Aircraft carrier

An aircraft carrier is a warship that serves as a seagoing airbase, equipped with a full-length flight deck and facilities for carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft.[1] Typically, it is the capital ship of a fleet, as it allows a naval force to project air power worldwide without depending on local bases for staging aircraft operations. Carriers have evolved since their inception in the early twentieth century from wooden vessels used to deploy balloons to nuclear-powered warships that carry numerous fighters, strike aircraft, helicopters, and other types of aircraft. While heavier aircraft such as fixed-wing gunships and bombers have been launched from aircraft carriers, it is currently not possible to land them. By its diplomatic and tactical power, its mobility, its autonomy and the variety of its means, the aircraft carrier is often the centerpiece of modern combat fleets. Tactically or even strategically, it replaced the battleship in the role of flagship of a fleet. One of its great advantages is that, by sailing in international waters, it does not interfere with any territorial sovereignty and thus obviates the need for overflight authorizations from third party countries, reduce the times and transit distances of aircraft and therefore significantly increase the time of availability on the combat zone.

World Navy Aircraft carries chart
Chart comparing a range of aircraft carriers, from longest (top left) to shortest

There is no single definition of an "aircraft carrier",[2] and modern navies use several variants of the type. These variants are sometimes categorized as sub-types of aircraft carriers,[3] and sometimes as distinct types of naval aviation-capable ships.[2][4] Aircraft carriers may be classified according to the type of aircraft they carry and their operational assignments. Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, RN, former First Sea Lord (head) of the Royal Navy, has said, "To put it simply, countries that aspire to strategic international influence have aircraft carriers."[5] Henry Kissinger, while United States Secretary of State, also said: "An aircraft carrier is 100,000 tons of diplomacy".[6]

As of August 2019, there are 41 active aircraft carriers in the world operated by thirteen navies. The United States Navy has 11 large nuclear-powered fleet carriers—carrying around 80 fighter jets each—the largest carriers in the world; the total combined deckspace is over twice that of all other nations combined.[7] As well as the aircraft carrier fleet, the U.S. Navy has nine amphibious assault ships used primarily for helicopters, although these also carry up to 20 vertical or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) fighter jets and are similar in size to medium-sized fleet carriers. China, France, India, Russia, and the UK each operate a single large/medium-size carrier, with capacity from 30 to 60 fighter jets. Italy operates two light fleet carriers and Spain operates one. Helicopter carriers are operated by Japan (4), France (3), Australia (2), Egypt (2), Brazil (1), South Korea (1), and Thailand (1). Future aircraft carriers are under construction or in planning by Brazil, China, India, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Fleet 5 nations
Four modern aircraft carriers of various types—USS John C. Stennis, Charles de Gaulle (French Navy), USS John F. Kennedy, helicopter carrier HMS Ocean—and escort vessels, 2002
Principe-de-Asturias Wasp Forrestal Invincible 1991 DN-ST-92-01129s
From bottom to top: Spanish light V/STOL carrier Príncipe de Asturias, amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, fleet carrier USS Forrestal, and light V/STOL carrier HMS Invincible, showing size differences of late 20th century carriers, 1991

Types of carrier

A12 & CVN76
Brazilian aircraft carrier São Paulo, foreground, and U.S. Navy carrier USS Ronald Reagan during a combined training exercise
USS Enterprise FS Charles de Gaulle
USS Enterprise, first nuclear-powered carrier of the U.S. Navy (left), sails alongside Charles de Gaulle, a fleet carrier of the French Navy (right), both of which have the CATOBAR configuration.

Basic types

(note: some of the types listed here are not strictly defined as aircraft carriers by some sources)

By role

A fleet carrier is intended to operate with the main fleet and usually provides an offensive capability. These are the largest carriers capable of fast speeds. By comparison, escort carriers were developed to provide defense for convoys of ships. They were smaller and slower with lower numbers of aircraft carried. Most were built from mercantile hulls or, in the case of merchant aircraft carriers, were bulk cargo ships with a flight deck added on top. Light aircraft carriers were fast enough to operate with the main fleet but of smaller size with reduced aircraft capacity.

The Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Kusnetsov was termed a heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser. This was primarily a legal construct to avoid the limitations of the Montreux Convention preventing 'aircraft carriers' transiting the Turkish Straits between the Soviet Black Sea bases and the Mediterranean. These ships, while sized in the range of large fleet carriers, were designed to deploy alone or with escorts. In addition to supporting fighter aircraft and helicopters, they provide both strong defensive weaponry and heavy offensive missiles equivalent to a guided missile cruiser.

By configuration

INS Vikramaditya (R33) close shot
INS Vikramaditya of the Indian Navy has the STOBAR configuration.

Aircraft carriers today are usually divided into the following four categories based on the way that aircraft take off and land:

  • Catapult-assisted take-off barrier arrested-recovery (CATOBAR): these carriers generally carry the largest, heaviest, and most heavily armed aircraft, although smaller CATOBAR carriers may have other limitations (weight capacity of aircraft elevator, etc.). All CATOBAR carriers in service today are nuclear powered. Two nations currently operate carriers of this type: ten Nimitz class and one Gerald R. Ford class fleet carriers by the United States, and one medium-sized carrier by France, for a world total of twelve in service.
  • Short take-off but arrested-recovery (STOBAR): these carriers are generally limited to carrying lighter fixed-wing aircraft with more limited payloads. STOBAR carrier air wings, such as the Sukhoi Su-33 and future Mikoyan MiG-29K wings of Admiral Kuznetsov are often geared primarily towards air superiority and fleet defense roles rather than strike/power projection tasks, which require heavier payloads (bombs and air-to-ground missiles). Today China, India, and Russia each operate one carrier of this type – a total of three in service currently.
  • Short take-off vertical-landing (STOVL): limited to carrying STOVL aircraft. STOVL aircraft, such as the Harrier Jump Jet family and Yakovlev Yak-38 generally have limited payloads, lower performance, and high fuel consumption when compared with conventional fixed-wing aircraft; however, a new generation of STOVL aircraft, currently consisting of the F-35B, has much improved performance. The US has nine STOVL amphibious assault ships. The UK has a class of two 65,000 ton[8] STOVL aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy; with one in service and the other being fitted out. Italy operates two in the light fleet role, and Spain operates one amphibious assault ship as a STOVL aircraft carrier, giving a total of thirteen STOVL carriers in active service; (Thailand has one active STOVL carrier but she no longer has any operational STOVL aircraft in inventory so is used and counted as a helicopter carrier).
  • Helicopter carrier: Helicopter carriers have a similar appearance to other aircraft carriers but operate only helicopters – those that mainly operate helicopters but can also operate fixed-wing aircraft are known as STOVL carriers (see above). There are currently fourteen helicopter carriers (that solely operate helicopters and not fixed-wing aircraft), operated by seven navies, in commission today. Japan has four of this type, France three, Australia two, Egypt two, and South Korea, Thailand, and Brazil have one each. In the past, some conventional carriers were converted and called commando carriers by the Royal Navy. Some helicopter carriers, but not all, are classified as amphibious assault ships, tasked with landing and supporting ground forces on enemy territory.

By size

Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano
The Japanese carrier Shinano was the biggest carrier in World War II, and the largest ship destroyed by a submarine.[9]

Supercarrier

The appellation "supercarrier" is not an official designation with any national navy, but a term used predominantly by the media and typically when reporting on new and upcoming aircraft carrier types. It is also used when comparing carriers of various sizes and capabilities, both current and past. It was first used by The New York Times in 1938,[10] in an article about the Royal Navy's HMS Ark Royal, that had a length of 209 metres (686 ft), a displacement of 22,000 tonnes and was designed to carry 72 aircraft.[11][12] Since then, aircraft carriers have consistently grown in size, both in length and displacement, as well as improved capabilities; in defense, sensors, electronic warfare, propulsion, range, launch and recovery systems, number and types of aircraft carried and number of sorties flown per day.

