Cavour 550 – Among the newest aircraft carriers in the world today

The Italian Navy Cavour light carrier was launched in 2004 and was officially commissioned in 2008. Apart from the US and Russia, many countries also own modern but little-known types of aircraft carriers. Aircraft carriers are considered a symbol of a nation’s naval might. In this field, the US is the leading country with 11 super nuclear-powered aircraft carriers on the payroll, followed by Russia with conventional engine powered ships. In addition, there are several countries that own aircraft carriers, although they are not particularly prominent and rarely used in military operations, the Italian Cavour is an example.

Allies with the United States are actively upgrading their amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers to carry F-35B Lightning II fighters. After the Japanese Navy announced its intention to procure 40 short take-off and vertical-landing F-35B Lightning II to equip the Izumo-class helicopter destroyer, Italy recently made a similar move.

According to the Italian Ministry of Defense, the navy’s Cavour aircraft carrier arrived at the Taranto shipyard in July 2019, ready to carry out conversion work to meet the standards of F-35B fighter. The first phase of the modification process will take about 6 months. After the completion of the first phase, the Cavour will be handed over to the Fincantini shipyard for further modification. The Italian Navy has invested 70 million Euro to upgrade and modernize this aircraft carrier. After being upgraded, stealth fighters capable of short take-off and vertical-landing F-35B will replace the existing AV-8B Harrier. The carrier is expected to resume operation in September 2020.

The Italian Cavour is among the newest aircraft carriers in the world today. Cavour aircraft carrier was laid down on July 17, 2001, launched on July 20, 2004 and officially entered service on June 10, 2009 after more than a year of sea trials. The Cavour is quite modest in size with a length of 244 m, a beam of 29.1m and a draft of 8.7m. When completed, the displacement of the aircraft carrier was only 27,100 tons, after a major upgrade before being officially commissioned in the Italian Navy in 2008, the Cavour can reach 30,000 tons of full displacement.

The ship was designed to be able to combine fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, along with command, control, and transport of troops or civilian and heavy military vehicles. The space of the aircraft hangar is 2,800 square meters and can accommodate up to 12 helicopters or 8 fixed-wing aircraft. It can also carry up to 24 main battle tanks or more light vehicles like Dardo IFV or Iveco LMV. These vehicles are accessed via the ramps at the rear. The hangar is connected to the deck by two 30-ton lifts, in addition to four smaller lifts for ammunition and service purposes.

Similar to many other European carriers, the island superstructure is located on the starboard, sensors and system processing center are also located here. A pair of double chimney funnels is placed at the top of the superstructure, with two large cranes arranged at either end of the superstructure. The flight deck has a runway of 183 meters, can accommodate 10 to 12 aircraft and 6 helicopters plus a dedicated search and rescue helicopter. Cavour is designed with a 12-degree ski jump, flight activities that can operate at sea state 6. The Italian carrier can accommodate up to 1,292 people, including officers, 486 crew members, 211 aircrews, amphibious forces and soldiers.

The propulsion system of the Cavour is a combined gas turbine and gas turbine, driving two shafts. The ship is equipped with four Avio LM2500 gas turbines providing 118,000 horsepower and six Wartsila CW 12V200 diesel generators with a capacity of 17,700 horsepower. Cavour can reach a maximum speed of 29 knots, a range of 7,000 knots when running at a fuel economy speed of 16 knots. Main carrier sensors include Selex RAN-40L 3D long-range reconnaissance radar, Selex ES EMPAR multifunction radar, Selex ES RAN-30X surface reconnaissance radar and 2 Selex ES RTN-25X Orion fire control radars.

In terms of ωεɑρσռs and equipment, the Cavour aircraft carrier has a vertical launch pad assembly A43 Sylver with 32 cells, compatible with MBDA Aster 15 medium-range air defense missile with a range of 30 km. Other ωεɑρσռs include two 76mm Oto Melara cannons, three Oerlikon Contraves 25mm Anti-aircraft guns and two ODLS-H Oto Melara decoy launching systems. The system provides a fully automatic soft-kill defence against missile threats by confusion of enemy sensors before missile firing; decoying of the missile homing system during its flight and illumination of targets.

Cavour currently serves as the flagship of the Italian Navy, however, the ship has never participated in combat operations and was only deployed in humanitarian relief operations after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. As a light aircraft carrier, before being equipped with F-35B, the Cavour had the presence of a squadron of 8 AV-8B Harrier II, or 12 AW101 helicopters. Another unique feature of the Cavour carrier is that it also functions as an amphibious vessel, with four LCVP high speed boats available for deployment from the auxiliary compartment.

After receiving F-35B stealth fighter, the Cavour’s combat power will skyrocket compared to the present. With a fleet of 12 F-35Bs, it will be able to perform both long-range attack missions and air defense for the entire fleet. On the US side, after many initial criticisms, the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter is showing that this is “the chicken lays golden eggs” of the US defense industry. As for Russia, Moscow has an additional reason to worry as the disparity of forces with the NATO Navy is increasing, especially when its Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier has not scheduled a return date.

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