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.

How to cite this article: Antill, P. (6 February 2001), Invincible Class Aircraft Carrier, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_invincibleclass.html

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