I just can't understand why was HMS Ocean sold to Brazil when all three Invincibles with their SHARs F.A.2 were send to the scrapyard. What a waste, really.

And US most recent Amphibs are larger that CdG at 45000 tons+

The Brazilians were looking at an AEW Tracker. What radar it might have is anyone's guess but not, I'd be reasonably certain, the original 1950's kit!


There are, or were, 11 Tracers and over 70 Trackers at Davis-Monthan, although what condition they might be in is another matter.


Which exactly mean (see my earlier post) that Foch missed its THIRD rendezvous with an AEW Tracker ! Unbelievable.

How cute... they parked the Tracers along with E-2 Hawkeyes. So they can exchange AEW stories.
The Tracers have stood there since 1978 at least, they must not be in a very good shape...
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I just can't understand why was HMS Ocean sold to Brazil when all three Invincibles with their SHARs F.A.2 were send to the scrapyard. What a waste, really.
And US most recent Amphibs are larger that CdG at 45000 tons+
That's because USN amphibious ships have secondary roles as carriers. Look at the Flight 0 America class. They can embark two squadrons of F-35Bs plus helicopters when not operating in their primary role of amphibious warfare. American big deck amphibs also tend to store far more fuel and ordinance than foreign designs. Again, because they have a secondary role as carriers.
That's because USN amphibious ships have secondary roles as carriers. Look at the Flight 0 America class. They can embark two squadrons of F-35Bs plus helicopters when not operating in their primary role of amphibious warfare. American big deck amphibs also tend to store far more fuel and ordinance than foreign designs. Again, because they have a secondary role as carriers.
The prototypical '40k ton phib' came out of attempts in the post-Vietnam Marines to fit an entire battalion MAGTF (formal organization introduced in 1963) on a single ship. The Tarawas (five built in the 1970s) were twice the size of the preceding Iwo Jimas because they needed to carry the Marine battalion's vehicles and heavy equipment, which also required a well deck so landing craft could be used. The Iwo Jimas may have carried more troops, but they could only deliver troops and equipment by helicopter. Since then, the MEU has ballooned in size from 1,600 to 2,200 Marines and substantially more equipment, which is why they need three ships now.


We need a TL where the USN sell packages of 1 SBC125A Essex + 1 Iwo Jima LPH to many navies in the world.
There weren't that many countries that could afford an Essex class. Not just the cost to refit one to the SCB-125A standard, it's the size of the crew. An Essex class needs a minimum of 2,600 men for ship's crew and air wing. And they often sailed with over 3,000 on board. Only a handful of countries can manage that
There weren't that many countries that could afford an Essex class. Not just the cost to refit one to the SCB-125A standard, it's the size of the crew. An Essex class needs a minimum of 2,600 men for ship's crew and air wing. And they often sailed with over 3,000 on board. Only a handful of countries can manage that

Plus some nations would probably want or need a suitable under way replenishment ship and some escorts. So maybe add another 1,000 to 2,000 sailors.


Plus some nations would probably want or need a suitable under way replenishment ship and some escorts. So maybe add another 1,000 to 2,000 sailors.
More than that. I'm using Argentina as an example cause they tend to get thrown out a lot as a potential Essex operator. Figure 2,600 crew for the carrier. Assume the escort is the General Belgrano and their three Fletcher class destroyers plus a single Wichita class replenishment oiler. That's over 5,000 sailors in that one small task force. And that's a pretty minimal escort force as well. That's still 20% of the Navy's total manpower
I just can't understand why was HMS Ocean sold to Brazil when all three Invincibles with their SHARs F.A.2 were send to the scrapyard. What a waste, really.
From my post in chat about why all three Invincible class carriers were scrapped early, it was because they were all pretty worn out. Ship and mechanically wise.
HMS Ocean was only 20 years old, built to commercial construction standards and powered by Diesel engines not Gas Turbines.

She also had a much simpler electronics fitout compared to an Invincible Class that originally needed to not only control aircraft, but also a full IADS.

So basically a much less expensive ship to operate.

...Sadly, the Armada de la Republica Argentina (ARA) has a bad reputation for maintenance and a poor budget. When a notable frigate sinks at the quayside, the consequence is derision from the neighbours. Not good. The Argentinos deserve better value for money.

