The first aircraft cruiser was originally a 1930s experimental concept of creating an all-around warship. The early aircraft cruisers were usually armed with relatively heavy artillery, mines and a number of aircraft fitted with floats (making the ship a kind of seaplane tender). The early aircraft cruiser turned out to be an unsuccessful design. The rapid development of naval aircraft in the 1930s quickly rendered the vessels obsolete, and they were rebuilt e.g. as anti-aircraft cruisers.
One United States design for a flight deck cruiser from 1930, was described as "a Brooklyn-class light cruiser forwards [and] one half of a Wasp-class aircraft carrier aft". Although not built, similar ships were created during and after World War II as reconstructions and later from the keel up. During World War II, in part to offset the loss of carriers at the Battle of Midway, Japan rebuilt its Ise-class battleships as hybrid carriers, with guns forward and amidships and a flight deck and hangar aft. The cruiser Mogami also had its rear gun turrets (which had been damaged at Midway) replaced by aircraft handling facilities. The German Kriegsmarine also studied several "Flugdeckkreuzer" (flight deck cruiser) designs in 1942 which included 20.3 cm (8 inch) or 28 cm (11 inch) gun turrets forward of the flight deck.
A more modern derivative of the aircraft cruiser is the helicopter cruiser which could typically operate at least 4 or more helicopters including medium and heavy lift varieties. This is in contrast to surface warships such as cruisers, destroyers, and frigates which have basic aviation facilities, including a hanger and landing pad, that are sufficient only for 1-2 light/medium helicopters.
Post-war the United Kingdom reconstructed the Tiger-class cruisers, HMS Blake and HMS Tiger into helicopter cruisers, retaining their guns forward but having their aft guns removed for the installation of a hangar and helicopter platform for the operation of four Sea King helicopters. The Invincible-class aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy could also be considered; they were originally classed as cruisers due to their original role as command and control platforms as well as anti-submarine warfare (ASW) vessels, taking on those roles from the RN's Tiger-class cruiser conversions).
The Italian Andrea Doria-class cruisers and Vittorio Veneto, French Jeanne d'Arc and Soviet Moskva-class helicopter cruisers were built from the keel up as guided missile cruisers forward and helicopter carriers aft.
Soviet and Russian aviation cruisers
In the Russian Navy, "aviation cruiser" is a designation for the Kiev and Kuznetsov-class ships. They are a cross between cruiser and aircraft carrier and are divided in two classes, the aviation cruisers and the heavy aviation cruisers.
The first class of Soviet aviation cruiser is represented by the Kiev class and the second class is represented by the Kuznetsov class. The Kiev class can carry VTOL aircraft and helicopters, the Kuznetsov class can carry helicopters and conventional fixed-wing aircraft like the Sukhoi Su-33 or the Mikoyan MiG-29K. Aviation cruisers are not fitted with catapults but the heavy aviation cruisers have a ramp ("Ski Jump") to assist take off.
Like aircraft carriers, aviation cruisers ships have close-in weapon systems, both gun and missile, for self-defense against missiles or rockets. Unlike aircraft carriers who rely solely upon their aircraft and helicopter complement for offensive power, aviation cruisers are equipped with a variety of heavy weapons to engage the full gamut of surface, submarines and aircraft adversaries.
- Japanese cruiser Mogami
- Tone-class cruiser; fully functional heavy cruisers, but incorporated a heavy seaplane element for scouting purposes
- HSwMS Gotland
- Bonner, Kermit (1997). Final Voyages. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing. ISBN 978-1-56311-289-8. Retrieved 2010-12-08.
- Friedman, Norman (1983). U.S. Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-739-5. Retrieved 2010-12-08.