The Stormcloud is the sole aircraft carrier used by Thunderbolt Black. The only one of its' type in the world, the Stormcloud is an exemplary vessel, employing many unique technological features into its' design and construction.
Equipped with a wide variety of powerful weapons and equipment as well as the aircraft carried aboard the ship, the Stormcloud is one of the assets of Thunderbolt Black that makes the mercenary unit so distinctive and unique among their contemporaries and rivals.
The Stormcloud was originally not laid down as an aircraft carrier, but instead as the first vessel in a new class of surface combat battleships for the French Navy, designed for patrolling open seasa and shorelines alike, in defence of French colonies and territories. Following the end of hostilities, the ship was no longer deemed necessary, and her near-completed hull was offered for sale, pending breaking up into scrap, the rest of the project too costly for a recovering national government.
The heads of the then-nascent Thunderbolt Black, along with HISPAN and SHI, their partners in crime and primary financial backers, took up the offer to purchase the unfinished vessel and complete it to a high standard. The ship would be a key part of their plans for Thunderbolt Black, and would also serve as a technology demonstration testbed for a number of new technologies.
The ship was completed in situ, the dry-dock facilities at Brest being leased from DCNS, and their personnel and workers collaborating with those of HISPAN and SHI to complete the vessel to the new plans of Dylan Thomas and company as an Aircraft Carrier, rather than a heavy surface warship.
Construction was completed after four years of work, with the ship being named Stormcloud in an official ceremony, and launched on the 28th May 2014. After extensive sea trials in the Mediterranean Sea she exited thr straits of Gibraltar and took aboard her first aircraft; two Super Etendards, two Navalised Hawk-200's and two SH-60 Seahawks, which then completed full trials for flight en route to Thunder Island.
The Stormcloud was designed from the outset to employ then-advanced technologies in order to be competitive with any other ocean-going vessel in service or development at the time. As such, she is a very expensive vessel, due to her unique features, and offers a number of challenges as far as maintenance and supply of spares and replacement parts are concerned. However, due to the advanced technology she uses, she remains on the leading edge of the technology curve in combat against other vessels.
Most notable of the Stormclouds' features is its' impressive size. Longer and wider than the current generation of Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers used by the US Navy (the next biggest class of military vessel), she is able to embark all known naval aircraft, as well as a great number of aircraft modified for naval service, as used by Thunderbolt Black.
The Stormcloud uses a trimaran design for its' hull, giving it a shallower draught than other ships of similar sizes, as well as great inherent stability in even very rough seas. The spread out area of hull also gives much greater deck space for aircraft movement and deckside systems, and a larger internal volume across the upper decks. The design also includes a well deck at the rear, which allows the Stormcloud to launch and recover landing ships and other small vessels for amphibious assaults or other marine endeavours, as well as to onload and offload vehicles and support equipment. The hangar deck is also connected, allowing easy transfer of equipment and supplies between aircraft and vessels as needed. Externally, the ship incorporates a number of stealthy features, such as angled surfaces and the use of RAM materials to reduce its' radar section, though it is of course not invisible to radar due to its' massive size and the need for numerous external antennae and other systems.
The large flight deck area allows for the launch and recovery of multiple aircraft simultaneously, using EMALS catapult launching technology. Control for both the ship and aircraft operations is conducted from the large single conning tower, with large viewing windows. The tower also houses the VLS for the ships' surface-to-surface and over-the-horizon land-attack armament. Below the flight deck, a large hangar deck serves as storage for multiple aircraft and vehicles. A further six decks are situated below the hangar deck. Four aircraft elevators provide transit for aircraft from the hangar deck to the flight deck. Small boats can also be launched from rear cradles on the port and starboard sides of the ship.
Onboard systems such as consumables and supply distribution, including ammunition distribution, are virtually wholly automated by use of a system similar to that used in warehousing and distribution. This allows for a reduced crew complement, and more efficient use of space aboard ship.
Onboard radar is exceptional, providing long-range coverage of both the air and surface for the control of air traffic and identification of targets up to 300 miles around the ship. Advanced data-fusion systems and datalinks allow information from multiple allied sources to be combined for a much more comprehensive picture of the local battlespace around the carrier, and allow for intergration with the systems of Thunderbolt Blacks' clients. Much of the air traffic management, including landing systems, is also heavily automated and computer monitored, allowing for a much improved safety record for landing aircraft, and better handling of the diverse types of aircraft used by Thunderbolt Black.
Integrated power and computer systems aboard ship allow for efficient distribution of electrical power to the systems most in demand, from the engines and propulstion, to onboard sensors or weapon systems. The modular nature of the system and it's integration into the structure of the vessel also makes modifications easy. Additionally, integrated computing architecture in the ships design allows for full wireless and wired networking for all computer systems aboard, and allows for precise and instant monitoring of all onboard systems. It also reduces any time delay in crisis and damage management aboard the ship.
