Invincible Class (1980) CVS

This class was conceived in the late 1960, following the cancellation of the CVA-01 class of fleet carriers in 1966. 

The prime requirement was to carry and operate viable numbers Sea King Helicopters. For political reasons any thought of Aircraft Carriers was forbidden, and the designs were known as Through-deck Command Cruisers. No ability to operate fixed wing aircraft were allowed in the design.

However development of the Sea Harrier was later authorised. This allowed the Royal Navy to re-establish some organic air defence to the Fleet, and the Class allowed to be redesignated as Support Aircraft Carriers. Development of the Ski-jump allowed the Sea Harriers payload to be very usefully  increased. 

The value of this was demonstrated in 1982 during operations to recover the Falkland Islands following their invasion by Argentina. 

At that time Invincible was the only ship of the Class in commission, and her support of the larger Hermes allowed the operation to proceed. The risk of only being able to operate one hull would have put the entire operation in great jeopardy. 

Illustrious was rushed to completion and commissioned just too late to see service in the Falklands. However she was rushed to the South Atlantic to relieve Invincible who returned home after spending a record 166 days continuously at sea, a record. 

The third ship of the Class Ark Royal commissioned in 1985, following which there are normally two of the class in commission with the third in reserve or undergoing refit. 

The original air group was established at 8 Sea Harriers, 9 ASW Sea Kings and 2 AEW Sea Kings. However in 1999 Illustrious was modified by removing the Sea Dart missile launcher and associated magazines from the bow, to provide increased flight deck area forward as well as  additional storage for aircraft ordinance. This allows an additional 6 RAF Harriers or 9 Sea Harriers to be carried. Ark Royal was similarly refitted in 2001, and Invincible will follow. 

There are plans being made to build two 40,000 ton aircraft carriers to enter service in 2013. These will replace the three Invincible Class ships. However as usual financial considerations mean these plans must be considered fluid until the ships actually appear. 

(Illustrious after 1999 refit)

(Credit Royal Navy)

Official Role 2004 

The Royal Navy website states in May 2004 that the role of the CVS is :".....
The main roles of a CVS can be summarised as follows:

  • Provide the platform and facilities for the command and control of maritime and
    joint forces - as a flagship.
  • Air defence using the latest variant of the Royal Navy Sea Harrier, FA2, coupled with the Airborne Early Warning Sea King helicopters.
  • Power projection ashore using Royal Air Force Harrier GR7s escorted by Sea Harrier FA2s.
  • Surface attack (shipping), battlefield interdiction (land targets) and reconnaissance, again using the GR7 and FA2.
  • Anti-submarine warfare with the Merlin helicopter.
  • Carry an embarked Royal Marine Commando unit and the associated Sea King Mark 4 helicopters.

Aircraft have mobility, flexibility and versatility which are the keywords of a modern defence strategy. The CVS and its Carrier Air Group (CAG) can move to almost anywhere in the world in international waters. Aircraft may be the first on the scene in a particular operation giving both politicians and military commanders options, including early reconnaissance, the landing of special forces and land attack from the air. Additionally the CVS provides air traffic control, fuel, maintenance and briefing facilities. Events throughout the 1980s and 90s have demonstrated the high value of the CVS.

The Royal Navy's three aircraft carriers, HM Ships Invincible, Illustrious and Ark Royal, with their aircraft offer a very potent form of sea power. They provide an excellent platform for command and control as well as extensive communications. This capability is complimented by the flexibility of the air group. Now, in addition to the advanced Sea Harrier FA2 Fighter/Attack aircraft, the aircraft carriers can carry RAF ground attack Harrier GR7s as well as a varied mix of military helicopters including large Chinook support helicopters. The mix can be tailored to whatever the operation needs and can be sustained indefinitely, independent of host nation support.


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This page last edited - 19 January, 2013.

Copyright Ian M King, except where otherwise indicated.