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Shame, I always thought that an American LHD would be much better off with a ski jump….


I understand the reasoning behind it. But I have been surprised that the USMC didn’t include it in the new America Class LHDs. The Wasp’s I can understand to a point, but in particular 2 of the America Class have no well deck and are being used as Light Aircraft Carriers. The USN with a reduced number of CV’s compared to the past has used Wasp Class to ‘fill in’. In particular an LHD conducted strikes recently off the coast of Libya. With the increased capability of the F-35 I would have thought they’d have jumped at the chance to maximise a new class of ships. It would have made sense to make them a little longer if they needed to retain as many helo spots as possible.


It’s not a new perspective, not new at all. The USN won’t entertain anything that might reduce the number of CVN hulls. The reality is that some “light” carriers might actually be useful and far cheaper but it’s a forbidden topic.


Ah politics. When you have to trade potential additional capability because it might undermine a capability that it was meant to support.

Then again, as the article points out, there is a practical reason for the amphibs not having ramps. More helicopter spots is more important for a naval landing than additional fighter capability, which would likely be provided by a CVN anyway during a major conflict. A large fleet of specialists is often more effective than a smaller force of generalists.

Captain Nemo

Tyler Rogaway made a case for the US building smaller carriers back when he was at foxtrotalpha.
Link below:

On the assumption STRN are happy with the link, apologies if otherwise.

Simon m

Great article thanks – do you think it would be beneficial that the next amphibious assault ships are LHDs rather than LPDs? otherwise due to the planned length of service of QE class some skills will likely to be lost. Also do you think in 40 years time due to the lack of shipyards we will still be able to undertake a project such as cvf?
The ingenuity and contribution of the UK has been key to carrier development and it would be a shame to lose it.
Hopefully we can get involved with other navies (I think India were looking at the design) to keep our knowledge going forward to add to what we learn from operating carriers.
I also hope we can increase the f35 rate of procurement as not only to fill the deck of QE or PoW but also to increase numbers for the RAF which is at it’s lowest in terms of numbers


I think the RN will be looking at the Trieste with a lot of interest. Before that hit the water everyone thought the Mistral would be the template that the RN would look to to replace Bulwark and Albion., particularly with the demise of Ocean. But Mistral can’t carry Chinook (except on deck which is a big issue) and clearly couldn’t be considered as a reserve deck for F-35B. The similarity in how air operations in particular would be conducted with Trieste compared to QE and PoW. It uses MT30’s the same as the QE’s. The only issue would be slightly larger deck edge lifts than those fitted.


Albion class are years and years away from replacement. This is especially true with only one being in active service at a time.


They are indeed. I suspect the 2030 date that is often mentioned will be extended by a SLEP to c2035. But the direction of travel is clear from LPD’s to LHD’s, and to higher tonnages. The Italians will be operating the Trieste as a carrier in reality, but I suspect the RN will be watching with interest. Truth is the lack of aviation facilities on the Albion and Bulwark was a major mistake, as indeed was the lack of a hangar on the Bay’s (after all the Enforcer design on which they are based had versions with varying degrees of aviation facilities. That mistake has been amplified by the retirement of Ocean without replacement. I’m not saying the UK would purchase the design, but I’d expect something similar with twin islands, deck edge lifts, welldeck, ski jump and over 30,000 tonnes.

Adam C.

In an ideal world, the UK would have purchased the 2 ex-Russian Mistral ships to replace Ocean, Albion and Bulwark in one go, but the money simply wasn’t there, nor political will to defend buying French. I’d personally like to see a licence build of two LHD based on the Spanish Juan Carlos I. They’re large, have far more capacity than Albion and Bulwark in the amphibious role and more helicopter space than Ocean ever did, and can even carry a small complement of F-35B if necessary. Sadly, unless Boris starts to convert his words to concrete action on Defence spending, the money won’t be there for that.

David Boulding

My father, the late Lt Cmdr Boulding – a Swordfish and later Barracuda pilot – told me that he made the suggestion of using a ramp for take off when he was a serving officer to help the planes get into the air. It’s nearly the only thing he told us about the war.

tim lewin

they did actually fit a small ramp to the bow of the old carrier Argus, I don’t know how long it lasted, the idea was to give the Hurricanes (and others) she carried a leg-up from the short deck. In reality it caused more damage to undercarriages than it gave lift so possibly it was removed. When Argus took the Hurricanes for Op. Benedict in August 1941 two of the Hurricanes flying off into Murmansk lost the u/c completely on hitting the ramp, they made it but had to lad with no wheels.


