Aircraft cruiser

The aircraft cruiser (also known as aviation cruiser or cruiser-carrier) is a warship that combines the features of the aircraft carrier and a surface warship such as a cruiser or battleship.

Early types

The first aircraft cruiser was originally a 1930s experimental concept of creating an all-around warship. The early aircraft cruisers were usually armed with relatively heavy artillery, mines and a number of aircraft fitted with floats (making the ship a kind of seaplane tender). The early aircraft cruiser turned out to be an unsuccessful design. The rapid development of naval aircraft in the 1930s quickly rendered the vessels obsolete, and they were rebuilt e.g. as anti-aircraft cruisers.

One United States design for a flight deck cruiser from 1930,[1] was described as "a Brooklyn-class light cruiser forwards [and] one half of a Wasp-class aircraft carrier aft".[2] Although not built, similar ships were created during and after World War II as reconstructions and later from the keel up. During World War II, in part to offset the loss of carriers at the Battle of Midway, Japan rebuilt its Ise-class battleships as hybrid carriers, placing the flight deck and hangar aft to replace the rear turrets, while retaining their main guns forward and amidships. The cruiser Mogami also had its rear gun turrets (which had been damaged at Midway) replaced by aircraft handling facilities. The German Kriegsmarine also studied several "Flugdeckkreuzer" (flight deck cruiser) designs in 1942 which included 20.3 cm (8 inch) or 28 cm (11 inch) gun turrets forward of the flight deck.

Helicopter cruisers

A more modern derivative of the aircraft cruiser is the helicopter cruiser which could typically operate at least 4 or more helicopters including medium and heavy lift varieties. This is in contrast to surface warships such as cruisers, destroyers, and frigates which have basic aviation facilities, including a hanger and landing pad, that are sufficient only for 1–2 light/medium helicopters.

Post-war the United Kingdom reconstructed the Tiger-class cruisers, HMS Blake and HMS Tiger into helicopter cruisers, retaining their guns forward but having their aft guns removed for the installation of a hangar and helicopter platform for the operation of four Sea King helicopters.

The Italian Andrea Doria-class cruisers and Vittorio Veneto, French Jeanne d'Arc and Soviet Moskva-class helicopter cruisers were built from the keel up as guided missile cruisers forward and helicopter carriers aft.

USS Hayler and her unnamed sister ship (which was never funded) were originally planned as modified Spruance-class destroyers, to be built as helicopter destroyers (DDH), provided they would not cost more than a standard Spruance class. Litton-Ingalls completed sketch design work for Hayler, which moved the helicopter deck aft, stretching the length of the hangar and displacing the Sea Sparrow launcher to the top of the hangar. The design would have accommodated two SH-3 Sea Kings or four smaller SH-60 Seahawk or SH-2 Seasprite helicopters. While the prospective Hayler probably would not have cost much more to build than a standard Spruance class, the detail design and engineering work required before the ship could be built would have been substantial (similar work for the Kidd class cost $110.8 million). This raised the cost of the DDH substantially above a standard Spruance-class destroyer. While this additional cost might have been justified if the DDH was going to enter series production, it was difficult to justify for a single ship. Accordingly, the Navy built Hayler to the same design as the rest of the Spruance class.

In 1980, there was a proposed “Interdiction Assault Ship” conversion for the Iowa-class battleships that would have removed the aft main gun turret. This would free up space for a V-shaped ramped flight deck (the base of the V would have been on the ship's stern, while each leg of the V would extend forward, so that planes taking off would fly past the ship's exhaust stacks and conning tower), while a new hangar would be added with two elevators, which would support up to twelve Boeing AV-8B Harrier II jump-jets. These aviation facilities could also support helicopters and up to 500 Marines for an air assault. In the empty space between the V flight deck would be up to 320 missile silos accommodating a mixture of Tomahawk land attack missiles, ASROC anti-submarine rockets and Standard surface-to-air missiles. The existing five-inch gun turrets would be replaced with 155-millimeter howitzers for naval gunfire support. Unfortunately, this would have required significant time and funding to achieve so it was never carried out, furthermore the Department of Defense and the Navy wanted the Iowa battleships reactivated as quickly as possible.[3]

Soviet and Russian aviation cruisers

In the Russian Navy, "aviation cruiser" is a designation for the Kiev and Kuznetsov-class ships. They are a cross between a cruiser and an aircraft carrier. Aviation cruisers ships have close-in weapon systems, both gun and missile, for self-defense against missiles or rockets. Unlike aircraft carriers who rely solely upon their aircraft and helicopter complement for offensive power, aviation cruisers are also equipped with cruiser weaponry to engage the full gamut of surface, submarines and aircraft adversaries.

