The classical aircraft carrier, provided with catapults, angled deck and arresting wires is a complex and expensive vessel. Because of that very few navies possess them, and the most habitual types are those operating with STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) aircraft and helicopters. Some of them, as the two classes shown in this article, even wear the designation of cruiser due to their characteristics of armament and construction. For example, the Príncipe de Asturias, which is presented in a separate article, can seem at first glance to belong to the same category than the Invincible class or the Giuseppe Garibaldi, but it is in fact a different type. While the Príncipe de Asturias is a pure aircraft carrier built with a full-beam hangar the other two feature heavier armament, larger superstructures and smaller hangars.

Note: V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take-Off Landing) and STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) aircraft are the same type, and the two acronyms just differentiate how the aircraft having these capabilities are operated. V/STOL operation is no longer used because a vertical take-off drastically limits the payload of an aircraft, so the acronym STOVL is more adequate to the procedures of nowadays.

The Invincible class

When in the 1960-1970s United Kingdom retired the HMS Ark Royal, HMS Eagle and HMS Victorious, that country renounced to possess any conventional aircraft carrier. At the outbreak of the Falklands War, the only conventional aircraft carrier that took part (the HMS Hermes, built during the Second World War and modernized thrice) operated with STOVL aircraft and was already half assigned to India, where she arrived in 1986. The war caught the Royal Navy in a quite bad moment, almost without aircraft carriers, and with only one ship of the Invincible class in service, of the three that finally composed the class.

In the late 1960s the British were projecting a rather innovative vessel (actually she was more an amphibious ship and less an aircraft carrier), which in a first moment was denominated "all-deck cruiser" or "through-deck cruiser". Basically she was a vessel of medium size fitted with a flight deck and a hangar, with some capability to transport troops, whose main role ought to be to serve as command ship in amphibious operations and as base of the assault/cargo helicopters. With the availability of V/STOL aircraft, the project became an aircraft carrier of new type capable of operating either with the already provided helicopters or, once perfected the take-off by means of the "ski-jump", with STOVL aircraft.

HMS Invincible aircraft carrier cruiser
These ships have an overall length of 209 meters, a beam of 27.5 meters, a draught of 8 meters and a standard displacement of 16000 tonnes, reaching 22600 tonnes at full load. They are propelled by four gas turbines Rolls-Royce Olympus TM-3B actuating on two shafts through a COGAG arrangement, developing 97200 horsepower and granting a top speed of 28 knots, while operational range is about 7000 nautical miles at 19 knots. The complement comprised 685 crewmen (including 60 officers) and other 366 (including 80 officers) for the air wing, and if necessary up to 600 Marines could be embarked.

These ships were criticized because of the modest armament onboard (having into account that they were classified as cruisers), which comprised a twin launcher for antiaircraft missiles Sea Dart (with 36 missiles carried), three CIWS mountings and two 20-millimeter cannons Oerlikon GAM B01. During the mid 1990s the three ships had the Sea Dart removed and the flight deck prolonged all along the forecastle. The HMS Ark Royal was distinctive for having installed the American CIWS Vulcan Phalanx instead of the Dutch Goalkeeper found in the other two ships.

HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier cruiser
The electronic equipment includes the air search radar Marconi/Signaal Type 1022 with a range of 265 kilometers, located atop the command bridge, the surface search radar Marconi Type 992R or Plessey Type 996 and the navigation radar Kelvin Hughes Type 1006/1007. The fire control was entrusted to two radars Marconi Type 909/9091, located at each end of the isle inside voluminous domes. There was also a dotation of ESM/ECM devices and decoy launchers. The combat system was not uniform in the three ships.

HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier cruiser
The air wing, with a total of 22 elements, comprised variable numbers of STOVL aircraft British Aerospace Sea Harrier FA-2 and helicopters Westland Sea King and EH-101 Merlin. The hangar in these ships was not of the full-beam type so it was narrower than that of a proper aircraft carrier, causing a less favorable displacement/aircraft ratio (1027 tonnes in Invincible class, 769 tonnes in Giuseppe Garibaldi and 593 tonnes in Príncipe de Asturias). The ski-jump had an angle of 12 degrees in the HMS Ark Royal, which was the last ship of the class, and only 7 degrees in the other two. During a modernization in 1989 the HMS Invincible had her ski-jump raised to 12 degrees as well.

Hangar of an Invincible-class aircraft carrier cruiser
The HMS Invincible, HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal were decommissioned in August 2005, August 2014 and March 2011, respectively. As 2016 goes by only the HMS Illustrious remains in existance, with unknown fate.