It’s funny that the US navy are now pushing for the America/Wasp class to be “Lightning Carriers” i.e. light carriers. This is partially due to the continual problems with the Ford class, especially that the EMALS can’t launch F35As. But also to increase the total aviation footprint available to the Navy. So will these ships have ramps fitted, as it allows the F35Bs an additional 20% in weight to be used? It would be barking to think that the US Navy pushing the light carrier doesn’t use the ramp to enhance the capabilities of the F35.

Did we get any royalties from the countries that copied the design?

If it was required could a ramp be fitted with a catapult to further enhance the take off weight?

Personally, I think the LHD through deck design outperforms the aft facing LPD deck designs. As it offers much more flexibility in helicopter operations, but also gives you the option of operating VTOL/STOVL type aircraft. The only downside, is that the above waterline height is significantly higher than a LPD design. Due to the incorporation of both a well deck and a hangar plus the additional vehicle decks.


“So will these ships have ramps fitted, as it allows the F35Bs an additional 20% in weight to be used? It would be barking to think that the US Navy pushing the light carrier doesn’t use the ramp to enhance the capabilities of the F35.”

Doesn’t look like they will, even with the first 2 America Class which lack the well deck of the Wasps (and the later America Class). Even though they’re being touted as Lightning Carriers, the USN still sees their role as primarily amphibious assault using vertical lift. Whether or not this changes in the future and they bolt on some ski jumps may depend on the UK proving the concept, the USMC experiencing it on the QE Class or, just as likely, the F-35B being a little less suited to forward deployed expeditionary ops than the Harrier.

“Did we get any royalties from the countries that copied the design?”

Pretty hard to patent a ramp unfortunately..

“If it was required could a ramp be fitted with a catapult to further enhance the take off weight?”

The stress on aircraft undercarriage would be too great. Even a short catapult before the ramp changed the incline would cause too much strain.


I think it is more likely the US Navy doesn’t want to do anything that may give Congress the impression that there is an alternative to full sized carriers.

Rose Compass

…which is precisely why I have a hunch (probably wrong!) that the RN’s next generation of assault ships – if any materialise – will look more like RFA Argus than Ocean or the Invincible class – the logic is that if the RN were to have an Invincible type available as an assault carrier, the temptation for sea-blind politicians to axe the QE class at some point in their service lives in favour of the smaller ship would be all too great. Hence, if you start with a ship like Argus which can’t launch the F-35 (but can launch large helicopters), it can’t end up being the ultimate future of large deck aviation in the RN.


The carriers are highly, HIGHLY, unlikely to ever be the target of cuts. They’re the perfect “fleet in being” cover for axing other assets. So while escorts, minesweepers, submarines, and auxiliaries get cut, the politicians can still claim to be a major naval player, with the QECs forming the heart of (coalition) task forces.

Rose Compass

‘They’re the perfect “fleet in being” cover for axing other assets.’

Yes I take your point – but let’s not forget that the axing of the carrier renewal programme in the 1960s was, inter alia, significantly symbolic (part of the ostentatious repudiation of the East of Suez, imperial mindset) and that the very idea of the UK being a ‘major naval player’ is a matter that many in the halls of Westminster (now as then) would relish the prospect of disabusing us of – just as the same cohort probably squirm at the very idea of SSBNs, carriers and HMS Juffair. There are those who see these as totems reflecting delusions of grandeur, as well as those who see these as instruments of a globally trading nation with (round about) the fifth largest economy and enormous current as well as residual diplomatic capital – and importance.

Nevertheless, now that we have them (and let’s face it since the late 90s it was touch and go at times) I think the carriers are safe for a few years yet!


It’s also worth bearing in mind that (I think) the Lightning Carrier concept requires storage of some of the aircraft on the edge of the flight deck. The America class are relatively speaking much smaller than a QE anyway, so trying to make room for a ski ramp while maintaining the ~24 aircraft and having them able to efficiently taxi for take-off etc. may not be possible.


I believe as soon as the USMC start operating from the QE class, they will see the benefits of the ramp. If they see the benefits, then perhaps they will ask for the same on their ships?


The truth is that the QEs are big enough to hold all the likely F35s that will be available and all the junglies, HM2s too. That being said, a task group made up of a QE, Albion, 2 Bays and 2 Points is not to be sniffed at and probably has the capability to carry more AirPower than has been available to the UK since 1982.


Great article. Obviously a lot more to the simple “ski ramp” than meets the eye.


I’d never looked before but Ark certainly did get a better deal from the naval architects than her sisters. On an unrelated note, you are planning on putting together some of your more in-depth pieces into a book at some point I hope?