The Kiev class of aviation cruisers is capable of carrying VTOL aircraft and helicopters. The ships have only a single angled flight deck for aviation. The forward deck is used to carry cruiser weapons, including P-500 Bazalt cruise missiles that are the main armament of the Slava-class cruiser.

The Kuznetsov class is classified as heavy aviation cruisers, reflecting their greater weight as well as the larger number of aircraft they can operate. In addition to helicopters, they are also capable of operating conventional fixed-wing aircraft like the Sukhoi Su-33 and the Mikoyan MiG-29K. The ships have an angled flight deck as well as an axial flight deck for takeoff. Since there is no catapult, a bow ski jump is used to assist takeoff. Kuznetsov also carries the P-700 Granit cruise missiles that form the main armament of the Kirov-class battlecruiser.

All Soviet aircraft carriers were built at the Nikolayev Shipyard in the Ukrainian SSR. Their classification as aircraft cruisers is very important for the purposes of international law, as it allows them to transit the Turkish Straits on their way into the Mediterranean Sea. Under the Montreux Convention, aircraft carriers heavier than 15,000 tons may not pass through the Straits. However, there is no tonnage limit on capital ships operated by Black Sea Powers.[4] Turkey has always allowed Soviet and Russian aviation cruisers to transit the Straits, and no other signatory to the Montreux Convention has challenged the ships' classification.[5]

Cruisers in name only

Some aircraft-carrying ships have been officially designated as cruisers, despite being for all intents and purposes light aircraft carriers. The Royal Navy's Invincible-class aircraft carriers were originally termed "through-deck cruisers" for political reasons (the CVA-01 project had recently been cancelled). In addition, they were expected to serve in some cruiser-like roles - taking on those roles from the RN's Tiger-class cruiser conversions - and were constructed in a similar fashion to cruisers. Later in their life they were however known as aircraft carriers.

Aircraft cruisers

Kiev 1985 DN-SN-86-00684r
Heavy aircraft carrying cruiser Kiev, USSR, 1985.

Early types

Later types


  1. ^ Friedman 1983, p.179.
  2. ^ Bonner 1997, p.150.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Miller, David V.; Hine, Jr., Jonathan T. (31 January 1990). Soviet Carriers in the Turkish Straits (PDF). Newport, Rhode Island: Naval War College.
  5. ^ John Pike. "Montreux Convention 1936". Retrieved 2013-07-20.



A cruiser is a type of warship. Modern cruisers are generally the largest ships in a fleet after aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, and can usually perform several roles.

The term has been in use for several hundred years, and has had different meanings throughout this period. During the Age of Sail, the term cruising referred to certain kinds of missions—independent scouting, commerce protection, or raiding—fulfilled by a frigate or sloop-of-war, which were the cruising warships of a fleet.

In the middle of the 19th century, cruiser came to be a classification for the ships intended for cruising distant waters, commerce raiding, and scouting for the battle fleet. Cruisers came in a wide variety of sizes, from the medium-sized protected cruiser to large armored cruisers that were nearly as big (although not as powerful or as well-armored) as a pre-dreadnought battleship. With the advent of the dreadnought battleship before World War I, the armored cruiser evolved into a vessel of similar scale known as the battlecruiser. The very large battlecruisers of the World War I era that succeeded armored cruisers were now classified, along with dreadnought battleships, as capital ships.

By the early 20th century after World War I, the direct successors to protected cruisers could be placed on a consistent scale of warship size, smaller than a battleship but larger than a destroyer. In 1922, the Washington Naval Treaty placed a formal limit on these cruisers, which were defined as warships of up to 10,000 tons displacement carrying guns no larger than 8 inches in calibre; heavy cruisers had 8-inch guns, while those with guns of 6.1 inches or less were light cruisers, which shaped cruiser design until the end of World War II. Some variations on the Treaty cruiser design included the German Deutschland-class "pocket battleships" which had heavier armament at the expense of speed compared to standard heavy cruisers, and the American Alaska class, which was a scaled-up heavy cruiser design designated as a "cruiser-killer".

