Iraq crisis: Second British aircraft carrier to head for Gulf as 'Invincible' undergoes radar repair

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The Independent Online
HIGHLY SENSITIVE radar equipment has broken down on board HMS Invincible, the aircraft carrier which forms the backbone of the British military force in the Gulf.

Members of the ship's company have called home to their families to report their concerns over the loss of a key part of the ship's defence system. Families were said to be "worried" by the news. The Ministry of Defence said last night that the repair work on the radar was "going well" and that it was hoped that it would be back in operation later today. The ship is currently alongside in the harbour at Dubai while the repair work is being carried out.

An MoD spokeswoman said that the breakdown would not put the ship at risk of attack. "It's not going to hamper her war-fighting capabilities," she said. She said that Invincible, which arrived in Dubai on Wednesday, was expected to return to sea later today. She said that the carrier had come into harbour to repair the radar, to carry out some routine maintenance and to give the ship's company some much-needed rest and recuperation. Invincible was sent to the Gulf on 17 January but has been at sea since before Christmas.

Although the British task group in the Gulf is tiny compared with the United States deployment, the Royal Navy is still anxious to impress. Yet, almost inevitably in a period of intense war training, there have been problems which have hampered preparations, particularly on Invincible.

At the end of last month, a Sea Harrier fighter aircraft was almost lost when a cockpit tore open at an altitude of more than 40,000ft. The pilot, who was exposed to temperatures of -53C, managed to return the aircraft to the carrier for repairs after it fell 37,000ft in three seconds.

The Invincible has eight Sea Harriers and seven Royal Air Force Harriers aboard, as well as seven Sea King helicopters.

A second British carrier, HMS Illustrious, is expected to join or replace Invincible, and is currently undergoing training in the Mediterranean. The other British ships already in the Gulf are the frigate HMS Coventry, the destroyer HMS Nottingham, and the supply ships RFA Bayleaf and Fort Victoria.

The remaining British personnel in the Gulf are in Kuwait, where eight Tornado GR1 aircraft are stationed, and Bahrain, with two VC-10 tankers and a company of Royal Engineers.

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