The Royal Navy of the United Kingdom is the naval arm of the British armed services, which has been playing a prominent role in Britain's military aspirations throughout the world. With a manpower of 37,500 individuals and 89 ships to its credit, it is one of the largest naval units in the World.
Since 1707, the Royal Navy has had some magnificent aircraft carriers, including the HMS Ark Royal (91), HMS Audacious (D29), HMS Eagle (94), HMS Bulwark (R08), and HMS Hermes (R12), to its credit. The tradition continues with HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal, the two light aircraft carriers belonging to the Invincible-class, currently operating under the Royal Navy. Succeeding the Centaur-class, the Invincible-class was commissioned on July 11, 1980. (HMS is an abbreviation for Her Majesty's Ship.)
HMS Illustrious is a light aircraft carrier of the Invincible-class operating for the British Royal Navy. Its pennant number is R06. It was built by the Swan Hunter shipbuilding company in the UK and launched on December 14, 1978. HMS Illustrious was commissioned into the Royal Navy on June 20, 1982. The 209-meter long vessel can accelerate to a maximum speed 30 knots. It has a maximum range of 5000 nautical miles and the capacity to carry 22 aircraft―including Harrier GR.7/9, Sea King AsaC, and Merlin HM Mk.1 helicopters―aboard.
Weapons on this vessel include three Goalkeeper CIWS and two GAM-B01 20 mm close-range guns. The vessel was first put to use in 1982, when it was stationed at Falkland Islands anticipating the Argentine attack. In the 1990s, it helped maintain a no-fly zone over Bosnia, and later over Southern Iraq. It led Operation Palliser, a British Armed forces operation in Sierra Leone, in 2002. In 2006, it helped evacuate the British citizens stuck in Beirut during the Middle-East crisis. Its motto is Vox Non Incerta, which means 'No Uncertain Sound' in Latin.
HMS Ark Royal
HMS Ark Royal is the last of the British aircraft carriers built as a part of the Invincible-class of the Royal Navy. Its pennant number is R07. Like HMS Illustrious, this ship was also built by the Swan Hunter shipbuilding company and launched on June 2, 1981. It was commissioned into the Royal Navy on November 1, 1985. The vessel can notch a speed of 30+ knots, and has a range of 5000 nautical miles at an average speed of 18 knots.
The aircraft carried by this vessel include Harrier GR.7/9 Strike aircraft, Sea King AsaC, and Merlin HM Mk.1 helicopters. HMS Ark Royal is also armed with three Mark 15 Phalanx CIWS and two GAM-B01 20 mm guns. In 1993, it was deployed in the Adriatic Sea for the ongoing Bosnian War. Similarly, in 2003, it was used in the invasion of Iraq. Its motto is 'Zeal Does Not Rest'.
In future, the Invincible-class aircraft carriers will be replaced by the Queen Elizabeth class, which are currently under development. The Queen Elizabeth class consists of two vessels: HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. Ordered on May 20, 2008, these vessels are being built by BAE Systems and VT Group. These 280-meter long vessels will be the largest warships ever built in the United Kingdom. They will have a capacity to carry 40 aircraft or 25 Chinook helicopters aboard them. Their maximum range will be 10,000 nautical miles. They will be stationed at the Portsmouth operating base of the Royal Navy.
The inclusion of Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers into the British Royal Navy will make the already strong establishment, stronger and faster on the technological front. These super carriers are expected to join the service by 2018.