Thiarian Navy after 1945
1. Aircraft Carriers
1.1. Abhainn (Essex) class
Thiaria was forever banned from the possession of aircraft carriers in the 1946 peace treaty with the UN. Forever turned out to last till 1962, when the Kennedy administration, which regarded Thiaria as the most stable and reliable democracy in South America regardless of its somewhat unsavoury history, lifted the last restrictions on Thiarian military acquisitions, except of course nuclear weapons. Virtually days after, the Thiarians asked for the sale of one or (preferably) two Essex-class carriers, several of which had been decommissioned as surplus and were berthed in various US ports. They were to serve as ASW helicopter carriers and/or amphibious assault ships; at that time, no plans existed to turn them into attack carriers. In the immediate aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, any move that would increase US influence in South America was popular in the US, and USS Tarawa (CV-40) and USS Rotuma (CV-47) were transferred to Thiaria in 1964 in a disarmed state and renamed LT Abhainn (Eridan) and LT Oirion (Orion), in keeping with the tradition to name Thiarian aviation ships for constellations. The Thiarian Navy left them unarmed except for a few machine cannons and initially operated only Seabat helicopters from them, always keeping one carrier active and one in refit and/or training. Both ships were, despite being nearly 20 years old, in good condition, because neither had seen any strenuous war service (Tarawa had not seen any war service at all, being the only US carrier which served neither in the Second World War nor off Korea). Although officially the Thiarian government vowed never to operate anything but ASW helicopters from these carriers, they obtained plans for a full SCB-125A refit, the same as USS Oriskany, USS Iwo Jima and USS Reprisal had received. In anticipation of a full fleet carrier refit, 50 Breguet Sirocco fighters and 30 Breguet Alize ASW aircraft were ordered in 1966, to be delivered by 1970; Thiaria also paid part of the development cost for the Breguet Orfraie bomber, which was to become available after 1970. Negotiations with the US government for approval were underway when the 1966 repeat elections yielded a Agaidh Dearg (Red Front) government for Thiaria, which severed all military links to the USA in 1967 and actively pursued a Soviet alliance. The Navy’s co-operation with the Soviets was troubled from the beginning; the Soviets acted undiplomatically, urged the Thiarian Navy to install political officers and wanted the final say over virtually everything. Most senior Thiarian naval staff remained anti-communist and resisted every attempt of the Soviets to infiltrate it, resulting in political in-fighting with the government and a reduction of funds. To teach the Navy a lesson, the government shelved the carrier programme, decommissioning both carriers in 1968 and condemning them for scrapping in 1971. By that time, the Thiarian Navy was taking delivery of the Siroccos and Alizes ordered in 1966; the Orfraie order was cancelled in 1968, and the planes were instead delivered to the German Navy in 1972. The Soviets meanwhile intensely studied the ships and the SCB-125A refit plans; the steam catapults installed in the Project 1153 aircraft carriers were flat copies of the US design, and many other details were incorporated in their own carriers too. It was Admiral Gorshkov himself who in 1970 suggested the Thiarians rebuild the carriers to SCB-125A standard and then transfer them to the Soviet Union, if they didn’t want them for themselves, in exchange against lavish deliveries of airplanes (Su-15 and Il-38, and Ka-25 helicopters), missiles (Dvina, Kub, Osa, Malakhit and Luna), and tanks (T-62, MTLB, BTR-60). The Red Front government jumped at the chance to exchange the ‘fascist’ Navy’s carriers for useful equipment for the ‘democratic’ Army and Air Corps. LT Oirion, which had already been partially cut down before preservation, was struck from the navy list and commenced refit in mid-1971, ironically at a private shipyard. The SCB-125 plans were fifteen years old, but faithfully implemented by the CSCA yard, with very few alterations. They worked at their usual speed, and LT Orion was re-delivered early in 1974. She was undergoing yard trials when the Thiarian government broke up over the refusal of Lucht Oibhre (Labour) to join the OPEC oil embargo against the west in 1974, which the Red Front wanted. General Elections were scheduled for late 1974 anyway, and the Red Front was thrashed for their perceived preference of Soviet interests over Thiaria’s own. Labour gained a plurality and formed a government with the Liberals. The Soviets, who already had delivered many of the promised equipment, stopped their military aid and demanded cash payment, and the carrier transfer was cancelled. Thus LT Oirion was commissioned for the Thiarian Navy early in 1975, and a new order for 50 Breguet Orfraie bombers was issued. Oirion was virtually undistinguishable from her US sisters Oriskany, Iwo Jima and Reprisal, except for a more modern radar suite, featuring domestic Thiarian air and surface search radars and an US sourced early 3D radar instead of the mechanical height finder, and an altered armament, without guns, but with two twin retractable Osa-M SAM launchers of Soviet origin, plus directors. She initially operated 15 Siroco fighters and 15 Super Alize (they had two Turbomeca Bastan VII engines instead of the single RR Dart) ASW planes, plus ten Ka-25 helicopters. When the Orfraies were delivered in 1977/8, 15 were assigned to Oirion, and the number of Super Alizes and Helicopters was cut to five each.
