HMS Ark Royal (originally to be called HMS Indomitable) represented a fitting addition to British naval power at the end of the century, considering the name had been in use for decades in other forms including an aircraft carrier used in World War 2. This new carrier came at a time when the fleet carrier program was all but gone from Royal Navy consideration and a new initiative was put forth for a carrier to operate an air group of the Sea King type helicopters. Later in development, it became apparent that the Royal Air Force's Harrier jump jet aircraft would also be a prime candidate for consideration for use on the carrier (known in the Royal Navy inventory as the Sea Harrier) and the Ark Royal's role was officially defined.
Classified was a "light" carrier and part of the Invincible class of British carriers, the Ark Royal sports an aircraft complement of various types that include the Sea Harrier jump jet aircraft (fighter and bomber versions), Sea King and Merlin type helicopters with a standard group consisting of 5 Harriers and 10 Sea Kings. Her most notable characteristic was the sloped ramp at the extreme edge of her flight deck, which sat to the port side with a superstructure at the starboard. Self-defense was accomplished through a layout of 3 x Phalanx CIWS anti-missile systems and additional 2 x 20mm cannons for anti-aircraft defense. Additionally, the class can mount 1 x twin launchers for Sea Dart surface-to-air missiles (later removed in 1999), shoring up the defense of what use to be a weakness in the design.
After a decade of refits for herself and her sister ships, the Ark Royal took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq which put to good use her offshore jump jets and helicopters. Though hardly a perfect yet still successful design in any regard, she is set to be officially replaced by the new and more capable HMS Prince of Wales by 2016. There have been many faces under the Ark Royal name in British naval history and this particular face continues the pride and progression of earlier forms. This modernized version of the Ark Royal was first ordered in late 1978 and laid down that same year. She was launched in 1981 and officially commissioned in 1985 and has been in active service ever since.
On January 22nd, 2011, HMS Ark Royal was formally bid farewell by thousands of British personnel and civilians. HMS Ark Royal was decommissioned to coincide with recent "austerity" measures across the country amid a tough economic environment. The Queen herself made a final visit to the vessel in November of 2010, marking its 25th year anniversary for service to the Royal Navy. HMS Ark Royal was retired some three years earlier than originally planned.
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