Monday, 14 May 2012

Supercarriers of the Future

The US Navy is currently planning the next generation of supercarriers, dubbed the Ford class after President Gerald Ford. These ships, of which three have been ordered for 2020, will use the basic hull shape of the Nimitz class but will contain a large amount of improved equipment including better radar, catapults and arresting gear, improved engines and a entirely redesigned island structure.

The USA is currently the only country operating supercarriers, but two other navies have similar ships on order. The British Royal Navy has ordered two supercarriers to be named Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales. Each of these ships is to displace 65,000 tons will be 920 feet long and be 128 feet in the beam. They will be capable of 25 knots and will be able to travel about 10,000 miles without refueling.

The aircraft carried by each of the British supercarriers will be 36 Lockheed F-35 Lightning II multi-role fighters and 4 airborne early warning radar aircraft. The Lightning was designed for use on carriers and is a versatile aircraft able to carry out bombing, dog fighting and ground attack missions. In theory each carrier could carry an additional 10 aircraft, and it is expected that these will be helicopter rather than fixed wing.

The arrival of the two carriers will solve a long-standing problem experienced by the Royal Navy. The navy’s existing carriers are a trio of 22,000-ton carriers that had been specifically built in the 1970s to provide anti-submarine patrols across the North Atlantic. In the 1982 Falklands War, however, HMS Invincible had been hurriedly converted to a more conventional carrier role. This had convinced the Royal Navy to convert all three to a multi-task role for which they had not been built. The new carriers will be the first British carriers designed for wide ranging duties since the 1950s.

The French announced in 2008 that they would be ordering a supercarrier similar to the British ships and built by the same consortium. The ship, provisionally named Richelieu, would be slightly larger than the British ships and contain some distinctively French features, such as two command islands. It is expected to carry 32 Rafaele fighters, 3 early warning aircraft and a number of helicopters. However, in 2009 the French government announced a delay to the project due to the economic crisis and the anticipated completion date of 2017 is now in doubt.

from The Historical Atlas of Weapons by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

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