When Orion re-entered service, the USN was in the process of getting rid of their Essex-class carriers – two had been transferred to Brazil in 1971 – and her age showed. The wisdom of re-building Abhainn too was questioned even before Oirion was complete, and by 1977 it was decided to abandon the plan and cannibalize Abhainn to keep Oirion operational. With the ongoing oil crisis providing unpreceded amounts of revenue, grander plans were made, and after the 1978 elections, which brought the Tirghrateoirai (Patriotic Party) to power, backed by the Liberals, construction of two nuclear-powered 60.000-ton carriers, capable of embarking 65 aircraft each, was seriously proposed. The expense and the political ramifications of going nuclear led to heated debate. World politics eventually killed the project. After the Patagonian war, Thiaria’s neutrality earned them support of the Reagan administration to re-join the UN. US support however was conditional on Thiaria not pursuing megalomaniac projects and adhering to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The large aircraft carrier was abandoned, and a much more austere design was drawn up. Oirion meanwhile had to soldier on. She and her air group had shadowed the British fleet during the Patagonian war, creating some tension. She was involved in an incident when an Argentine Canberra painted with huge RAF roundels tried to sink a civilian Thiarian ship in order to draw Thiaria into the war; a Sirocco from Oirion intercepted and downed the plane, whose pilot was captured and admitted bombing a tramp freighter, scoring one hit forward which killed thirteen Thiarian sailors. In 1985, LT Oirion was involved in a skirmish with Brazilian forces; her Siroccos downed a Brazilian Crusader and five Skyhawks, but lost three of their number themselves. Two of her Orfraies scored Exocet hits on the Brazilian carrier Rio de Janeiro, itself an Essex-class ship (ex USS Bonhomme Richard), causing a major fire and damaging her beyond economic repair. Despite such success, Oirion’s decrepitude was now obvious, and she spent more and more time under repair. Abhainn was pretty much spent as a spare donator by 1985, and was broken up from 1986 through 1988. Oirion’s projected post-refit service life was twenty years, and she received a major overhaul in 1987/8 to prepare her for her last decade. She was little changed externally, but received a digital combat system, SATCOM, SATNAV, Kevlar protection to her CIC and improved habitability. Most importantly, she embarked the first operational squadron of the new Siolpaire multirole fighter, replacing the Sirocco. In 1990, she deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield and represented Thiaria in the subsequent second Gulf War. Her Siolpaires scored only two kills, but her Orfraies repeatedly struck Iraqi targets far away from the coast. After the war, Oirion mostly operated in the training role, as Thiarian Naval Aviation greatly expanded. After a condenser breakdown in 1994, she was relegated to stationary training, and on her twentieth service anniversary in October 1995, she paid off, fifty-one years after she was laid down. Preservation was contemplated, but refurbishment cost proved prohibitive, and she was scrapped in 1997.
