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The Role of an Aircraft Carrier (CVS)

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Since the end of the Cold War, the role of the Invincible Class aircraft carriers (CVS) has evolved from one of sea control to maritime force projection. In order to meet the needs of this shift in role, the CVS fleet has undergone a series of modifications and now embarks a Tailored Air Group (TAG). The TAG principle achieves total flexibility and mission focus, the fixed wing element borne from an amalgamated force - known as Joint Force Harrier (JFH) - consisting of aircraft from both Royal Navy FA2 (until OSD 2006) and Royal Air Force GR7/7A Harrier squadrons.

The primary mission for the CVS is to deploy JFH and Fleet aircraft in pursuit of national objectives. This mission can be broken down into 5 key roles:

1. Maritime Strike (MarStrike)

The primary role for the CVS concerns the conduct of air operations against land targets, while minimising the dependence on host nation support. Missions would include: Air Interdiction (AI) of enemy supply routes and lines of communication; Close Air Support (CAS) of deployed friendly ground forces; Defensive Counter Air (DCA) using the FA2 to repel enemy air attacks; and Offensive Counter Air (OCA) in order to render the enemy's air assets useless.

Increasingly, these missions will require the use of precision and discriminatory weapons delivered by JFH aircraft, supported by the Sea King ASaC MK7 helicopter.

2. Littoral Manoeuvre (LitM)

Another major role for the CVS concerns the use of support helicopters in aid of amphibious or other air manoeuvre operations - not dissimilar to how HMS Ocean operates as a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH).

This role is not compatible for a CVS tasked as a MarStrike platform, however, in times of operational need, a strategic decision to re-roll a CVS as a second LPH could be taken.

3. Optimised Access

In order to succeed in either the MarStrike or LitM role, the CVS will need to operate effectively within the littoral environment (defined as coastal sea areas and that portion of the land, which is susceptible to influence or support from the sea). To achieve this, sea lines of communication between support vessels and the battle area/theatre of operation need to be protected at all times. Integrated with other task group units, aircraft, such as the Merlin HM Mk1 and Sea King ASaC Mk7, will be used to achieve the sea control (or freedom of action to use the sea for our own purpose) necessary to assure littoral access.

Optimised Access is thus a concurrent role and CVS are capable of supporting this task regardless of other activity.

4. Command and Control (C2)

In circumstances where there is a need to reduce the land footprint of allied forces on allied / hostile territory, the capacity to direct and co-ordinate the battle from onboard the CVS may become a priority.

The flexibility of the CVS in supporting Maritime Component Commanders at sea has already been successfully demonstrated, and work to further refine this capability is currently underway.

5. Other

Additional roles for the CVS include wider Defence Diplomacy, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, Evacuation and Peace Support operations. These tasks would be achieved by adapting the CVS and embarked aircraft capabilities to support the required mission.

Although considered to be tertiary roles, any available CVS could be tasked at short notice without specific training, equipment or logistic modification to undertake such a mission.

Maritime Aviation Development

With the creation of JFH and the increasing emphasis on Maritime Power Projection, the previous approach of preformed Carrier Air Groups (CAG) attached to each CVS is now obsolete. Instead, a Tailored Air Group (TAG) is created from JFH, Naval helicopters and other assets, for each operation. The nature of the TAG demands that the CVS is flexible and capable enough to provide the facilities to support the mission.

Recent conflicts in Iraq and the Balkans continue to demonstrate the versatility and importance of the CVS as a national defence capability. Their ability to operate and be sustained indefinitely without host nation support makes a key pillar of Britain's Maritime Strategy.

For more information on the aircraft that are usually embarked on the invincible class carriers please click on the link below.
Tailored Air Group

Explore The Invincible Class Aircraft Carrier

Step aboard an aircraft carrier and see what it’s capable of. Learn about every aspect of this mighty vessel: its history, crew, hardware, global operations and more.

This interactive microsite features video, imagery and text, including footage from the Channel Five documentary “Warship” which was filmed aboard HMS Illustrious in 2008. Click here and delve into the role of the aircraft carrier in the Royal Navy.

Warship promo 2  

Fact File

Invincible Class Aircraft Carriers
Name Pennant Number
Invincible RO5
Illustrious RO6
Ark Royal RO7

CVS Statistics
Displacement: 22,000 tonnes
Length: 210m / 686ft
Beam: 36m / 118ft
Speed: 30 kts
Complement: 726 Ship's company 384 Air Group personnel
Armament: 3 x Phalanx/Goalkeeper (CIWS) 2 x 20mm Close range guns
Aircraft: A mix (depending on role) of Harrier GR7 and GR9s, Sea King AEW and Sea King and Chinook stores or troop-carrying helicopters and Merlin anti-submarine helicopters.
Propulsion:

COGAG (Combined Gas and Gas), 2 Shafts

4 x Gas Turbines producing 72MW
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