Essex Class aircraft carriers worlwide
In 1963, Kennedy said that "to defeat communism, america won't hesitate to sell sophisticated armements to his allies".
That's why the F5 Tiger was sold in huge numbers in the following years. But another plan was settled for the Navies equipment. The entire Essex class - no less than 24 aircrafts carriers of WWII- was due to scrap starting in 1968. But the US governement change his plans : the Essex carriers would be sold to the US allies, to reinforce their navy!. The US Governement proposed to his allies a "pack" of equipement, sold in FMS :
- 1 Essex class carrier
- 15 brand new A4 Skyhawk (the production line was still open, until 1979).
- Crusaders interceptors.
- Trackers (in ASW but also E1 AEW types, and COD.)
- 1 CVL light carrier, to become an assault helicopter carrier
- a pile of surplus Bell UH-1 to be used from the CVL.
These equipments were really a good bargain, sold at low prices. The success was tremendous and a lot of countries were interested by this pack. Most of them bought the Essex carrier, but not the CVL and UH-1 which were less interesting.
So… in 1966, the RCAN Canadian navy was the first to buy an Essex carrier. Dubbed HMS "Vancouver", the ship entered service in 1967,with CF-5N on the flight deck.
The main problem were the interceptors : the Crusader was the last american fighter able to use this carriers (Phantoms, Tomcats were too heavy and expensive, even the future Hornet was too heavy). Mc donnell Douglas took his chance and refitted an old prototype, Crusader rival, the F5D skylancer. The two prototypes were exellents, and flew with NASA until the end of the 60's. MDD took one of them and promote it as a Crusader replacement. At le Bourget air show, 1971, the Skylancer prototype was exibed, the new version was to be modified with a AWG-10 radar, Sparrow missiles… Grummann also made the same thing, promoting is old F11-F2 Super Tiger. The trouble with these airplanes was : no production, no airplanes in service in the US Navy.
Northrop also took his chance, promoting a naval version of its Tiger II fighter, the F5N, and a naval P530 Cobra;in the 80's a naval F20 Tigershark was also proposed. Lockheed proposed a naval CL-1200, the CL-1204. And then come Dassault. Since 1967,and Breguet takeover, the firm had a naval fighter in his inventory : the Breguet/BAC cyclone, which 200 were in service along French and British carriers. It was a true, naval mach2 fighter. It replacement was on the way : the Mirage F1M, naval version of the F1E (with the powerful M53 engine).
Dassault quickly understood the big market of "Essex carrier interceptors". The american, too, and this harsh competition was dubbed "deal of the Century". French and American competitors offered two ways of having a mdern naval interceptor
- refitting old interceptors from the end of the 50's. The competitors were the Grumman F11F-2 Super tiger, The Douglas Super skylancer, Dassault Cylcone (even Vought proposed upgraded Crusaders, but could not afford to reopen the production line).
- Brand new, modern interceptors : the choice was reduced to the F5N Vs F1EM.
The F5N was no match concerning performances, and none of them were in service with the US Navy. The Dassault bid was the most interesting, as the Cyclone and Mirage were very similar. Dassault also proposed to upgrade the Cyclone with F1C stuff (Atar 9K50 engine, Cyrano IV radar), waiting for the F1EM.
Concerning attack planes, Dassault proposed the F1E, too (with air to ground ability) or an upgraded Etendard IV, versus Skyhawk and Harriers. Vought also promote an A7 Corsair III, with a variable incidence wing to oper from Essex carriers.
After the RCAN in 1966, the RAN (Royal Australian Navy) also bought Essex carriers.These ships were considered as a deterrent against Indonesia. Dubbed "Canberra" and "Woomera", they had Skyhawk on the flight deck. Australia elected the upgraded Cyclone; this airplane was very similar to the Mirage IIIO in service with the RAAF.
Along the years, Essex carriers buyers were :
- Canada "Vancouver"
- Netherlands, in 1969, to replace their old "Karel Doorman" and Hawker Seahawks. The ship was dubbed "Amsterdam".