(OK, OK, I'm a Yorkshireman... But, even so...)
HMS Ocean was only 20 years old, built to commercial construction standards and powered by Diesel engines not Gas Turbines.

She also had a much simpler electronics fitout compared to an Invincible Class that originally needed to not only control aircraft, but also a full IADS.

So basically a much less expensive ship to operate.

And fine for a country like Brazil that is not going to be using her for combat operations. Building warships to commercial standards is fine if you don't plan on using them in any combat but if you want to help show the flag, use it for non-war type scenarios like HA/DR, NEO, and maybe some counter-piracy or something then it is fine.
And fine for a country like Brazil that is not going to be using her for combat operations. Building warships to commercial standards is fine if you don't plan on using them in any combat but if you want to help show the flag, use it for non-war type scenarios like HA/DR, NEO, and maybe some counter-piracy or something then it is fine.

Expected service life was only intended to be about 20-25 years anyway. She was also a bit of a nightmare to maintain due to the mix of military/civilian systems.
Went on Ocean a number of times during her last tour with GREAT/DIT for the Pink Gin Birgade. Was completely utterly shagged out, even more so than Lusty.... But it's pretty clear you had the room to do more with than the invincibles that felt claustrophobic in the hangars (even with just a union flag and a podium).
Went in Ocean a number of times during her last tour with GREAT/DIT for the Pink Gin Birgade. Was completely utterly shagged out, even more so than Lusty.
Its somewhat newer though so might be easier to fix up and there was no obligation to go find some AV-8's to fly off of it. Also Brazil has history with buying crap or clapped out carriers so nothing new here.


Its somewhat newer though so might be easier to fix up and there was no obligation to go find some AV-8's to fly off of it. Also Brazil has history with buying crap or clapped out carriers so nothing new here.
Diesels are also far easier to maintain and acquire/manufacture spare parts for than gas turbines. So that likely played a role in the choice of which ship to acquire
Apologies for the lack of recent updates and thankyou for your patience. I had intended to do this one in one update however it has grown into a monster that will need multiple instalments. Many of you asked if this TL was going to finish after the Falklands was wrapped up. Unfortunately for me it seems I have a lot of work still to do.
CVF-90 Part 1 (R&D)
Warships are the most expensive single artefacts in any defence budget and it is essential that the finished product that is delivered to the Navy is a ship that is capable enough to justify the effort and comes at a price that the country (Taxpayer) can and is willing to pay. Unlike almost all other defence equipment programs there is no prototype. Hull 01 has to be operational after trials. The procurement process for any naval vessel is a long complicated and daunting one. However, for something as large, complex and expensive as an aircraft carrier the challenges that must be overcome may at the outset seem insurmountable. The process of taking a ship design from initial conception through the various stages of development and approval up to the point of actually ordering construction of the first of the class (where the real problems will commence) could be accurately described as a game of snakes and ladders. With every role of the dice you advance slightly further towards your goal but each move carries significant risk. A change of priority’s or requirements or budget alteration or failure to gain approval for something trivial can see the process thrown all the way back to the starting point. On the other hand, positive risk such as gaining approval for something first time or a technical breakthrough could see the design able to jump forward a few steps.

In the wake of the 1983 Defence Whitepaper the RN’s Royal Corps of Naval Constructors found itself saddled with the seemingly impossible task of designing a new class of supercarrier completely from scratch.
The Defence review had merely set out the case for building new aircraft carriers in light of HMS EAGLE’s performance in the South Atlantic and laid out a very broad set of requirements that looked impressive on paper but left plenty of leeway in their interpretation.
The first stage of the CVF 90 program was the setting up of an Admiralty Requirements Committee. This committee was made up of naval planners, naval architects, representatives from the MOD finance department and many others. Its task was to draw up a detailed list of requirements that the new carrier design would be expected to meet. This would cover every single aspect of the new ship from length, width, draught and displacement all the way down to lightbulbs and toilet seats and everything inbetween.
The various members of the committee were all “Stakeholders” within the CVF 90 project and came with their own requirements. The men from the Navy and MOD were interested in making sure that the ship that was built fulfilled their needs in terms of capability offered. The naval architects and various scientific and technical types were there to ensure that the design would be technically feasible and the finance and treasury men (and women) were there to make sure that all of this was affordable.
Naturally the navy’s requirements took priority with the other stakeholders effectively green or red lighting them for various reasons.