In the later 20th century, the obsolescence of the battleship left the cruiser as the largest and most powerful surface combatant after the aircraft carrier. The role of the cruiser varied according to ship and navy, often including air defense and shore bombardment. During the Cold War, the Soviet Navy's cruisers had heavy anti-ship missile armament designed to sink NATO carrier task forces via saturation attack. The U.S. Navy built guided-missile cruisers upon destroyer-style hulls (some called "destroyer leaders" or "frigates" prior to the 1975 reclassification) primarily designed to provide air defense while often adding anti-submarine capabilities, being larger and having longer-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) than early Charles F. Adams guided-missile destroyers tasked with the short-range air defense role. By the end of the Cold War, the line between cruisers and destroyers had blurred, with the Ticonderoga-class cruiser using the hull of the Spruance-class destroyer but receiving the cruiser designation due to their enhanced mission and combat systems. Indeed, the newest U.S. and Chinese destroyers (for instance the Zumwalt class and Type 055) are more heavily armed than some of the cruisers that they succeeded.

Currently only two nations operate cruisers: the United States and Russia, and in both cases the vessels are primarily armed with guided missiles. BAP Almirante Grau was the last gun cruiser in service, serving with the Peruvian Navy until 2017.

Flight deck cruiser

The flight-deck cruiser was a proposed type of aircraft cruiser, warships combining features of aircraft carriers and light cruisers designed by the United States Navy during the period between World War I and World War II. Several designs were proposed for the type, but none was approved for construction. The final design was developed just before World War II, and the entry of the United States into the war saw the project come to an end.

French cruiser De Grasse

De Grasse was an anti-aircraft cruiser of the French Navy. She was the first French vessel named in honour of François Joseph Paul, marquis de Grasse Tilly, comte de Grasse. From 1965 to 1971, she was involved in the nuclear test campaigns in the Pacific.

German aircraft carrier II

The aircraft carrier II was a proposed conversion project for the incomplete French cruiser De Grasse. The ship was laid down in November 1938 and lay incomplete in the Arsenal de Lorient shipyard when Germany invaded France in May 1940. In 1942, Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine decided to convert the cruiser into an auxiliary aircraft carrier with a capacity for twenty-three fighters and dive bombers. Work ceased in February 1943, however, due to concerns with the ship's design, a severe shortage of material and labor, and the threat of Allied bombing raids. The ship was eventually completed as an anti-aircraft cruiser in 1956 by the French Navy.

HMS Calcutta (D82)

HMS Calcutta was a C-class light cruiser of the Royal Navy, named after the Indian city of Calcutta. She was part of the Carlisle group of the C-class of cruisers. She was laid down by Vickers Limited at Barrow-in-Furness in 1917 and launched on 9 July 1918. Calcutta was commissioned too late to see action in the First World War and was converted to an anti-aircraft cruiser in 1939. Calcutta served during the Norwegian Campaign and the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940. She was used to escort allied convoys across the Mediterranean and was sunk on 1 June 1941 by Luftwaffe aircraft off Alexandria, Egypt.

HNLMS Gelderland (1898)

HNLMS Gelderland (Dutch: Hr.Ms. Gelderland) was a Holland-class cruiser of the Royal Netherlands Navy. During its career in the Dutch Navy it was most notable for being the ship Queen Wilhelmina sent to South Africa to transport Paul Kruger to Europe during the Second Boer War. The ship was taken over by the Germans during World War II and renamed Niobe. She was sunk in Kotka harbour in Finland on 16 July 1944.

HNoMS Harald Haarfagre

HNoMS Harald Haarfagre, known locally as Panserskipet Harald Haarfagre, was a Norwegian coastal defence ship. She, her sister ship Tordenskjold and the slightly newer Eidsvold class were built as part of the general rearmament in the time leading up to the events in 1905. Harald Haarfagre remained an important vessel in the Royal Norwegian Navy until she was considered unfit for war in the mid-1930s.

HNoMS Tordenskjold

HNoMS Tordenskjold, known locally as Panserskipet Tordenskjold, was a Norwegian coastal defence ship. She, her sister ship, Harald Haarfagre, and the slightly newer Eidsvold class were built as a part of the general rearmament in the time leading up to the events in 1905. Tordenskjold remained an important vessel in the Royal Norwegian Navy until she was considered unfit for war in the mid-1930s.

