The Conte di Cavour (550) is one of two actively serving Italian Navy aircraft carriers (alongside the smaller Giuseppe Garibaldi (551)). The Garibaldi was commissioned in 1985 and has since served as a straight deck with ski jump ramp managing a fleet of Harrier II jump jets and various navy helicopter types. The newer Cavour was commissioned in 2008 and was completed with a straight deck design featuring a ski jump ramp offset to portside for supporting its air wing of Harrier IIs and AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin helicopters - approximately 20 total aircraft. The Cavour currently serves as the flagship of the Italian Navy and received her first mission call in January 2010 in support of Operation White Crane during the Haitian Earthquake relief operation. She bears the name of Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour (1810-1861) - Italy's first Prime Minister though she was initially named the Luigi Einaudi and then, later, the Andrea Doria prior to becoming the Cavour. The Cavour was not intended as a replacement for the older Garibaldi carrier but instead serves as a complement to it.
The Cavour was developed in the 1990s to which her keel was laid down on July 17th, 2001. She was launched out to sea on July 20th, 2004 and underwent the requisite sea trials before seeing her formal commissioning on March 27th, 2008. She currently berths at La Spezia and fights under the motto of "In Arduis Servare Mentem" (roughly translating to "In Hard Times Keep a Level Head") under active status.
As with many European-designed aircraft carriers, the Cavour is intended to host a limited variety of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft as needed. This principally includes the AV-8B Harrier II jump jet family of Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft which do not require runway space for launching and recovery, behaving in much the same way that a helicopter does. Helicopters also play a major role in Cavour operations and, as such, the air wing of the Cavour stocks both aircraft types. In this fashion, the vessel can be called upon for air defense, search and rescue, strike, humanitarian assistance, anti-ship sorties and reconnaissance as required. The flight deck is divided into two areas - the primary launch and recovery section set to the port side and secondary launch section held at the starboard-bow. The island superstructure is offset to the starboard side in the usual fashion and contains the sensors and systems processing center as well as the bridge and flight command. The superstructure is also home to twin double funnels exhausting the conventional engine arrangement. A large crane is situated ahead of the superstructure with a smaller one aft. There are two masts atop the superstructure - the forward-most one housing an EMPAR air-search and missile guidance system in a spherical assembly and the aft-most one containing a pole-mast type arrangement. There are two hangar elevators - one offset to the starboard side aft of the superstructure (serving the primary runaway) and the second also offset to starboard (ahead of the superstructure) serving the forward flight deck. The ski jump ramp is angled at 12-degrees.
The Cavour is a conventionally-powered vessel, fitted with 6 x diesel engines coupled with 4 x General Electric/Avio LM2500+ series gas turbines to develop 88,000 horsepower. The ship is therefore able to make 28 knots in ideal conditions with ranges out to 7,000 nautical miles. Overall length is 244 meters with a beam of 39 meters and a draught of 8.7 meters. Displacement is 27,000 tons on a standard load and 30,000 tons under full load. The crew complement consists of 1,120 personnel made up of officers, sailors, logistics personnel, airmen, mechanics and marines.
The Cavour is defensed by 4 x 8-cell A43 Sylver surface-to-air missile launchers firing the MBDA Aster 15 series missile. This is backed by 2 x Oto Melara 76mm /62 caliber Super Rapido rapid fire cannons and 3 x 25mm /80 caliber Oerlikon Contraves Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) anti-aircraft guns. The air wing typically consists of 8 x AV-8B Harrier II jump jets and 12 x AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin helicopters - the latter configured for the Airborne Early Warning role. up to 30 aircraft can be stored aboard the vessel in extreme wartime circumstances. The hangar deck can also be used to stock cargo and vehicles for when in support of humanitarian relief or amphibious assault operations.
The Italian Navy expects to replace its fleet of aging AV-8B Harrier II VTOL jets with the upcoming Lockheed F-35B Lightning II series of VTOL aircraft currently undergoing weapons testing (2012) prior to service clearance. The Cavour will be slightly modified to suit the new American fighter.
February 2021 - The Italian aircraft carrier Cavour (CVH-550) is set to be certified for F-35B operations at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.
March 2021 - The F-35B variant has successfully completed sea trials aboard the Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour in a major hurdle for Italian at-sea airpower.
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