The UK Royal Navy Invincible-class aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, and Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS Harry S Truman and USS Dwight D Eisenhower transit in formation during a multi-ship maneuvering exercise in the Atlantic Ocean

The Invincible-class is a class of aircraft carrier currently serving with the British Royal Navy.


The Invincible class has its origins in a sketch design for a 6,000 ton guided-missile armed, helicopter carrying escort cruiser intended as a complement to the much larger CVA-01-class fleet aircraft carrier.


The cancellation of CVA-01 in 1966 meant that the smaller cruiser would now have to provide the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) taskforce with command and control facilities.


Two new designs were prepared for this requirement; a 12,500 ton cruiser with missiles forward, six Westland Sea King helicopters and a flight deck aft, somewhat similar to the Vittorio Veneto of the Italian Navy and a larger 17,500 ton vessel with a "through-deck", nine Sea Kings and missiles right forward. By 1970, the "through-deck" design had advanced into a Naval Staff Requirement for an 18,750 ton Through-Deck Command Cruisers (TDCC).

In February 1963, the Hawker P.1127 VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft had landed and taken-off from the carrier Ark Royal and the subsequent Hawker-Siddeley Kestrel had undergone trials from the LPH HMS Bulwark. It was therefore perfectly possible that the new ships could be used to operate VTOL aircraft. Politics, however, determined that the new ships were carefully termed "through-deck cruisers" and not "aircraft carrier" by the RN; the cancellation of CVA-01 was intended to mean the UK's abandonment of aircraft carriers for good.

The class also has, since 1976, a secondary role as an helicopter carrier, or LPH, in the reinforcement of NATO's Northern flank in Norway. In 1998 HMS Ocean, with a hull form based on that of the Invincible class, was commissioned specifically for this role.

After the 1982 Falklands War, CIWS guns were added to the design. Illustrious had them fitted at the last minute before commissioning, Ark Royal had them added as a normal part of the building process, and Invincible had them fitted during her first overhaul after the Falklands. Initially, Invincible and Illustrious were fitted with two Vulcan Phalanx units; these have since been replaced with three Goalkeeper systems.


Ark Royal has the three Phalanx CIWS systems she was fitted with when built (she can be easily distinguished from her sisters by the Phalanx's distinctive white "R2-D2" radome). Electronic countermeasures are provided by a Thales jamming system and ECM system. Seagnat launchers provide for chaff or flare decoys.


As part of upgrades during the mid 1990s, all three ships had the Sea Dart removed, with the forecastle filled in to increase the size of the flight deck.


Country of Manufacture United Kingdom
Number in Service 3 (Usually one in refit)
Crew 726 crew and 384 aircrew
Armament Nine Harriers, six Merlin (Anti submarine), three Sea King (Airborne Surveillance and control), three 30mm Goalkeeper Close-in Weapon Systems
Length 209.1m
Beam 36m
Draught 7.5m
Displacement 20,000 tonnes
Powerplant Four Rolls Royce Olympus gas turbines producing 112,000shp to two shafts
Performance Speed 28 knots, range 7,000 miles
First of Class 1977

Photo US Navy