From final paragraph “……..who’s STOVL aircraft……”

Whose, not who’s.


” The Australian and Spanish Juan Carlos-class LHDs also have ramps with an eye to potential F-35B operation.”

The Spanish most certainly have an eye for embarked F-35Bs, but Australia’s navy, air force and defence bureaucracy have zero interest in it. A couple of politicians pushed the idea five years ago, but it was quietly dropped soon after without any work being done.


Wasn’t it argued that the only/main reason why the ramp was included in the design for HMAS Adelaide/Canberra was cost? In that it would have been far more costly to re-engineer the ships’ bow for a flat deck than to simply keep the ramp as is, and to avoid the additional cost of commissioning analysis on the effects on wind over deck with the flat deck. That, in addition to the ship infrastructure (fuel lines, fixed wing munition stores) being left out during the build phase, all to save cost.

Phillip Johnson

The stated reason was that it was too expensive to remove the ramp. The RAN would love to see the ships F-35B equipped but it was never part of the budget.
Given the forces building up in Asia a half dozen F-35’s per ship would have been irrelevant if the US was around and inadequate if they were not.
In practical terms RAN needs more helicopters to make full use the 2 LHD’s. With only 23 Seahawk Romeo’s and 6 NH-90’s they are dependant on Army helicopter to flesh out an air group.


I have no official information but reading between the lines I think it’s bit of column A and a bit of column B; it was too expensive to design the ramp out, and the deck is unsuitable for the heat generated by the F35 for sustained operations so it was never really designed to be turned back into a carrier.

What I suspect it was designed with was a view towards was that seeing as any opposed landing the RAN would be sailing the 2RAR BG toward would be in support of a greater USMC effort, and seeing as the USN doesn’t have enough flat tops to embark all the USMC’s F35B’s, then half a dozen of those could be given a lift and then disembarked at the first opportunity, think WW2 era CAM in terms of operational sortie rate, BUT, with a very useful emergency landing strip ability (and if the USMC ever get the in flight refuelling version of the V 22 into widespread service it will be interesting to see how quickly it gets certified to land on a Canberra).

As someone noted elsewhere in the thread there was a movement to embark F35’s, however it needs to be stressed that it was at a political level (as a result of lobbying), and it came after the ships had been selected, it did not come from the ADF/RAN. The ADF has a better feel for what it can do – budget wise – than many groups who lobby for it and they knew they had a choice : build an F 35 equipped escort carrier capability or a strong amphibious warfare capability, the decision to build the latter capability comes from the usual “you prepare for the last war you fought” approach (which is not to say it was the wrong decision, far from it), Somalia, Iraq, East Timor, Solomon Islands, not to mention the assorted humanitarian interventions (take the ’04 tsunami as an example, there are others seeing as the northern part of the country is in a tropical cyclone zone) all pointed toward the need for a strong amphibious assault and/or logistical lift capability.

…. Of course I could be reading too much into that and it was simply a case of the RAN knowing that in the dog eat dog world of inter-service politics and budgets, the RAAF would fight them to the death if they chose to build a carrier/ air group whereas the army would fully support an amphibious capability. Pick your battles and all of that 😉

John Clark

It’s interesting, Australia has worked hard to update their Amphibious fleet and the Canberra class certainly are very fine ships.

They have made the right decision, though organic Carrier Strike is a lovely capability to have, it’s not an critical requirement for the Australians and their defence money is well spent in general.

I can see no possible Australian military action that wouldn’t be fully supported by the US if needed, including full Carrier Strike if required.

Ironically, the Canberra Class with the bow ramp removed, would be a perfect replacement for Ocean.


“and the deck is unsuitable for the heat generated by the F35 for sustained operations ”

The deck can be given the appropriate covering quite easily in a refit period. There would need to be some areas that were protected with covers etc. But these are all very minor mods (but not quick, the covering for the portions of the flight deck exposed to high temps would take some months to apply). The fuel lines, magazine etc. are far more significant. The cost and hassle to re-add these if the RAN wanted them would probably mean a decision about whether to do it or just buy a dedicated ship would be a close one.


Again, this is just me reading between the lines, but I suspect that if the RAN had really wanted a carrier they could have gotten one. The decision was made in the early noughties when a conservative government with a good track record of defence spending was in power and China’s demand for Australia’s rocks (specifically the red ones and the black ones) was insatiable so money was not a problem.