Aside from berthing facilities for the crew and air complement, the ship has a wide array of facilities for the crew. These include an onboard medical facility that includes an operating theatre and a dental surgery, physical fitness areas, a cinema, a small bar, a galley able to serve up to 500 meals an hour, armouries, laundries, internet and telephone exchanges, and a small onboard shop stocking essentials and luxury goods.
With its' primary function being to carry and launch Thunderbolt Blacks' tactical aircraft, the Stormcloud is equipped with the latest in aircraft-related technologies. To launch and recover aircraft, the ship uses Electromagnetic Catapults rather than the older steam-powered catapult systems. Similarly, an advanced arrester-gear system has been developed and employed, allowing both the launch and recovery of larger and heavier aircraft than earlier carriers or competing designs could have in earlier years. This is especially important as Thunderbolt Black use such a wide variety of non-standard aircraft, compared with national navies.
Equally, this means that the carriers' air wing is very changable, but there are always at least a pair ofV-22 Ospreys used for utility and search-and-rescue work deployed aboard, along with more conventional helicopters for search-and-rescue, liason, anti-submarine and light utility duties. Also always embarked is at least one Airborne Early Warning aircraft, and a Carrier Onboard Delivery transport/utility aircraft.
Small Craft and VehiclesEdit
With the floodable well deck in the rear of the ship, and launch/recovery cradles for small boats on both sides of the ship, the Stormcloud is more than capable of launching amphibious assault operations. With its' onboard air wing, and weapons systems, the ship is capable of assaulting land targets almost alone, with little to no fleet support.
The well deck allows four LCAC landing hovercraft to be carried, as well as alternatives, such as traditional flat-bottomed landing craft, or tracked amphibious vehicles. Additionally, the vehicle deck can hold approximately twenty or so light vehicles, or half that many armoured vehicles for assault operations.
The most often carried small craft is the Combat Boat 90. These fast vessels have a wide variety of uses, from interception of small boats, to liason with other ships, scouting, recovery and landing of smaller forces, and any number of other duties. Other craft include RHIBs, and craft akin to the US Navies' Mark V. Special Operations Craft, with similar roles and capabilities.
Primarily, the Stormclouds' offensive power comes in the aircraft it carries aboard, which are able to operate with a great deal of flexibility and power, with a wide range of weapon systems. However, the ship also carries a substantial array of defensive and offensive weapon systems for surface-to-surface, land-attack and surface-to-air combat.
The Stormclouds' offensive gun armament primarily comes from the 115mm turreted cannon carried in sponsons at either side of the forward flight deck on the primary hull. These cannon are capable of fire support for landing forces, and for combat with other surface vessels and even for anti-aircraft fire. The cannon have a rapid rate of fire, around 25 rounds per minute. The cannon are mostly automated, with loading handled electronically. Aiming is performed by radar and electro-optical sighting.
Secondary offensive gun armament consists solely of close-range .50 calibre Browning machine-guns on individual mountings, used for attacking or defense against small surface craft or at the dockside.
Defense against anti-ship missiles and ballistic shells at close range is taken care of by the Goalkeeper CIWS system, six of which are mounted on the Stormcloud. These are an upgrade from the original Phalanx guns fitted to the ship after it's construction and launch.
The primary missile system aboard the Stormcloud for surface-to-surface and land attack is a 64-cell Vertical Launch Missile system, situated in the rear of the ships' conning tower. This system features numerous individual cells, capable of launching a variety of missiles, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, and AGM-84 Harpoon and SLAM missiles. The VLS is also capable of firing the ESSM missile for use against inbound air targets. This gives a wide variety of options for combat against all targets.
The ship is also equipped with four RAM launchers, able to engage incoming anti-ship missiles, helicopters, and aircraft at short-to-medium ranges with input from onboard sensors, rather than autonomously like the Goalkeeper system.
The Stormcloud employs the MASS decoy system, as well as chaff rockets and sonar decoys to confuse incoming missiles or torpedoes. These decoys are able to create a rapid blooming cloud of chaff, as well as using laser and infra-red systems to decoy incoming attacks.
- The only Trimaran warship in service in the real world is the Littoral Combat Ship class of the US Navy. Many of its' features were adapted into the design of the Stormcloud.
- Trimaran aircraft carriers have been proposed for many nations, and lots of concept art has been produced
- The Italian Navies' aircraft carrier is often used as an amphibious support warship. Similarly, the Tarawa-class ships of the US Navy and Marine Corps feature aircraft carrying abilities alongside amphibious launch and recovery operations.
- The picture of the Stormcloud is in Shipbucket scale, using parts sheets from that site.