Nick Braybrooke's
Royal Navy Report 1 : October 1999

Britain's three 20,000 ton Invincible class CVLs are under going mid life update to enlarge their airgroups in the run-up to the new larger carriers codenamed CV(F).

HMS Illustrious: Recently completed a $20m flight deck modification at Portsmouth Dockyard which involved removal of the Sea Dart SAM launcher and plating over the open bow section. These modifications increase the overall flight deck space by 8%. The communications, radar, aircraft maintenance facilities and machinery also underwent renovation.HMS Illustrious is currently operational in UK waters.

HMS Invincible: Now in refit at Portsmouth until February 2000 to bring her up to the same standard as Illustrious.

HMS Ark Royal: Now undergoing major refit and modernisation at Rosyth naval base in Scotland having been laid up since 1995. Her refit will involve major updates to her aviation, communications and propulsion systems. She is scheduled to become the first RN carrier equipped to take the new Merlin helicopter. Ark Royal is scheduled to become operational March 2002 when Invincible will be placed in reserve.

HMS Ark Royal (left) in 1995 showing her Sea Dart SAM launcher and open bow.HMS Illustrious (right) in 1998 with SAM . increased deck parking.

Air group changes

The Fleet Air Arm currently operates roughly 40 Sea Harrier FA2 fleet air defence fighters in three squadrons. One squadron is allocated to each of the operational ships; the third is training squadron. The normal peace time complement is seven or eight aircraft, but this has been boosted with aircraft from the training squadron in time so conflict such as the Falklands when all but three of the RN Sea Harrier aircraft were deployed at sea. In 1998, HMS Invincible deployed to the Gulf with her complement of eight Sea Harrier FA2 but in addition she also embarked eight RAF Harrier GR7 (AV8B) aircraft to provide an enhanced strike capability. This combination proved very successful and the Ministry of Defence has decided that the RN's Sea Harrier force and the RAF's Harrier force should be combined into a single unit code-named Joint Force 2000. Comprising roughly 150 aircraft this will undertake the roles now undertaken by the two existing units, will be based at an RAF base, but commanded by an Admiral! From 2002 onwards the Invincibles will carry a permanent combined airgroup of around 16 Sea Harrier fighters and Harrier GR7 strike aircraft proving a much improved power projection capability. This situation will last until around 2012 when the RN's two new large carriers carrying up to 50 aircraft enter service. The CV(F) program will be the subject of a future feature.

Nick Braybrooke 7 October, 1999