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By Julian Nettlefold, Editor BATTLESPACE

10 Nov 06. The Editor sailed up the Thames onboard HMS Invincible the Royal Navy’s key Battlegroup Strike Carrier, fresh from her £120m refit. It was enough in itslef to witness the superb seamanship in navigating such a huge vessel through the Thames’ Reaches and the Thames Barrier in particular.

The first-of-class HMS Invincible Aircraft Carrier (now decommissioned August 2005. However, she has not been withdrawn from service but will remain available to the Navy until 2010.) was built by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering (now BAE Systems Marine) at Barrow-in-Furness. The ship was commissioned in July 1980. The two sister ships HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal, both built at the Swan Hunter Shipbuilders yard in Wallsend, were commissioned in 1982 and 1985.

Since the end of the Cold War, the primary role of the 20,600t aircraft carriers has changed from sea control to maritime force projection, to include maritime strike, littoral manoeuvres and command and control of land operations. The vessels now embark a Tailored Air Group (TAG), consisting of Joint Force Harrier (JFH) aircraft and Sea King and Merlin helicopters.

The ship accommodates over 1,000 crew, 1200 in full compliment, including 350 aircrew with 80 officers. It also has capacity for an additional 500 Royal Marines.

Illustrious recently received a £120m refit which included the installation of a third mast to accommodate new EW and radar systems and the BOWMAN radio system for joint operations. The Editor was shown the recently refurbished Operations Centre in the bowls of the ship and it is impressive. 70 Work Stations co-ordinate all the activities of the ship from aircraft management, combat management, ship management and ship defence and a Command Centre for directing operations The combat data system is BAE SYSTEMS ADIMP with communication links Link 10, Link 11 and Link 14. Following refit, the combat system has been upgraded with new multi-function consoles and flat-panel colour displays. The secure satellite communications system, the Astrium) SCOT, has the capacity to handle data rates up to 2Mb/s.

BAE Systems is upgrading the combat data system with Link 16, for anti-air warfare control and aircraft direction, and a new IFF (Interrogation Friend or Foe) tracking capability.

We were briefed by a Senior Technician who told us that with the enhanced data links and the capabilities of the Merlin targets can be tracked from the Red Sea to the Gulf. The Merlin was so successful in Gulf War II that the Americans used it in preference to the Type 23 Frigates.

HMS Illustrious has three Thales Nederland Goalkeeper CIWS. Goalkeeper’s Gatling principle 30mm gun provides a maximum firing rate of 4,200 rounds/min with a range of 1,500m. All three carriers are also equipped with two GAM-B01 20mm guns from Oerlikon-Contraves and BAE SYSTEMS, which have a maximum range of 2km and firing rate of 1,000 rounds/min.

HMS Illustrious is fitted with the Thales Defence Type 675(2) jamming system and a UAT(8) electronic support measures system also supplied by Thales Defence. The ship’s decoy system is the Royal Navy’s Outfit DLJ with Sea Gnat. There are eight 130mm six-barrel launchers produced by Hunting Engineering. Chemring and Pains Wessex produce the Sea Gnat chaff and infra-red decoys.

On deck we were shown the Merlin Helicopter. “Merlin is now the best anti-submarine helicopter in the world,” we were told. “With all the added value equipment the values is approaching £100m each.” “Do you regret the departure of the Sea Harrier protection and the delay in CEC?” the Editor asked.

“Although we now have no fighter cover, the scenario has changed and it is unlikely that we will ever conduct operations alone without an ally. As for CEC, it was inter-service rivalry that delayed the implementation of the system. In any event the Royal

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