Thiarian economy was in its best-ever shape during the early 1980s. The steep rise in oil prices since 1974 had fueled an unpreceded economic boom; oil revenue had increased by 720% in five years. If there ever was a perfect time for a second-rate power to build aircraft carriers, this was it. The Navy had wanted two nuclear powered supercarriers, but with Thiaria’s application for full UN membership pending, any move towards military use of nuclear energy was a political no-go, and the proposal was rejected early in 1983. The navy did not waste time pursuing their maximum demand and drew up two designs for conventionally powered carriers, one of 55.000 tons and one of 37.000 tons. Two hulls of the former design, which the navy preferred, would be enough; of the latter, the navy demanded three, just to increase the bigger type’s chances. Politics, however, took a surprising turn. Government, of course, was not prepared to finance more than two ships of the smaller type, but when the Tirghrateoirai and the Liberals failed to agree which of three shipyards capable of building ships of that size should get the order, they decided to build three and make everyone’s electorate happy. The navy was dumbfounded; the three-hull solution would certainly involve a loss in individual capability, but that would be more than balanced by a massive gain in availability. With three carriers, the Thiarian Navy would be as strong as the RN on paper, although Britain’s flattops were considerably bigger. The final design was approved late in 1984. Compared to the navy’s initial demands (an AEGIS like combat system, long-range missiles and 60 aircraft), it was very austere. Hull and flight deck layout bore a strong resemblance to the French Verdun-class; dimensions were nearly the same. The hull was 262 meters long at the CWL, 34 meters wide and drew 9 meters. Standard displacement was 37.300 tons, full load displacement 48.500 tons. Apart from box protection to the magazines and Kevlar around the CIC, there was no armour. The flight deck was seventeen meters above the waterline and had an useful length of 275 meters; overall length including bridle catchers was 285 meters, and maximum width (including elevators) 64 meters. There was a 9° angled landing area 188 meters long, with four arrestor wires and an erectable emergency barrier. Three deck-edge lifts served the hangar, two starboard at either end of the island and one port aft. The landing assistance system is mounted relatively far outboard and aft, directly abaft the port lift. Two 80 meter steam catapults – reverse-engineered from the US C11-1 sets on Oirion – were installed, one forward on the port side, and another on the port side of the angled landing deck. Simultaneous launch and recovery was considered less important than the provision of deck parking; the area between the aft elevator and the bow on the starboard side was dedicated to parking. This arrangement also was similar to the Verdun-class. Inside the hull, however these vessels radically differed from both Oirion and Verdun. The hangar measured 174 meters in length and 28,5 meters in width, totaling 4.950 square meters (Oirion and Verdun had longer, but narrower hangars); there were two roller bulkheads which allowed fires to be localized. Accommodation for the 2.250 strong crew – 1.050 crew proper plus 1.200 Air Group personnel, a rather modest figure achieved through a high measure of automation – was concentrated forward and considered rather comfortable (there was 35% more internal space per crew member than on a contemporary US supercarrier with its crew of nearly 6.000). Engineering spaces amidships contained eight CLTI T4C gas turbine sets each rated at 16.000 shp, for a total of 128.000 shp on two shafts, giving a design speed of 30 knots. Steam for the catapults was provided by auxiliary boilers utilizing the gas turbine’s exhaust heat. Machinery was one third less powerful than Verdun’s 200.000 four shaft shp steam plant, and occupied less than half the space, allowing for much larger fuel bunkers. Two auxiliary gas turbines in separate compartments powered generators providing 12 megawatts of electric power. The designed air group consisted of 15 Siolpaire fighters, 12 Orfraie/Ionadh bombers, three Boghdoir AEW platforms, five Super Alizé ASW planes and five Ka-25 ASW/SAR helicopters, 40 aircraft in total. Half the air group could be accommodated in the hangar, the other half on the deck parking area; flight operations were possible without having to move parked airplanes around all the time, as had been necessary on Oirion. The only restriction was that Boghdoirs could only be launched from the waist catapult because their wing span overlapped the forward deck parking area if shot from the bow catapult. Armament included four fully automatic 57mm guns, one on each quarter. They were of a new design commissioned in 1982, capable of a cyclic rate of fire of 180 rpm and sufficient accuracy and reaction time to engage sea-skimming missiles. The next layer of defense was provided by two 24-cell VLS (one starboard forward, one port aft) for a total of 48 R7S missiles. These were a much improved development of Osa-M, with a range of 20 kilometers, a speed of Mach 4, a heavy 40kg warhead and a dual SARH/IRH seeker system similar to Crotale EDIR. Two full sets of reloads are carried in the ship’s magazines, for a total of 144 missiles; they can be reloaded at sea by the ship’s aircraft handling crane vehicles. They were capable of engaging sea skimmers down to an altitude of five meters. Four K-band gun directors were placed on the gun sponsons, with four electronically scanned X-band missile directors in a rectangular arrangement on top of the island. Each can direct six missiles at three different targets simultaneously, provided they approach within a cone of thirty degrees around the director’s alignment. Passive defense included four countermeasures launchers installed on the gun/missile sponsons and a bubble noise-reduction system similar to Prairie-Masker. Sensors include an electronically scanned L-band volume air search radar (rear mast aft), a multipurpose C-band air/surface search radar (foremast upper level), an S-band carrier approach radar (behind the island), two navigation radars (foremast middle levels), an integrated ESM/ECM suite (foremast below C-band radar and island sides forward), satellite navigation (behind rear mast), three different kinds of satellite communication (island sides and between foremast and missile directors) and TACAN (rear mast top level). The island contains the conning bridge (lower level) and the flag bridge (on top of it) forward, and the flight control center aft.
