The hull of Landing Helicopter Dock Skip HMAS Canberra (LDH 01) has been launched in Spain, reportedly christened with a bottle of sparkling Canberra region wine. Photos from the launch show the ship's two most prominent features: the ski-jump on the bow, and the stern dock door for landing craft. The ship will be transported to Australia in 2014 for fit-out.
The ski-jump on the bow of the Canberra class ships is designed for launching fixed wing Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft. But there are no plans to acquire aircraft, such as the F-35B, for the ship. The UK government has decided to operate F-35C conventional aircraft from its Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier, after installing a catapult for launching and arrestor wires for retrieving aircraft. This raises the possibility of operating such aircraft from the Canberra class ships.
About 85 metres of deck is required for a steam catapult launch from a flat deck. But the electro-magnetic catapults being installed on US and UK ships could be installed the ski-jump of the Canberra class. The ski-jump, and the more controlled power of the electron-magnetic catapult, would reduce the length of deck needed.
About 100 m is required for an arrestor landing. The Canberra class ships are much narrowed than the Queen Elizabeth design and lack an angled flight deck for landing. An angled deck could be added using advanced light weight materials. This would allow use of the already acquired F-18 E/F Super Hornet aircraft.
Conventional aircraft carriers require a large number of personnel on the flight deck. This is hazardous and these crew must be accommodated, reducing space on the ship for other functions. Instead these functions could be automated or carried out remotely from within the ship.
Aircraft operations would restrict other ship functions. It would be prudent not to have the rear dock of the ship in use during aircraft landings. However, that function could be carried out by smaller ships.