The Lightning-Carrier light aircraft carrier concept was deemed successful by the US Navy during trials

The light aircraft carrier concept is picking up momentum with the Lightning-Carrier program within the US Navy to deal with the rise of the Chinese Navy.

At the height of the American effort for the reconquest of the Pacific islands, the US Navy aligned about twenty Essex-class heavy aircraft carriers, these ships constituting the American naval battle corps to counter and destroy the powerful Japanese fleet. .

However, a large part of the missions of the American naval aviation, in the Pacific as in the Atlantic, whether escorting naval convoys or supporting amphibious forces during assaults, was carried out from 9 Independence-class light carriers and 50 Casablanca-class escort carriers.

190 meters long for a laden displacement of 15.000 tonnes, the Independence-class light aircraft carriers used 35 Hellcat and Avenger aircraft, compared to 28 for the Casablanca-class 10.000-ton escort aircraft carriers, in order to to hold back air, sea and submarine threats aimed at convoys or dismounted forces.

The light aircraft carrier played an important role during the Second World War
The Casablanca-class escort carriers (here the USS Guadalcanal) played a decisive role in the Pacific campaign, but also in the escort of convoys in the Atlantic

With the arrival of the first embarked jets at the end of the 40s, the dimensions of the aircraft carriers were quickly revised upwards, from 250m and 30.000 tons for the Essex class, to 300 meters and 55.000 tons for the aircraft carriers Midway class heavyweights.

The evolution of the light and medium aircraft carrier during the Cold War

As for the light or escort aircraft carriers, they left the service, unable as they were to accommodate effectively, because of their limited tonnage, the new aircraft. In the 60s, the US Navy had definitively got rid of this type of ship to equip itself exclusively with heavy aircraft carriers.

France and Great Britain, for their part, developed models of medium aircraft carriers with smaller dimensions than American ships, but capable of implementing modern ship-borne fighters, with the Clemenceau and Hermes classes, ships of 35.000 tons and 270 meters.

Aircraft carrier Clemenceau carrying Super Etendrad Alizes and Etendrad IV escorted by the FAA Cassard Aircraft carrier | Defense Analysis | UNITED STATES
With a displacement of only 32.000 tons, the Clemenceau was half the weight of its US Navy contemporaries. This is still the case today with the Charles de Gaulle and its 45.000 tons, compared to the 90.000 tons of the Nimitz.

While on-board combat aircraft became heavier and more efficient over the years, the concept of a light aircraft carrier seemed anachronistic at the beginning of the 70s, at least until the emergence of the couple formed by the British Invincible-class aircraft carriers and the Sea Harrier, the naval version of Hawker Siddeley's short and vertical take-off and landing fighter, a pair that demonstrated its effectiveness during the Falklands War in 1982.

Barely 207 meters long for a displacement of 20.000 tons, the Invincible class aircraft carriers brought the concept of light aircraft carriers back into fashion, and inspired many naval forces which undertook to acquire a fighter embarked on the basis of the same paradigms.

At the same time, taking inspiration from the Skijump developed by the British, the Soviets developed a model of intermediate-sized aircraft carrier without catapults, but equipped with arresters, the Kuznetzov class, and relying on classic combat aircraft with an excellent take-off weight ratio, such as the Mig-29 and the Su-33.

The arrival of the Harrier then the F-35B Lighting II

These two approaches are widely used today, whether by Western navies based on the Harrier and now the F-35B, or by the Russian, Chinese and Indian navies with approaches derived from the Kuznetzov.

The same was true for the US Navy and especially the US Marines Corps which, since the mid-80s, had used McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II fighters on board the Tarawa class assault helicopter carriers. and Iwo Jima.

Each assault helicopter carrier then lined up 8 to 10 fighters alongside the assault and attack helicopters, with the mission of protecting and supporting the landed amphibious forces.

USS Nimitz e1606743139998 Aircraft carrier | Defense Analysis | UNITED STATES
The US Navy's Nimitz-class heavy nuclear aircraft carriers can deploy up to 85 aircraft, including around XNUMX fighter planes, the equivalent of a fighter wing.

The aircraft carrier mission was strictly assigned to heavy aircraft carriers, and in particular to nuclear aircraft carriers of the Nimitz class, 330 meters long for 90.000 tons in load, capable of implementing all onboard aircraft of the US Navy, including nearly 60 Hornet, Tomcat and Corsair II fighters.

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