HSwMS Gotland (1933)

HSwMS Gotland was a seaplane cruiser of the Swedish Navy built by Götaverken.

The design of the ship started out in December 1926 as a seaplane carrier with room for twelve aircraft. When presented with the design, Sweden's Naval Construction Board decided that it wanted the ship to have cruiser and minelaying functions as well as operating as a seaplane carrier. The resulting 5,000-ton design presented in January 1927 proved impossible to build within the available budget of Sk16.5 million. The design was then reduced in size requiring one of the forward turrets be removed. Its guns were then placed in casemates either side of the superstructure, a feature otherwise found only in the American Omaha class cruisers. The construction contract for the ship was issued on 7 June 1930.

Its aircraft complement consisted of six Hawker Osprey seaplanes. It had capacity for eight and attempts were made to purchase two more, unsuccessfully since production of the type had ceased. The aircraft were found to suffer from wave damage during rough weather, often forcing the ship to return to port.During World War II Gotland sighted the German battleship Bismarck when it broke out of the Baltic Sea. The sighting was reported to Swedish Navy headquarters but the message was intercepted by the British embassy, which triggered the Battle of the Denmark Strait and the allied chase of the great battleship.

HSwMS Gotland was converted in 1944 to an anti-aircraft cruiser due to a lack of modern seaplanes. This involved the removal of the seaplanes and the addition of four 40 mm Bofors guns and two 20mm L/70 guns. The Ospreys continued in service from harbour bases with the last being retired on 2 December 1947.After World War II she served as a training ship. Starting 1953 and finishing in 1954 she was modified to allow her to serve as a fighter direction ship in the event of war as well as a training ship in peacetime. She was decommissioned in 1956, struck off in 1960, sold in 1962 and finally scrapped in 1963.

Kiev-class aircraft carrier

The Kiev-class aircraft carriers, Soviet designation Project 1143 Krechyet (gyrfalcon), was the first class of fixed-wing aircraft carriers (heavy aircraft cruiser in Soviet classification) built in the Soviet Union for the Soviet Navy.

Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier

The Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier, Soviet designation Project 11435, is a class of fixed-wing aircraft carriers (heavy aircraft cruiser in Soviet classification) operated by the Russian and Chinese navies. Originally designed for the Soviet Navy, the Kuznetsov-class ships use a ski-jump to launch high-performance conventional aircraft in a STOBAR configuration. The design represented a major advance in Soviet fleet aviation over the Kiev-class carriers, which could only launch VSTOL aircraft. Two ships were originally laid down at the Nikolayev South Shipyard in the Ukrainian SSR, followed by the first of the Ulyanovsk-class nuclear-powered supercarriers.

The plans were disrupted by the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Only the lead ship Admiral Kuznetsov had been commissioned when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and the ship now serves in the Russian Navy. Her sister ship Varyag remained in Ukraine unfinished and unmaintained for a decade before being sold and towed to China for use as a floating casino. Instead, the ship was eventually completed and commissioned in 2012 as the Chinese navy's first aircraft carrier, the Type 001 aircraft carrier Liaoning. A third ship is being built by China to a modified Type 001A design and is expected to be commissioned in 2019. It began sea trials on May 13, 2018.

List of aircraft carriers of Russia and the Soviet Union

The list of aircraft carriers of the Soviet Union and Russia includes all aircraft carriers built by, proposed for, or in service with the naval forces of either the Soviet Union or Russia. Although listed as aircraft carriers, none of them (with the exception of the never built Ulyanovsk) is a true aircraft carrier. Specifically, they were ASW helicopter equipped ships or aircraft cruisers, including the FADMSU Admiral Kuznetsov, the only carrier still in service with the Russian Navy. Russia does have plans for the building of a supercarrier code named Project 23000E.

MV Ulster Queen (1929)

MV Ulster Queen was a passenger ferry operated across the Irish Sea between 1930 and 1940. She became an auxiliary anti-aircraft cruiser, HMS Ulster Queen and never returned to civilian service.