- Italy in 1970 ("Leornado Da Vinci")
- Brazil in 1973, to replace the ageing Minas Gerais. ("Rio de Janeiro")
- Japan in 1974 ("Takahata")
- Greece in 1975, after the Cyprus crisis ("Andreou Papadopoulous")
- South Korea ("Incheon")
- Iran bought no less than three carriers in 1973 ("Pavlhavi" "Teheran" "Busher")
- Argentina in 1973 ("Eva Peron")
- Chili in 1975 ("Simon Bolivar")
- Spain in 1977 ("Cervantes")
- Israel in 1981 ("Weizman")
- Saudi Arabia ("Ryiad") in 1983.
- Germany in 1985 ("Munchen").
These ships were all the modified Essex (according to the SBC-125 program which means with angled deck).
Eight others, unmodified Essex carriers (with straight deck) were waiting their demise, but the market was not close: suddenly, others countries wanted their Essex carrier!Alas, in this case, a SBC-125 was needed. The US really wanted to get ride off their Essex, and as a consequence, made the modification for cheap. So, 9 others Essex were sold :
- Thailand in 1974 "Pukhet"
- Malaisia in 1977 "Sepang"
- Philippins in 1978 "Manille"
- In 1982 Taiwan bought two Essex to patrol formose straight "Tchang Kai Tcheck" "Formose"
- New Zealand " Auckland" (this was sold by Australia).
- Peru "Bolivar" in 1983 (after the Falkland war)
- Sweden "Stockholm"
- Denmark "Copenhague"
The USA also sold their 3 "midways" starting in 1990.
Most of the airplanes on the flight deck were Skyhawks, along F5N or Cyclone (and, later, F1EM).
The most promising market was the assault and antiship, light attack plane. Many projects were set up, with various sizes forms and weights.
In 1981, Republic proposed an antiship, naval version of his A10A, the A10N. Boosted by unreheated F100 with 6000kgp of thrust, it could carried up to six AGM-84 Harpoons on its underwings pylons. Of course, the terrible GAU-9 gun was maintened. Saudi Arabia, Israel and South Korea bought A10N. This aicraft was extremly efficient, but was highly specialised and vulnerable.
Dassault replied by making an Exocet capable version of his F1EM, and also an antiship, naval Alpha Jet, with Atlis pod and AS-30L. To counter that, the Cessna A37N was armed with AGM-65 mavericks.
These two contenders demonstrated that light trainers or attack plane could be used in the naval assault role from the deck of an Essex class carrier, and right from this moment, the number of projects skyrocketed.
Nearly every country making training jets or dedicated light attack aircraft proposed naval assaut version, with armement ranging from dumb bombs and rockets pods to heavy anti-ship missiles (Iae Pampa and Pucara, CASA
C-101 Aviojet, MB-339, Pilatus PC-9, Sea Harrier, SeaJaguar and SeaHawk with Sea Skua missiles…). And for the COD market, it was the same thing…
Three class of naval combat aircrafts were proposed.
- Interceptors; this market was led by Dassault. Its F1E could land on Essex carriers, whereas the Hornet was too heavy. Of course, Northrop replied with F5N and F20N, but the first was very limited, and the second aircraft was not built for the US Navy, (as a consequence, it had little chance of success).
- Attack and antiship planes : A7 Corsair III (with VI wing) Etendard IVNG, Sea Jaguar, Harriers, Skyhawk and A10N SeaWarthog were fighting bitterly.
- Training and light attack: A37N, Alpha Jet N, SeaHawk, C-102 AviojetM, MB-339M etc.
Some countries also bought CVL converted into carrier helicopter, with UH-1H on the flight deck and hangar. The aim of the Essex carrier sold with it was to assure air cover. This was a cheap and practical way of making an assault on an ennemy coast. That's why Iran also bought four CVL with 200 surplus UH-1H in 1977. In May 1986, starting from the CVLs, these helicopters were used to make a tremendous asssault on the Foa peninsula. They were protected by F5N from "Teheran" and "Khomeini" (former "pavlhavi") aircraft carriers, along with Skyhawks for the close air support. The attack was totally successfull, but the "Teheran" was hit and sunk by 4 Exocets launched from iraqis F1EQ.
On those days, a badly damaged Tomcat made an emergency landing on the "Teheran" breaking the myth that these heavy fighters were unable to use small aircrafts carriers like the Essex class.
So the brave old Essex class permitted to many navies to have good aircrafts carriers, with a life up to 2010.