After funding for the project had been secured by the 1985 budget, the lead ship was laid down in 1986 at the CSCA yard in Corcaigh. The second hull was laid down in 1987 at the Riordan yard in Cathair Riordan, and the third in 1989 at the SCI yard in Abernenui. Cost per unit could be limited by economy of scale; total project cost was slightly less than $ 4bn, about the expense of a single contemporary Nimitz-class carrier (and not much more than the $ 3bn France had to pay for each of her two Charles de Gaulle class carriers). Riordan, usually specializing on large passenger liners, added a bulbous bow to the design, which improved fuel efficiency at high speeds; the bulb was also adopted for the third ship, while the first one retained its old-fashioned bow shape. Observing Thiarian naming traditions, the ships were named for constellations: Treighdin (Plejades) was launched at Corcaigh in 1988 and commissioned in 1991, Andraimeide (Andromeda) was launched at Cathair Riordan in 1990 and commissioned in 1994, and Chros Deiscirt (Southern Cross) was launched at Abernenui in 1992 and commissioned in 1997.
Treighdin was late for the second gulf war, but she and Andraimeide engaged Brazilian forces during the New Portugal war of Independence in 1997, where their Ionadhs used Exocet missiles to sink a Brazilian Type 42 destroyer and three smaller warships; their Siolpaire fighters scored thirteen kills against Brazilian Hurricane, Mirage and AMX aircraft. In 2000, Chros Deiscirt deployed to the Indian Ocean with an international fleet under UNO mandate when the Lemurian-backed Malagasy government used poison gas against rebel forces and captured several hundred western hostages. This operation marked a historic moment, because it was the first time British and Thiarian carriers operated alongside each other. The UN fleet – containing USS Abraham Lincoln, HMS Duke of Edinburgh, HMRS Recherche, LT Chros Deiscirt and Charles de Gaulle – briefly came to blows with Lemurian MiG-29s, which they decimated, forcing the Lemurian fleet to retire. The hostages were freed by brute force, collaterally killing several thousands of Malagasy civilians. Politically, the intervention was a disaster, not only failing to topple the Malagasy government, but restoring its credibility with its own people. After her return – HMS Duke of Edinburgh and her task force paid the first ever British goodwill visit to Thiaria on the way back – Chros Deiscirt was the first Thiarian carrier to replace the obsolescent Ionadh bombers with Batch 2 Siolpaires of the T3S-4 variant. She also retired her Super Alizé ASW platforms in favour of the ASW version of Boghdoir, and the Ka-25 helicopters with Cougars. During the post-mission refit, she also received a mine avoidance sonar and new R7S-4 missiles with improved accuracy, more ECM resilience, and the ability to engage surface targets (or sea skimming missiles below 5 meters altitude).
Treighdin received the same refit in 2003/4; Andraimeide followed in 2006. She was the last Thiarian carrier to land the venerable Ionadh bombers. Air Group strength remained 40, now consisting of 30 Siolpaires (15 fighter, 15 multirole), three Boghdoir AEW platforms, three Boghdoir ASW/tanker aircraft and four Cougar ASW/SAR helicopters.
After initial troubles with the steam generating system, the Thiarian carriers acquired a reputation as reliable and seaworthy vessels during the 2000s. The rest of the decade was less exciting for the Thiarian Navy; Treighdin visited Europe with her battlegroup in 2008 (Dublin, Portsmouth, Brest, Wilhelmshaven and Lisbon), and Chros Deiscirt made a world tour in 2010 (Valparaiso, Callao, Pearl Harbour, Toumachi, Kure, Camh Ranh Bay, Singapore, Kolkata, Esperance, Cape Town). From 2009, Thiarian and US carriers regularly engaged in joint exercises in the South Atlantic. During the 2010s, the Lemurians became restless again, supporting and protecting pirates operating from Madagaskar and Taprobane against shipping lines; all three Thiarian carriers repeatedly deployed to the Indian Ocean, operating alongside US and Recherchean forces, always at the brink of open confrontation with the Lemurians. From 2016, Andraimeide was involved in the test programme of the new T8S Asarlai semi-stealthy multirole fighter, resulting in the type’s clearance for carrier operations in 2018.
By 2020, all three have undergone a mid-life refurbishment, including the installation of a new integrated combat system, upgraded communications and a backup passive optronic fire control system; the optical landing aid was replaced with a French-designed Laser landing aid. They are expected to operate for fourty years, so replacements will have to be provided in 2031, 2034 and 2037. Discussion on a follow-on design is already up; after Thiarian has introduced nuclear propulsion for the Conaire-class submarines, they will almost certainly go nuclear with their next carriers, because only nuclear power can provide enough electric energy for the laser cannon which alone offers effective defense against ballistic or hypervelocity missile attack. Current pre-designs call for two sixty thousand ton hulls at a project price of $ 18 bn – six times the price per hull than what each of the Treighdins cost. The government’s fear of having to present such expense to the public might well result in a considerable career extension for these ships.