Project 1153 Orel

Project 1153 Orel (Russian: Орёл pr: "Or'yol", Eagle) was a late-1970s plan to give the Soviet Navy a true blue water aviation capability. The aircraft carrier would have about 72,000 tons displacement, with a nuclear power plant and about 70 aircraft launched via steam catapults, similar to the earlier Kitty Hawk-class supercarriers of the U.S. Navy. Unlike them and the preceding Soviet aircraft cruisers, it was also designed with a large offensive capability; the ship mounts including 24 vertical launch tubes for anti-ship cruise missiles. In the USSR it was classified as the "large cruiser with aircraft armament". The project 1153 (itself based on an early-1970s Project 1160, confusingly also named Orel, even 10,000 tonnes heavier) was cancelled in October 1978 as being too expensive, and a smaller Project 1143.5, more V/STOL-aircraft-oriented, was developed instead: in its initial stage, a version of 65,000 tons and 52 aircraft was proposed, but the actual Kuznetsov-class aircraft carriers are even smaller, about 55,000 tons. While the Project Orel never saw fruition, in the 1980s it influenced the also abortive Ulyanovsk program.

The project was codenamed Eagle (Орёл), just like the two earlier helicopter and aircraft cruiser projects, and several projects of other classes of ships, were named after birds of prey. However the carriers themselves were named after Soviet cities, while only frigates were named after birds (see Russian ship naming conventions); the actual projected name of the ships is not known.

Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov

Admiral Gorshkov was an aircraft carrier (heavy aircraft cruiser in Russian classification) of the Soviet Navy and the Russian Navy from 1987 to 1996. The ship's original name was Baku when it was commissioned in 1987. Sometimes Admiral Gorshkov is considered a separate class due to its improvements including a phased array radar, extensive electronic warfare installations, and an enlarged command and control suite. She was launched in 1982, and was in service from 1987 to 1991 in the Soviet Navy as Baku, and from 1991 to 1996 in the Russian Navy as Admiral Gorshkov. In 2004, she was sold to India and converted into a STOBAR carrier now named INS Vikramaditya.

Soviet aircraft carrier Kiev

Kiev (Russian: Киев) is an aircraft carrier (heavy aircraft cruiser in Russian classification) that served the Soviet Navy and the Russian Navy from 1975 to 1993. It was built between 1970 and 1975 at Chernomorski factory in Mykolaiv and was the first Kiev-class vessel to be built. It is currently part of a theme park in China.

Soviet aircraft carrier Minsk

Minsk is an aircraft carrier (heavy aircraft cruiser in Russian classification) that served the Soviet Navy and the Russian Navy from 1978 to 1994. She was the second Kiev-class vessel to be built.

From 2000 to 2016 it has been a theme park known as Minsk World in Shatoujiao, Yantian, Shenzhen, China.

In April 2016, Minsk aircraft carrier was towed to Jiangsu for exhibition.

Soviet aircraft carrier Novorossiysk

Novorossiysk was a conventionally powered aircraft carrier (heavy aircraft cruiser in Russian classification) that served the Soviet Navy and the Russian Navy from 1982 to 1993. She was the third Kiev-class vessel to be built. She was designed to engage in offensive actions as a guided missile cruiser mostly using her deck mounted missiles as well as support anti-submarine and surface actions with her embarked air group.

Tone-class cruiser

The two Tone-class cruisers (利根型巡洋艦, Tone-gata jun'yōkan) were the last heavy cruisers completed for the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Tone-class cruisers were originally envisaged as the 5th and 6th vessels in the Mogami class. However, by the time construction began, serious weaknesses in the Mogami-class hull design had become clear following the Fourth Fleet incident in 1935. As Japan no longer was obligated to abide by the limitations of the London Naval Treaty, a new design was created and new means of construction were utilized. Though the external dimensions were close to the Mogami class, the design was quite different, with all the main battery of guns placed forward of the bridge, reserving the entire stern area as a large seaplane operations deck. Unlike the U.S. Navy, the Japanese did not have a dual role attack/scout aircraft, nor did they assign any of their carrier aircraft to a reconnaissance role. Little emphasis was placed on this aspect of carrier warfare. Instead the Japanese reserved all of their carrier aircraft for attack roles. Reconnaissance then was relegated to the float planes carried by cruisers. The Tone and the Chikuma were intended to provide the long range reconnaissance needed for Japan's carrier Air Fleets.

Aircraft carriers
Patrol craft
Fast attack craft
Mine warfare
Command and support


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