To the layman the logical order of things would be for the Requirements committee to complete their work and present their findings to the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors who would then be able to start designing the ship. In reality though the Requirements committee had been formed and commenced work first the Design team began work almost concurrently. This was because of the need to contend with a design that was constantly evolving to meet requirements as they came in to produce a rough baseline from which the designers would be able to start the more detailed design and development work once they knew what was required of them.

The design and development phase of the CVF 90 program began in early 1984 and lasted well into 1987 at a cost of close to £200 million. This was before the order to begin construction had even been placed let alone steel having been cut.
The story of the ships design process and the various challenges therein is a subject worthy of several books.
However, the headline grabbing items as it were are as follows:

One of the first issues that designers had to content with was a lack of experience. The only aircraft carriers built in Britain in the last 20 years were the 3 ships of the INVINCIBLE class. These were small light carriers without such complicated things like aircraft catapults and arrestor wires and angled flight decks. The last “conventional” carrier was the MAJESTIC class HMS HERCULES which had been completed in 1961. Even then that particular ship had been launched in 1945 and immediately laid up uncompleted when the end of the war made her surplus to requirements. In 1957 she had been taken in hand for completion but even something as theoretically simple as fitting out the empty hulk had taken four years. HERCULES had been subsequently sold to India where she was still serving as INS VIKRANT (It was known that the Indian’s where starting to look for a replacement).
The last time the Royal Navy had attempted to build a large conventional carrier was the CVA 01 program that had been cancelled while it was still on the drawing board in 1966.
The upshot was there was no one involved with the project who had any practical experience in designing or building the kind of large aircraft carrier that was demanded. This actually had a significant influence on the final design as the designers were forced to start from scratch rather than producing an evolution of an existing design as was often seen with other warship types.

The logical starting point was to examine the documentation left over from the CVA-01 project as it was recognised that apart from 20 years of technological development CVA-01 and CVF 90 would not be too different in overall size and capability as a result of being a response to similar requirements. It was hoped that by relearning the lessons that would have been learned during the CVA 01 project it would be possible to make savings in terms of time and money through not having to effectively re-tread old ground.
Another old program that was looked at was the much more recent US Navy Aircraft Carrier Medium (CVV) program which had aimed to produce a conventionally powered aircraft carrier of about 55,000 tons to serve as a follow on from the KITTYHAWK class and be a cheaper alternative to building more gigantic NIMITZ class nuclear powered supercarriers. The US was very keen for Britain to retain large deck carrier capability as they felt that this would complement and take some pressure off of their own carrier fleet and for a more capable Royal Navy to help counter the growing Soviet Fleet. To this end they had been very willing to offer support and short of actually paying for it do whatever was necessary to make sure that CVF 90 became a reality. The majority of their support came in the form of technical assistance including being given access to some of the technical data left over from CVV.

As when designing any ship one of the biggest issues that must be resolved is that of propulsion and power and this was one of the first major points where the CVF 90 team found themselves stuck.
Just getting a ship of the proposed size (Specified in the Defence Whitepaper as in the region of 55,000 – 65,000 tons) to move through the water requires an enormous amount of power. The unique challenge faced by aircraft carriers is that on top of this they must also produce highly pressurised steam to power aircraft catapults and arrestor gears that are needed to launch and recover 30 ton aircraft. It was the need to produce steam for the catapults and wires that was the problem.
Up until that point every single aircraft carrier in the world that was equipped with catapults and arrestor wires was powered by boilers that would produce high pressure steam to power both the ship and catapults and wires. The problem was that the Royal Navy was now moving away from steam powered ships and towards gas turbines in its most recent ship class’s such as the INVINCIBLE class, Type 42’s, Type 22’s and planned Type 23’s. Again this meant that there was a lack of recent knowledge and experience in designing and building boiler powered propulsion systems.
The RN and MOD were not exactly enthusiastic about the prospect of the ships being steam powered. Doing this would result in delays and additional costs as a result of having to design a new steam power plant. Going forward the intention was to phase out steam powered vessels within the next 15 or so years. This would mean that steam powered CVF-90’s would be a major logistical nightmare as they would need their own unique training streams and spares supply chain. This would render them increasingly uneconomical as time went on. The ships were expected to have a 40 year lifespan and while operating a large steam powered vessel might be just about manageable and affordable now would that still be true 20 years in the future?
Future proofing was a major consideration in the design. When HMS EAGLE and ARK ROYAL had been built towards the end of the second world war they had a capacity of 60 aircraft. Over the course of their lives the size of aircraft had increased exponentially meaning that now being towards the end of her life HMS EAGLE could carry less than 40 aircraft and struggled to fit them into her hangar’s on the flight deck. One of the key requirements of CVF-90 was that there must be spare capacity on the vessel to provide space for whatever future equipment and growth she may need over the course of her life.

