transforming the 40,000-ton-displacement vessels into light aircraft carriers.

Cheaper and easier to build and maintain than 100,000-ton supercarriers are, light carriers might seem like an attractive option for many navies that are trying to enhance their at-sea aviation capabilities.

But the U.K. Royal Navy, which is struggling to afford the two 70,000-ton Queen Elizabeth-class carriers it’s building for a total of $10 billion, should ignore light carriers, U.K. Defense Journal’s George Allison argued. This despite the Royal Navy having operated 22,000-ton Invincible-class carriers are recently as 2014.

“Operational experience shows that larger carriers have significant advantages,” Allison wrote.

For example, the Invincible class typically hosted around 12 Sea Harriers and with that their decks were fairly crowded. Tabloids often like to quote 12 as the maximum number of F-35Bs the new Queen Elizabeth class will be able to carry, however this is nonsense.

The smaller the carrier, the fewer aircraft it can support and the greater waste of resources it becomes when compared to larger carriers. The smaller the carrier, the more the vessels size restricts the performance of the aircraft on board.

The three Invincible-class carriers, which the Queen Elizabeth class will replace, operated small and relatively low-performance Sea Harriers. The larger F-35 that will operate from the new carriers is more effective than the Sea Harrier. It carries much more and it flies much faster and much farther.

It’s also a more complicated aircraft, requiring more equipment and personnel. A carrier accommodating as many F-35Bs as the Invincible accommodated Sea Harriers would be far larger by necessity in order to effectively operate the modern, larger aircraft.

The U.S. Navy might object to this line of reasoning. USS Wasp in March 2019 deployed to the Indo-Pacific region with no fewer than 10 F-35Bs on board. An assault ship usually embarks just six F-35s or older AV-8B Harrier jump jets.

A Lightning carrier would embark between 16 and 20 F-35s, compared to the roughly 40 strike fighters that a supercarrier normally carries. A Lightning carrier should be able to sustain 40 sorties per day, the Marines estimated. A new Ford-class supercarrier, by contrast, is supposed to be able to sustain 160 sorties per day.

"While the amphibious assault ship will never replace the aircraft carrier, it can be complementary, if employed in imaginative ways," the Corps stated. "A Lightning carrier, taking full advantage of the amphibious assault ship as a sea base, can provide the naval and joint force with significant access, collection and strike capabilities."

And a light carrier could help the Navy shift to a more survivable fleet design. Worrying over the increasing lethality of Chinese and Russian anti-ship missiles, in early 2019 the Navy proposed to decommission the supercarrier USS Harry S. Truman 25 years early in the 2020s, dropping the fleet of large flattops to 10 in the medium term and as few as nine in the long term.

A new Ford-class supercarrier costs around $13 billion. An America-class assault ships costs just $3 billion. A light carrier based on an amphibious ship "might be a low-risk, alternative pathway for the Navy to reduce carrier costs if such a variant were procured in greater numbers than the current carrier shipbuilding plan," California think-tank RAND explained in a 2017 report. "Our analysis suggests a two-to-one replacement."

Japan, too, is converting two assault ships into light carriers embarking F-35Bs. South Korea in theory could do the same with its own two assault ships. But the British fleet should stick to large carriers, Allison wrote.

Larger vessels do not have to be resupplied as often, impacting both the effectiveness of the carrier and her vulnerability. Because a carrier is more vulnerable when being replenished, the vessel typically withdraws from station for that function. Much of the time lost is the time spent heading away from station and returning. The smaller the carrier, the more time lost and a bigger logistics chain required in support.

A larger ship is likely to survive damage that will sink or disable a smaller one. The smaller the proportion of a ship that gets damaged, the better the chance that the ship can survive the damage and keep on fighting. It takes sheer size to provide enough protection against all the weapons likely to be used against a carrier, from bombs to cruise missiles to torpedoes.

The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers “are not the largest class of carrier in the world but they are most likely the smallest and least expensive carrier the Royal Navy could build which still have the advantages that large carriers offer,” Allison concluded.

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad. This piece was originally featured in April 2019 and is being republished due to reader's interest.

Invincible class aircraft carrier

The German light carrier BMS Brandenburg (R 05) passing by Jacksonville, Dixieland en route to Belize on May 21st, 2004.

The Invincible-class aircraft carriers are a class of small aircraft carriers that serve in the Chilean, German, Iranian, Portuguese, and West Japanese navies from the 1980s onwards. The vessels were built as aviation-capable anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platforms to counter the he vessels were built to counter the American submarine threat in the North Atlantic. Originally intended for service in the Royal Navy, however budgetary limitations would force the Admiralty to end up cancelled the three Invincible-class carriers in favour of the King George VI-class supercarriers. The British government would end up selling two to Germany and one to West Japan. In the mid-1980s, Chile, Iran, and Portugal would end up purchasing Invincible-class CVLs of their own.

Design [ edit | edit source ]

The CS Invinicble (CVA-01) class would have displaced 54,500 tons (although the ship was said to displace 53,000 tons "in average action condition"), with a flight deck length (including the bridle arrester boom) of 963 ft 3 in (293.60 m) The size of the flight deck, combined with steam catapults and arrester gear would have enabled the carriers to operate the latest jets. The aircraft complement would have included 36 F-4 Phantom II fighter/ground-attack aircraft and/or Blackburn Buccaneer low-level strike aircraft, four early-warning aircraft, five anti-submarine helicopters and two search-and-rescue helicopters. The large 'Broomstick' radar dome above the central island on the carrier was planned to be a Type 988 Anglo-Dutch 3D radar, which would subsequently be fitted on the Royal Netherlands Navy Tromp class frigates, although this would not have been fitted to the final carrier as Britain pulled out of the project.