The decision to build an amphibious capability instead of a carrier capability was deliberate, and as I said before was based on the last war (although in this case it was more of an operation than a war), the definitive Op for the ADF in the last 20 years wasn’t Iraq or Afghanistan, in both of those the ADF slotted into a coalition and they could use someone else’s logistic network, much as they had done in Korea and Vietnam. However in Timor, they had to lead the coalition and provide the logistic network, and in a post cold war spending environment where all the money had gone on assets at the pointy end (such as the Collins class) there hadn’t been enough spending on defence logistics and it made Timor a damn close run thing. In the end I’m lead to believe the US bailed the ADF out (as a whole, not just the RAN), On the RAN’s side the Tobruk was simply too old and the less said about the Kanimblas the better. Out of that mess the planning for the Canberra’s was born and the opportunistic acquisition from the RN of what became the Choules was authorised, buying a carrier and building a carrier air wing (from scratch) was never really competitive given what had happened in 1999.

Had the GFC not happened it’s possible a carrier would have come later, but frankly it’s unlikely, the said same economic conditions that resulted in Australia going 30 or so years without a recession also resulted in some twilight zone employment conditions (Electricians on $160 000 their first year after completing their apprenticeship, janitors starting on about $80 000 and if they got an off shore position they could easily get $110 000 for cleaning duties: Please note these are FIFO [FlyInFlyOut] rates, you fly to a site, work 12 hour shifts for three weeks straight then fly home for one week off, and repeat) that made defence recruiting and more importantly defence retention hard, the RAN has two of six minesweepers, one of eight ANZAC class frigates, and they won’t admit publicly exactly how many out of six SSKs in reserve because they can’t crew them.

I chose the heat because it was already getting a bit long for a comment, but the RAN systematically stripped the fixed wing aviation capabilities out (save the ramp) and never intended to put them back in because they didn’t want or need a carrier, they just can’t crew one, (they could crew the ship I suspect, but not the air wing), a carrier is a competing priority and it isn’t going to happen.


I was led to believe that the weapons lifts & magazines are still all there (as they would have cost money to design out just like the ramp & the helicopters also carry missiles, rockets & LWT). I do know that the ability to open the hangar / light vehicle deck partition still exists. The biggest problems seem to be around sustained operations as a light carrier (with 10-12 F35B) rather than what would be required for an occasional fast jet equiped amphib ship (6-8 F35B). Even the Spanish never intended the JC1 to be a full blown carrier. It appears though, if Australia does end up with some F35B, they will be RAAF controlled planes, not RAN & would operate off the LHD’s in a similar fashion to Army helicopters. It seems to hinge on the possability of the 24 F/A18 F being replaced early as a follow on order to the present 72 F35A order, with both the ‘A’ & ‘B’ being mentioned as possible options by RAAF. It should also be noted that there are more uses for F35B than just operating off a carrier/LHD.


I seem to remember the Americans experimented with ski ramps in the 1980s. I think they launched F-16, F-18, F-15 off a land based 8 degree ramp. I think they had a proposal to build a 45000 ton carrier with 2 bow catapults in a shallow straight 2 degree ramp. The Nimitz lobby killed that, as they wanted big carriers.

Phil Sanders

Another excellent & well researched article.


I didn’t know that the QE was an ” ‘adaptable carrier’, configured for STOVL but capable of being fitted with catapults and arrestor gear”. Does that mean it could be adapted to fly strengthened Typhoons? Or is the capability just on paper?

Captain Nemo

Probably easiest just to point you to an earlier article:

Regards, Nemo



Phil McCarthy

How people forget HMS Hermes, who was fitted with a ramp and at sea while invincible was being built


???? Right is Angle 20°,Higher the Jet Can’t Be Thrown,Force Could left on Vertical.???Smooth Elevation of Trampoline Gives Any Angle to Jump.???

Gordon Chapman

Actually the first ski ramp was fitted to HMS Hermes. I know this as I was serving on her at the time. It was about 1979 give or take

Stephen Clothier

Steve C

A fascinating article and discussion. Just out of interest, does anybody remember ‘Fireball XL5’? Just a thought.

Haydyn Hembrow

Do we actually have enough aircraft to stock both aware aircraft carrier ?
It’s a bit embarrassing seeing these ships without aircraft on them just helicopters.
These aircraft carrier should be permanently stocked with aircraft not just a handful joining the ships at see ,what message does this send to the rest of the world. ( weak )

Mr Anderson

Haydyn, the ships arent fully operational, they have to go through years of testing and training before loading them up with aircraft. That’s not embarrassing, that’s testing. Both carriers won’t operate at the same time either. So you will see QE set sail next year with a likely complement of 24 F35B plus helo’s. That in itself is likely the second most powerful carrier operation after a Nimitz/Ford, hardly weak.