This was an issue that the Americans had faced and gotten round by switching power source. The USS JOHN F KENNEDY was the last conventionally powered aircraft carrier built anywhere in the world. Since then the Americans had only built Nuclear powered carriers. Nuclear power had many practical advantages. It meant that the NIMITZ class and USS ENTERPRISE had virtually limited endurance, didn’t need to be constantly refuelled and not needing to carry vast amounts of fuel for the ship freed up lots of space for a greater quantity of aircraft fuel and munitions (this was something that the British were particularly interested in following issues encountered by HMS EAGLE in the Falklands conflict relating to onboard munitions stocks) and most importantly could easily and quickly produce the required amount of steam for flying operations. The downside was that nuclear power was hellish expensive and came with all sorts of political baggage. For this reason, the Defence Whitepaper had dismissed the idea of nuclear power and insisted that the ships be conventionally powered.
Despite this documents found in the national archives many years later showed that the idea of pursuing the nuclear option had actually been briefly considered. A quick study had been done to determine the feasibility of using a PWR2 nuclear reactor then currently under development to power the new class of SSBN’s that would carry the Trident SLBM. The document showed that this idea had been declared impractical as the reactor which had been designed to propel a 15,000 ton submarine would struggle to produce enough power to drive a ship four times that size. Doing so would mean that the reactor would have to be constantly run at nearly maximum capacity just to keep everything moving and would also result in a ship with a lower than acceptable maximum speed.

The path that the CVF-90 team decided to go down was to develop a combined gas turbine/boiling water system. The ship itself would be powered by gas turbine engines while a separate gas turbine system would power a high pressure steam generator. When initially proposed this was felt to be a compromise that didn’t really satisfy anyone. However, it was decided that this was the most promising proposal and so the long and expensive process of development began.

The next major hurdle was the shape and layout of the ships flight deck. The designers aim was to maximise the amount of deck space while factoring in the needs of the ships island superstructure, the equipment needed to launch and recover aircraft, ect. To save money it had been decided that rather than produce a new type of aircraft catapult in Britain it would be better to go with an “off the shelf solution”. Therefore, the CVF 90’s would be equipped with a pair of C-13-2 aircraft catapults purchased from the United States where they were being developed to equip the NIMITZ class. Though consideration had been given to equipping each ship with 3 catapults the decision in the end was to go with two, one bow and one waist, on the grounds of cost, deck space and demands on the steam generation plant. At 99m long it had been suggested that the C-13-2 might be too large for the CVF 90 and that a shorter catapult of 80m should be used instead seeing as this would still be adequate to launch the F/A 18 that was intended to fly from this ship. The decision to go with the larger catapult was based on the perceived need for future proofing as at the time it was still expected that carrier aircraft would become gradually bigger. Even if the RN’s aircraft stayed at the same size there was no telling what monsters the US Navy may be flying in 25 years and the RN was keen to maintain the ability for cross decking with US carriers.

