Australia has announced it is re-joining the “aircraft carrier” club! The Prime Minister has, on Wednesday 20th June 2007, signed a contract to purchase 2 of Spain's new Buque de Proyección Estratégica class (or Ship of Strategic Projection), these are also commonly known by the abbreviations LL.
Australia retired their last aircraft carrier in 1982. Though these new vessels are not technically aircraft carriers, more a multi-role vessel with a full length flight deck. The capacity of the ship will be of around 900 crew, with equipment and support elements for 1,200 soldiers. Multi-functional garage and hangar space on two levels of 6,000 m², with capacity for 6,000 tonnes load on each. A stern dock being able to lodge up to four LCM boats or one LCAC.
If used as a dedicated aircraft carrier the vessel will also have a flight deck of 201.9 metres with a ski-jump for the Harrier STOVL aircraft (or in the future the F-35 JSF). Also medium and heavy helicopters can be operated. She could carry up to 30 STOVL aircraft in the aircraft carrier mode, using the light vehicles bay as a hanger. Normally though you would expect a hi-lo ratio of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
Why is this so notable? Well it is an obvious sign that countries around the world are increasingly feeling the need to project and support their forces around the globe. Though we would like to look at this as supporting UN operations, humanitarian missions etc., this is more a realisation that expeditionary warfare is key to fighting and winning wars in the world's current climate. The ability to reach out and touch anyone, anywhere, any-time and without the need to rely on “friendly” (read: making concessions to questionable leaders) nations. Fourth Generation Warfare is truly here, and it is kicking down the door.
Also worth noting, is that you could use the amount of available “deck-space” on aircraft carriers as a measure of how powerful (or capable) a nations navy is. If you add up all of this space around the world, excluding the USA, you have a total of approx 18 acres at the moment. These countries being Brazil (1 CV), France (1 CVN), India (3 CV), Italy (1 CVS, 1 CV), Russia (1 CV), Spain (1 CVS), Thailand (1 CVS), UK (3 CV).
Then you have the USA...2 CV, 11 CVN, 5 LHA, 8 LHD and approx 75 acres of deck space!
Of course, experts have commented that the day of the carrier is over since they are such large targets and satellite's can pin-point them so easily for the targeting of weapons, such as the latest generation of low-observable cruise missiles. I do not believe we are there just yet as only 2 or 3 nations would currently have the ability to be potential threats.
Long live the “flat-top”!