The Giuseppe Garibaldi

Until the 29th January 1989, the Italian Navy was affected by an outdated legislation dating back from the times of Italo Balbo and Benito Mussolini, which in practice prevented it from possessing any kind of fixed-wing aircraft. However, since the 1960s the Italian Navy operated with cruisers provided with a flight deck astern to operate exclusively with antisubmarine helicopters, for the NATO directives during the Cold War assigned to the Italian Navy the role of defending the Meditarranean against the powerful Soviet submarine fleet.

Because of this, when the 21st November 1977 it was ordered the construction of a cruiser provided with a through flight deck (in imitation of the British Invincible class), it was expected that the air wing would be formed by helicopters, for the V/STOL aircraft seemed unaffordable so far. However being contemporary, this project presented notable differences with the British one, for having a smaller displacement it posed a superior offensive capacity as well as a similar or superior defensive capability. In turn, the air wing and the hangar are smaller and amphibious capability is inexistent. Regarding the ski-jump, very important in this kind of ships, the inclination is lesser (6.5 degrees versus the 12 which are usual), which limits the payload of fixed-wing aircraft.

Giuseppe Garibaldi aircraft carrier cruiser in 1990
The Giuseppe Garibaldi has an overall length of 180 meters, a beam of 33 meters, a draught of 6.7 meters and a standard displacement of 10100 tonnes, reaching 13850 tonnes at full load. She is propelled by four gas turbines LM-2500 actuating on two shafts through a COGAG arrangement, developing 80000 horsepower and allowing a top speed of 30 knots, while operational range is about 7000 nautical miles at 20 knots. The complement comprises 630 crewmen, 100 of them belonging to the air wing.

The armament in the Giuseppe Garibaldi is, leaving apart the Soviet/Russian designs, the most powerful one in ships of her class, which indicates that the project was made in a moment in which the ideas about what to do were not very clear. It comprises four antiship missiles OTO-Melara Teseo Mk 2 (removed in 2003), two octuple launchers for antiaircraft missiles Aspide (being carried a total of 48 missiles), six 40-millimeter 70-caliber cannons installed in three twin mountings Breda and two triple launchers for 324-millimeter antisubmarine torpedoes Mk 46, which were being replaced by the national model A-290.

The Giuseppe Garibaldi was the only aircraft carrier in the western navies armed with antiship missiles. The Teseo Mk 2 is a subsonic missile (0.9 Mach) with a range of 180 kilometers and a 160-kilogram warhead, later replaced by the Mk 3, with a range of 300 kilometers and a 210-kilogram warhead. However in 2003 the surface-to-surface missile system was suppressed to improve the flight deck and satellite communications. We can see the launchers installed astern in the first photograph above (six launchers instead of four, however).

The Aspide is a missile with a semiactive radar seeker, a range of up to 13 kilometers, a speed reaching Mach 2.5 and effectiveness from 15 to 5000 meters of altitude. Another part of the antiaircraft/antimissile system are the three twin mountings Breda; each cannon has a rate of fire of up to 300 rounds per minute, with a range of up to 12.5 kilometers in antiship fire and 4 kilometers in antiaircraft fire. The RTN 30X, monopulse device operating in I band (8-10 GigaHertz), is the fire control radar associated to the Aspide and the Breda; there are three of these devices in the Giuseppe Garibaldi: two on the fore top of the isle and another one just behind the cannon mounting astern, visible in the photograph below.

SAM Aspide launcher
Breda 76-millimeter cannon mounting
Giuseppe Garibaldi aircraft carrier cruiser after 2003
The air wing comprises a maximum of sixteen STOVL aircraft AV-8B Harrier II or eighteen helicopters SH-3D Sea King, but generally is a mix of both. It is remarkable that the first STOVL aircraft did not operate in this ship until December 1994, which meant a delay of a dozen years in respect of the Spanish, British and American counterparts. The two elevators, of internal type, are located just before and after the large isle. On the other hand, this superstructure houses the Combat Information Center (CIC), which is the most important service in a modern warship, in a place rather exposed to missile impacts. Installed on both flanks of the isle, the ESM/ECM device Nettuno SQL-732 provides wide cover against the detection from enemy radars.

Giuseppe Garibaldi aircraft carrier cruiser in 2004
Giuseppe Garibaldi aircraft carrier cruiser in 2004

~ Return to Military Ships ~