There were some easy wins such as the decision to go with aircraft lifts on the edge of the flight deck as opposed to in the centre so as not to interrupt flying operations when the lift was in use (an issue present on both HMS EAGLE and the INVINCIBLE class).
The positioning and shape of the ships island superstructure was a unique challenge. The island contains the ships bridge, flyco, flight deck control, funnel, radars and electronics, ect. A lot to cram into a relatively small structure and each with their own unique requirements. For example, the ships bridge is better positioned further forward and must have a completely unobstructed view in every direction while flyco is better positioned further aft so as to have a better view of aircraft during approach and landing. At the same time the various radars and aerials must be positioned so as not to interfere with each other.
The result was an island superstructure that externally was not to different from the one that had been proposed for the CVA 01 class. Positioned on the starboard side at about midships the structure was about 70m in length. The layout was the bridge and flyco both positioned forward one above the other. Whereas HMS EAGLE and ARK ROYAL had a large wing protruding from the port side of the bridge to give flyco a better view of the flight deck the CVF 90 would instead have something that resembled half of an airport control tower. Again located on the port side of the bridge but split into two levels with the bridge on top and flyco below. The two levels were easily distinguishable by the bridge above having small windows and the flyco effectively being a large glass box. This unique design fulfilled the requirements of both the bridge and flyco for a clear and unobstructed view and allowed them to not get in the way of each other while still being easily and quickly accessible. Both Flyco and the flight deck control office would make extensive use of CCTV cameras to be able to see what the naked eye couldn’t (everything from aircraft at the beginning of their approach many miles away to the more usual catching aircraft handlers trying to have a quick cigarette out of view of the bridge.
On top of the bridge would be a powerful Type 1022 air search radar. The ship would also be equipped with a pair of Type 1007 navigation radars. Aft of this would be the foremost of two funnels followed by a tall radar mast that carried communications equipment and Type 996 surface search and target indication radar. On the starboard side would be a weapons sponson where a CWIS system and chaff launchers would be located. Finally, at the aftermost end would be the aft funnel and camera position that would record the approach and landings of aircraft for future review.

Another issue was that of self defence. The ship had been designed from the outset to include four positions for CWIS systems (likely to be Phalanx) to give all round coverage. Some were saying that this wasn’t enough and that the ship should be equipped with its own point defence missile system as it may not always be able to count on the protection of its aircraft or escorts. This was a concern born out of the Falklands conflict and in particular the sinking of the Argentine carrier 25 DE MAYO which despite having two modern escorts had found itself utterly helpless against even the ageing Martel ASM’s with predictable and terrible results.
When the CVA 01 program had been cancelled the chief designer had stated that in a way he was glad as the design had ended up containing so many compromises that the whole program had become a massive risk. One of these had been the requirement to carry Sea Dart air defence missiles which had resulted in designers having to sacrifice a large chunk of the flight deck to accommodate the launcher and never really solving the issues surrounding the flight deck being temporarily unusable by smoke and the need to check for FOD after even a single missile launch. For these reasons many on the design team were wary of including missiles within the design.
The good news was that no one was proposing something massive like Sea Dart but instead Sea Wolf for point defence to complement the CWIS systems as the last line of defence.
The challenge was where to locate it. Initially 6 cell launchers currently in service aboard the Type 22 and being fitted to some of the LEANDER class frigates was proposed. The proposal was for them to be positioned in a similar fashion to CWIS on dedicated platforms below the flight deck level. The issues here were blast and reloads and potential interference with the CWIS systems.
The blast from each missile launching would need somewhere to go as it would otherwise likely cause major damage to the ships side through heat and would likely cause the paint to boil and run off the side. Therefore, either a jet blast deflector or an extractor system similar to the one surrounding the Sea Dart launcher aboard HMS INVINCIBLE would be required. This would be very expensive in terms of additional weight and space within the ship that it would occupy. Furthermore, having multiple separate launchers would mean that either four separate magazines and missile workshops near the launchers would be required which would again be very expensive in terms of space or a central magazine could be used which brought up the issue of how to get the missiles from the magazines to the launchers. It was likely that this would have to be done by putting them on bomb lifts along with the aircraft munitions and then carting them over the flight deck before somehow lowering them down to the launchers. Hardly a safe or effective solution.
Because of this a compromise was reached. Instead of 6 cell launchers firing missiles horizontally instead designers decided to take advantage of the Sea Wolf vertical launch system being developed for the Type 23 frigate.
The missiles were positioned in 2 groups of 8 at the very aft of the flight deck to the port and starboard of the glide path. The reason for positioning them as far aft as possible was to limit the effect that a launch would have on flying operations. The wind over the flight deck generated by the movement of the ship would blow the smoke generated by a launch clear of the flight deck along with a hopefully large amount of any debris generated. Being vertically launched from the flight deck meant that the missiles would enjoy a clear and all round field of fire.
Though it was not envisioned that the ship would carry them on a regular basis any Sea Wolf reloads would be stored in the magazines and would have to be brought to the flight deck via the bomb lifts where at least loading them into the launchers would be comparatively straight forward if not quick. The designers were accepting that there would be no battlefield reloads but justified this by pointing out that if it ever got to the point where a carrier was having to fire its own SAM system in anger then something had gone wrong somewhere and during an attack by a supersonic anti ship missile there most probably wouldn’t be time to launch all 16 missiles on the flight deck anyway and even if this weren’t a factor surely 16 missiles would settle the issue one way or another.

