Spanish Light Carrier

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An AV-8B Harrier II takes off from the flight deck of Spanish aircraft carrier SPS (Strategic Protection Ship) Principe de Asturias (R 11) during an air defense exercise as part of NATO Exercise Brilliant Midas 2006. Brilliant Midas is a multinational exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, where guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) is the flagship for Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2). U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Leonardo Carrillo (RELEASED)

The Principe de Asturias’ design was based on that of the US Navy’s proposed Sea Control Ship, a late-60s proposal for, essentially, a light “Harrier carrier” that is a cheaper alternative for full-sized aircraft carriers. US LHD amphibious assault ships can fill this role if called on, especially if extra Harriers are utilized instead of helicopters. One drawback to Harrier operations on US ships is the lack of a “ski-jump” V/STOL ramp. This would allow the Harriers to carry additional fuel or ordnance, but would make a significant portion of the flight deck unusable by helicopters.

The Principe de Asturias’ usually carries about 20 aircraft, a dozen of them Harriers and the rest choppers.

The latest US LHD, the USS Makin Island, was just launched. For previous MO discussion of this topic, see A look at light carriers.

UPDATE: Something I forgot to link to at the time is Brickmuppet’s Tiny Carriers….., which points out some designs that make this Spanish rowboat look like a super tanker.


  1. pretty neat… why don’t we have something like that? why can’t we buy 5 of those instead of one more super carrier? Seems smart to have both on hand to me as a Strategy.

  2. One drawback to Harrier operations on US ships is the lack of a ‘ski-jump’ V/STOL ramp.’ I was under the impression that the extra length on US assault carriers compensated for the lack of a ski-jump.

  3. Chris, Well, without putting too fine a point on it, we DO have things like that: the Makin Island and the rest of the LHDs. You get airpower comparable to the Principe de Asturias if you trade off deck space for more AV-8s. Naturally, depends on the mission- I don’t know, for example, that the Spaniards have a dedicated attack helo for its naval forces analagous to the Sea Cobra. I don’t think they have the kind of flexibility that the Wasps have. Especially considering that the LHDs can also put ~1500 or so Marines ashore. Which, after a lengthy cruise, I’m sure the sailors of the Makin Island would be all too happy to see.

  4. Remember the Canadian carrier photo posted at Argghhh! some time ago? Don’t have the link handy, but its in a new post at Airborne Combat Engineer. Q from an Air-Land Airborne guy who knows little about watercraft, beyond my skyboat: Why doesn’t a ski-ramp make sense? In fact, why not slant as much as the takeoff deck as possible up?

  5. Nicholas: I was surprised at the amount of smoke, as well. Maybe those crazy Spaniards are using JATO on the Harriers? LOL. As I mentioned in the comments at ACE, I wouldn’t mind seeing a ‘convertable’ forward flight deck that could be ramp or no-ramp as needed. Of course, I don’t know if that would be needed with the F-35s.

  6. pretty neat… why don’t we have something like that? why can’t we buy 5 of those instead of one more super carrier? Seems smart to have both on hand to me as a Strategy’ One problem with that, as I allude to in my shameless linkwhorage here: …is that any ship with a full length flight deck will be seen as a replacement for a Supercarrier. They are not. Harriers and even the Lightning have nothing like the range of the bigger carriers aircraft. The smaller carriers carry less ordinance. A small carrier CAN be a useful complement to a big carrier, perhaps carrying hellicopters only, to free up the big carrier for strike/fighter aircraft. They can also serve as force multipliers allowing the Navy to put more carrier groups out in lower threat enviroments and as convoy escorts…. But they will always be viewed by peaceniks as a cheap REPLACEMENT for carriers, and their election hangs over defence procurement like a sword of Damocles.

  7. I think totally that having maybe 3 or 4 of these could be an excellent force multiplyer. I was thinking though of not really like the Makin Island but something similar that carries no Marines and as you said an ass load of helicopters UAV’s and VTOL craft. Would as said above free up the super carriers to do their jobs of bombing bad guys. Would be interesting to see if they could make a light carrier in a modular way like they are doing with the Littoral warfare ship. Have modules to carry on the mini carrier for strike missions, ground attack, convoy duty, helicopter carrying, or just battle space dominance. It would give our forces just another tool in our war on terror. Would be even more interesting if they could give it a shallow draft so it could come closer to shore to provide dedicated helicopter support. I think the Army would love a platform like that to be able to just anchor a mile off shore and launch an entire battalion of helos into battle and have massive amounts of ammo and maintainance personel on staff in a mobile enviroment like that