HMS Illustrious will be retired from service with the Royal Navy next month, The News can exclusively reveal.
After more than 32 years of distinguished service, the Portsmouth-based helicopter carrier will be replaced in service by Plymouth-based HMS Ocean which has just received a £65m refit.
A decommissioning ceremony to say farewell to the warship will be held later this year.
The Royal Navy could not confirm when the ship’s final entry to Portsmouth would be, but The News understands it could be Tuesday.
The Royal Navy’s fleet commander, Vice-Admiral Sir Philip Jones, said: ‘HMS Illustrious has a long and proud history with the Royal Navy.
‘During her 32 years of service she has protected our nation’s interests in the Falklands, Bosnia, Iraq, Sierra Leone and most recently the Philippines.
‘The decision to replace her in service with HMS Ocean will ensure the Royal Navy has her most advanced and capable ships working to protect the nation until HMS Queen Elizabeth enters service in 2020.
‘It was only fitting therefore that HMS Illustrious’ final high profile public role was to support the naming by Her Majesty of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on 4 July.
‘Poignantly the ceremony allowed us to celebrate the navy we have known so well for so long with the navy of the future, side by side.
‘The Royal Navy will of course mark the departure of HMS Illustrious with all the pride she deserves and is supportive of plans to retain her intact in the UK to preserve the legacy of the Invincible Class and all those who served in them.’
The Royal Navy says a £65m refit for HMS Ocean will enable the helicopter carrier to operate until HMS Queen Elizabeth enters service.
Ocean has a greater number of helicopter landing spots and can carry larger numbers of landing craft and embarked Royal Marines.
It was decided in the government’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review that Illustrious would retire from service this year, although a date was not set until now.
It sparked a row over the gap in carrier strike capabilities until the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is brought into service.
As reported in The News, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been inviting ideas on how Illustrious could be preserved in the future, rather than sent for scrap like her sister ships Invincible and Ark Royal.
The MoD says it is currently considering a number of ‘very interesting’ bids which have been received.