One interesting chapter in the birth of the CVF 90 was that of the French connection. The French Navy even before the Falklands conflict had started to look at a replacement for their pair of 22,000 ton CLEMENCEAU class aircraft carriers. Naturally when Britain had announced that it intended to build a new class of aircraft carrier the French had become interested in collaborating with the view of possibly producing a common design to reduce costs. French and British naval and technical delegations were warmly received by either side and information was exchanged regarding each nations proposals. As time went on however issues began to arise. One of the basic problems was that each nation had differing requirements resulting in different designs. Many on both the British and French sides felt that really the other side was going to press ahead with their own design and just wanted them to build a ship to that design so they could take advantage of economies of scale and pass on some of the development costs.
Another major obstacle was that both the British and French programs had already been going ahead before the other nation had become interested and thus not being dependant on each other the teams involved didn’t have all that much of an incentive to make allowances or compromises to accommodate the other side.
Propulsion was a major point of tension as the French didn’t think much of the British combined gas turbine and steam generator solution and instead wanted nuclear power. This was part of the reason why they had become interested in cooperation with the British as the French had like the Brits recognised the enormous costs involved and were hoping that they could be shared with the British as part of a joint program. For reasons already mentioned the British were completely against the idea of using nuclear power.
Another issue was the relative size of the ships desired. Whereas the British were looking at designs of up to 65,000 tons the French baulked at this as they had been thinking along the lines of a more modest fleet carrier of below 50,000 tons.
Over time it became clear that there was little was little political or military desire on the part of the British to cooperate with the French and little desire on the French side to make the design compromises that cooperation with the British would require.
Ultimately in August 1986 during a press conference the French Minister of Defence Andre Giraud responded to a question by confirming that cooperation with the British regarding future aircraft carrier construction had been considered but ultimately decided against. Both nations aircraft carrier programs carried on regardless.

About the time of the French Ministers conference and with the CVF 90’s final design now coming together the question was who would or even could build such a gigantic and complex vessel. The final design at this point was for a class of ships with a displacement of 62,000 tons. With a length of 285m, a beam of 68m at its widest and draught of just under 11m at a cost of just over 1 billion pounds each. This price was excluding the development costs and would make the chosen shipyard owners extremely happy but was already causing many inside and outside the MOD to tear their hair out in frustration.
Officially the plan was still for three ships but everyone knew that in reality the third ship was never a serious prospect (and hadn’t yet been budgeted for) and that only two would be built (if that!). The plan was for the second of the class to begin construction approximately 2 years after the first. The navy had a quiet sense of urgency regarding getting the second carrier ordered before the inevitable delays and cost overruns with the first persuaded an always cash strapped government to cancel and leave them with just one carrier. Therefore, given the time between ordering and launching of the first ship there was a strong possibility that the second ship may be ordered from a different yard. Politically this was attractive as it could be presented as sustaining more jobs and there were some within the Conservative government that wanted to use the carrier program as a political tool as part of their ongoing campaign to paint the Labour Party as soft on defence and possibly even sap away at Labour’s support in the primarily Labour voting areas where most shipyards were located.

