The RTN (Royal Thai Navy) HMTS (His Majesty's Thai Ship) Chakri Naruebet (911) is Thailand's first and only aircraft carrier (and the first to be taken into service in Southeast Asia). She is also the smallest serving carrier anywhere in the world. The name "Chakri Naruebet" was given to the vessel by King Bhumibol Adulyadej and translates to "The Sovereign of the Chakri Dynasty." The design was a reduced-complexity version of the Spanish Principe de Asturiass aircraft carrier and constructed in Ferrol, Spain by shipbuilder Izar EN Bazan between 1994 - 1996. Both designs are based on the American "Sea Control Ship" (SCS) model.
The Royal Thai Navy had this fixed- and rotary-wing-supporting aircraft carrier built with a budget of seven billion Baht ($175 million USD) as the Royal Thai Family needed a new, high-technology ship to modernize its aging deep-water fleet - this amidst military growth amongst its regional rivals, particularly those in Malaysia and Indonesia. Chakri Naruebet was delivered to the Thai Navy in 1997 and became the flagship of the service and the figure head of the Royal family as its official yacht. Suitable state rooms were built into the design for the latter purpose as were quarters for family staff members.
The Chakri Naruebet's main task has been in patrolling and protecting Thailand's considerable coast line. The ship has been designed to cruise on diesel but can switch over to gas turbines for high-speed runs. This arrangement is known as "CODAG" ("COmbined Diesel And Gas"). When Typhoon Gay hit Thailand in 1989, the Royal Thai Navy - as the primary service responsible for Search and Rescue (SAR) operations, found its ships and aircraft to be largely unsuitable for rough weather operations. Regardless, the carrier played a major role in Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surveillance and SAR and was featured in training and disaster relief operations after the 2004 tsunami.
Main armament for the warship is comprised of 3 x French-made "Sadral" missile launchers (Mistral missiles) to deal with ranged threats. At least 2 x 0.50 cal heavy machine guns are carried for close-in threats and she is outfitted with a Hughes SPS-52C air search radar with E/F band. She also carries 4 x SRBOC decoy launchers and an SLQ-32 towed sonar array to deal with undersea threats. A pair of Kelvin-Hughes 1007 series systems offers navigational capabilities.
Of course the heart of any carrier's armament is its air wing. Up until 2006, Chakri Naruebet was assigned 9 x AV-8S "Matador" (Harrier) VTOL strike fighters - launched with assistance from a bow-mounted ski jump structure. Beyond this her air wing is a reduced load of 8 x Sikorsky H-60 "Knighthawk" / "Seahawk" navy medium-lift helicopters (a full complement of twenty can be handled - ten within the hangar spaces provided).
The first squadron of AV-8S Harrier's supplied reached over thirty years in service and spare parts were proving difficult to come by so deployment of these aircraft was reduced over time. Her original primary anti-aircraft missile systems were not installed and the vessel only went out to sea about one day a month due to costs in operating her. Most military observers consider the warship more of a Royal prestige symbol than anything else - taking away a vital military operation support amphibious warfare-capable carrier.
Her 600+ crew complement was broken down into 393 enlisted personnel with 146 aircrew led by 62 officers and, when applicable, four Royal Family members and their related staff. Her propulsion power is made up of 2 x General Electric LM2500 gas turbines of 22,125 horsepower with 2 x Bazan-MTU 16V1163 TB83 diesel units of 5,600 horsepower driving 2 x shafts under stern. Range is out to 10,000 nautical miles with speeds reaching just over 25 knots.
Since her introduction into service, Chakri Naruebet has been involved in several humanitarian relief actions within the region of Thailand. She allows the nation of Thailand to join the elite group faircraft carrier-supporting navies of the world led by the United States. Regional powers like South Korea and China each field one apiece, the former more suited for helicopter launching-retrieval operations.
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