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Friday, February 13, 1998 Published at 09:45 GMT

Special Report

Backing the Americans - HMS Invincible
image: [ 20,000 tonnes, powered by four Rolls Royce engines ]
20,000 tonnes, powered by four Rolls Royce engines

The British Government ordered HMS Invincible to take up a position in the Gulf in the middle of January. She sailed through the Suez Canal from the Mediterranean where she had been on alert. This is a profile of the UK carrier.

  • HMS Invincible weighs 20,000 tonnes, is 210m in length and 35m at its widest. It can carry approximately 1200 troops. It has two sister ships, the Illustrious (which is on stand-by at the moment) and the Ark Royal. Any two of these three are in service at any one time.

  • The ship was launched by the Queen in May 1977 and served in the Falklands War in 1982.

  • In 1989 Invincible had a 100 million refit to improve the ship's communications and self-defence and electronic warfare capabilities. It was re-commissioned in 1989.

  • Four 4 Rolls Royce Olympus gas turbine engines power the ship. These are marine versions of the same engines that power Concorde.

  • Eight electricity generators power the ship which also has a water distillery that provides 75,000 gallons of fresh water each day. The ship also has terrestrial television, a chapel, a schoolroom and other recreation facilities

  • The ship can carry up to 24 aircraft. At the moment it is carrying Carries FA2 and GR7 Harriers, fighters and bombers respectively. There are also Sea-King helicopters onboard, some anti-submarine, some kitted out with early warning radar-systems.

  • Invincible carries Sea Dart missiles: medium range surface-to-air or surface-to-surface weapons. These can engage supersonic aircraft and missiles. The ship is also equipped with 30mm 'Goalkeeper' automatic guns which were installed during the refit. They can engage aircraft and missiles at close range and are radar-controlled.

  • There are two versions of the Westland Sea-King helicopter onboard: anti-submarine and early warning. The anti-submarine Sea King uses radar and sonar to locate its target which it can attack with either depth charges or torpedoes. The early-warning version flies out ahead of the task force in order to provide vital defence information several hundred miles ahead of the ship.

The Harriers

  • The Invincible is currently carrying FA2 and GR7 Harriers. It has a ski-jump at the end of the flight-deck which was made steeper during the refit. The ramp flings the planes into the air, allowing them to travel further and to carry more weight than they could on a conventional carrier. Consequently, it does not require launching catapults. It is known as a STOVL carrier - Short Take Off, Vertical Landing.

  • The FA2 Sea Harrier is a fighter plane that carries medium-rang air-to-air missiles. This was the first fighter capable of engaging targets that were beyond visual range. It can carry 30mmm cannon, anti-ship missiles and bombs up to 1000lbs. It uses the ski-ramp for take off and lands vertically.

  • The GR7 harrier is a bomber which is equipped to fight in difficult weather conditions and at night. Although Harriers have been in use for 25 years the GR7 is a relatively new design. It can carry conventional and laser-guided bombs, armour-piercing rockets and sidewinder missiles. It also has two 25mm cannon.


  • HMS Invincible is accompanied by a destroyer (HMS Nottingham), a frigate (HMS Coventry), a support ship (Fort Victoria) and a tanker (RFA Bay Leaf).

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