There were only a handful of shipbuilders in the country judged capable of building the CVF 90 and the program had reached the stage where the ship builders would need to be brought in to help develop the build plan.
The dominant payer within the British shipbuilding industry at the time was The British Shipbuilder Corporation which was the publicly owned corporation that had resulted from the nationalisation of the British shipbuilding industry in 1977. The complicating issue was that the corporation was currently in the process of being privatised with its various constituent companies being sold off.
Four ship builders were invited to compete for the contract to construct the first ship.

Cammell Laird based in Birkenhead had recently been privatised and was now owned by Vickers Ship Building. The yard had a long history of constructing large warships including HMS ARK ROYAL meaning that it had the space and most of the facilities to build a large aircraft carrier. It’s lack of recent experience in building large warships was not held against them for the simple fact that no one anywhere in the UK had built something this size since the second world war.

Swan Hunter based in Wallsend on the Tyne had constructed the Invincible class HMS INDOMITABLE and HMS ILLUSTRIOUS (Now HMAS AUSTRALIA). AT the time of the contract decision the company was due to be privatised however the government had stated that if Swan Hunter were to be awarded the contract privatisation would be postponed so as not do disrupt construction. This would have the added advantage of allowing the government to provide direct financial support as the yard’s finances were rather less than healthy and privatisation had been seen as a way of bringing in the necessary cash injection required to keep the yard going. The state of their finances was a mark against awarding the contract to Swan Hunter as the government was worried about the prospect of escalating costs and having to bail out the yard.

Harland and Wolff based in Belfast were the legendary builders of the TITANIC and also of HMS EAGLE. Equipped with a large slipway and two gigantic heavy lift gantry cranes named Samson and Goliath the Belfast based yard certainly had the capacity for the work. There was however one large and literally explosive problem. Belfast even in the late 1980’s was a warzone with constant riots and civil unrest and regular terrorist actions by various armed groups such as the IRA. Building a large aircraft carrier that would dominate the local skyline and be an extremely obvious symbol of British rule was to put it mildly asking for trouble. The various security concerns meant that building in Belfast was never really a serious option. Harland and Wolff had in reality been shortlisted mainly for political reasons but given the planned use of prefabricated sections in the construction there would possibly be some subcontracting work awarded to Belfast. Despite this for appearances sake the MOD had to go through the movements of considering Harland and Wolff even though the outcome regarding the yard was already a foregone conclusion. As always a poor relatively junior civil servant was told to start working on a report into why Belfast wasn’t an option. The report whose page count eventually ran into the hundreds did actually attract the interest of various military officers within HQ Northern Ireland which was the body responsible for the conduct of military operations within the province. The report described how with the shipyard’s workers being mostly Protestant building warships there could be easily interpreted by the Catholic community as the British government siding with their mortal enemies (though many pointed out that this view already was widespread amongst the community) and lead to increased unrest. Regarding providing security for the ship itself while under construction the report recommended that Harland and Wolff’s yard basically become a heavily fortified military base in its own right such would be the number of soldiers required to provide security. Likely threats ranged from long distance rocket and sniper attacks against what would be an “extremely bleeding obvious and difficult to miss target” (those words were scratched out and translated into another several pages of reporting) to attacks against shipyard employees outside of the relative safety of their workplace and the possibility of someone smuggling a bomb onboard to be detonated within the ship.
When the civil servant finally presented his report though his superiors were impressed with the level of detail they told him that he should have just written “IRA” and “terrorism threat” a few times and saved himself a lot of effort.

Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd more commonly referred to simply as VSEL owned the ex Vickers yard in Barrow-in-Furness and were another contender. The yard was well known as being the place where the majority of the Royal Navy’s Nuclear Submarine’s had been constructed and definitely possessed the technical knowledge and facilities to build CVF-90. There was however an issue.
The yard was currently committed to building the United Kingdom’s new fleet of Trident SLBM carrying SSBN’s. This was the one defence program that unquestionably had a higher priority than even the new aircraft carriers that the RN wanted as the centrepiece for the fleet for the next few decades. In fact, long even before the Falklands conflict vast sums of money had been invested in the site with the monolithic Devonshire Dock Hall having been constructed between 1982 and 1986. The building was vast covering 6 acers and was where the future SSBN’s which had been named the VANGUARD class were to be built with the first being laid down in 1986. There were serious concerns about the yards capacity to take on another megaproject and the risk of knock on effects for the VANGUARD class construction program.

Building an aircraft carrier is one of the most expensive things that a navy can do. It’s not just a case of financing the cost of the ship and aircraft themselves but also of the extensive infrastructure building program required to be able to operate those shiny new toys. In the case of the CVF 90 program one of those infrastructure projects was dredging. These ships would be the largest the Royal Navy and the simple fact of the matter was that as things stood, they were simply too vast to be able to make it into either Portsmouth or Plymouth without scraping their hulls along the bottom of the harbours. Because of this an extensive program of dredging work would have to be undertaken to deepen the harbour enough to enable the ships to enter. This rather than any strategic consideration had determined the choice of Portsmouth over Plymouth as the ships home base as it was felt that Portsmouth need less work and thus cost less.
As well as the harbour itself it would also be necessary to dredge a deep water channel out of the harbour and into the Solent. It had however been recognised that this could benefit both the commercial port within Portsmouth and also neighbouring Southampton by allowing access to ever larger merchant vessels. For this reason, the port operators were very keen for the dredging of Portsmouth to go ahead and a deal was eventually negotiated whereby they would make a significant contribution towards the cost of the work. This cost saving for the MOD made Portsmouth a much more attractive option than Plymouth which would need its long and windy channel significantly widened and deepened and had no commercial interests nearby to help shoulder the financial burden.
Dredging Portsmouth would be a long process requiring extensive planning and preparation. Dredging work would not begin until after the construction of the first ship commenced and even by that point it was clear that it was going to take a lot longer than originally anticipated. Survey divers had already come across numerous bits of unexploded ordinance left over from various wars that would require careful disposal and worse items of significant archaeological value that could very well result in protection orders that would need to be circumnavigated somehow.

As well as the dredging work extensive upgrades to the docks themselves would need to take place to strengthen them so they didn’t simply crumble when 62,000 tons of ship tried to berth. An entirely new dock was to be constructed from the south end of Victory Jetty all the way up to the top corner of Sheer jetty at a length of over 650m. This would have the advantage of effectively providing more real estate for waterfront support buildings.
As well as the docks there was also the issue of drydocking. The RN simply didn’t posses any dry dock big enough to host the new ships. This situation was felt by the RN to be unacceptable. The problem was that the treasury were already less than happy about expense of the carrier program and considered the drydock issue to be a problem that was to expensive to solve. During the CVA 01 program plans had been drawn up for the construction of a large new dry dock in Portsmouth which would jut outwards from northwest wall into the harbour. There were benefits to this proposal as the RN would not only gain a large and modern drydock but also a large amount of extra berthing space. The drawback to this however was the enormous cost (which would be almost as much as building that third ship) and the estimated near decade that it would take to complete the building work to say nothing of the various technical challenges that would be involved and the major disruption to shipping traffic within the harbour.

Another option looked at was expanding the existing D Lock within the dockyard. However the technical challenges of going down this route would be if anything even more problematic than starting from scratch and the RN wasn’t too keen about loosing the only Drydock in Portsmouth big enough to take the INVINCINBLE class carriers and effectively locking them out of the dockyards nontidal basin.

In true government style the response to the issue was to simply kick the can down the road again and again by telling planners to go and look for other more cost effective option the drydock issue remained an ongoing saga.

Finally in June 1987 the MOD was in a position to present its final proposal. The design had been finalised and builders selected. The RAF was already making progress with the F/A 18 program and everything was in place to begin. All was needed now was the go ahead. This period was the scene of some intensive efforts by the treasury to get the whole thing called off as they regarded CVF-90 and all of the other projects that it would spawn as horrifyingly detrimental to the nations balance sheet.
There were many within the cabinet who were unsure as to whether the project should be allowed to proceed as the Defence Whitepaper had been viewed by some as more of a military wish list than a seriously costed policy document. However, in a scene reminiscent of a meeting which had taken place in Chequers on the 1st of May 1982 the day before another aircraft carrier had met its end it was the Prime Minister who settled the issue by simply saying Build Them.

The keel laying for the first vessel was scheduled for October 1987. There was however one final thing that needed to be agreed upon. What was this first ship to be called?