While the current classes in service, or planned, with the navies of China, India, Russia, and the United Kingdom, with displacements ranging from 65,000[8] to 85,000 tonnes,[13] lengths ranging from 280 meters (920 ft)[14] to 320 meters (1,050 ft)[15] and varying capabilities, have been described as "supercarriers",[16][17][18][13] the largest "supercarriers" currently in service are with the US Navy,[19] with displacements exceeding 100,000 tonnes,[19] lengths of over 337 meters (1,106 ft),[19] and capabilities that match or exceed that of any other class.[20][21][22][23][24]

Hull type identification symbols

Several systems of identification symbol for aircraft carriers and related types of ship have been used. These include the pennant numbers used by the Royal Navy and some Commonwealth countries, the hull classification symbols used by the US, NATO and some other countries,[25] and the Canadian hull classification symbols.

US hull classification symbols for aircraft carriers and related types
Symbol Designation
CV Generic aircraft carrier
CVA Attack carrier
CVB Large aircraft carrier (retired)
CVAN Nuclear-powered attack carrier
CVE Escort carrier
CVG Flight deck cruiser (proposed)
CVHA Aircraft carrier, Helicopter Assault (retired)
CVHE Aircraft carrier, Helicopter, Escort (retired)
CVV Aircraft Carrier (Medium) (proposed)
CVL Light aircraft carrier
CVN Nuclear-powered aircraft carrier
CVS Anti-submarine warfare carrier
LHA Landing Helicopter Assault, a type of amphibious assault ship
LHD Landing Helicopter Dock, a type of amphibious assault ship
LPH Landing Platform Helicopter, a type of amphibious assault ship

History

Origins

Wakamiya
The Japanese seaplane carrier Wakamiya conducted the world's first naval-launched air raids in 1914

The 1903 advent of heavier-than-air fixed-wing aircraft with the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, was closely followed on 14 November 1910, by Eugene Burton Ely's first experimental take-off of a Curtiss Pusher airplane from the deck of a United States Navy ship, the cruiser USS Birmingham anchored off Norfolk Navy Base in Virginia. Two months later, on 18 January 1911, Ely landed his Curtiss Pusher airplane on a platform on the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania anchored in San Francisco Bay. On 9 May 1912, the first airplane take-off from a ship underway was made from the deck of the Royal Navy's pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Hibernia.[26][27] Seaplane tender support ships came next, with the French Foudre of 1911. Early in World War I, the Imperial Japanese Navy ship Wakamiya conducted the world's first successful ship-launched air raid:[28][29] on 6 September 1914, a Farman aircraft launched by Wakamiya attacked the Austro-Hungarian cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth and the Imperial German gunboat Jaguar in Kiaochow Bay off Tsingtao; neither was hit.[30][31] The first carrier-launched airstrike was the Tondern Raid in July 1918. Seven Sopwith Camels launched from the converted battlecruiser HMS Furious damaged the German airbase at Tondern, Germany (modern day Tønder, Denmark) and destroyed two zeppelin airships.[32]

Japanese aircraft carrier Hōshō Tokyo Bay
Aerial view of Hōshō of the Imperial Japanese Navy as completed in December 1922

The development of flattop vessels produced the first large fleet ships. In 1918, HMS Argus became the world's first carrier capable of launching and recovering naval aircraft.[33] As a result of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which limited the construction of new heavy surface combat ships, most early aircraft carriers were conversions of ships that were laid down (or had served) as different ship types: cargo ships, cruisers, battlecruisers, or battleships. These conversions gave rise to the US Lexington-class aircraft carriers (1927), Japanese Akagi, and British Courageous class. Specialist carrier evolution was well underway, with several navies ordering and building warships that were purposefully designed to function as aircraft carriers by the mid-1920s. This resulted in the commissioning of ships such as the Japanese Hōshō (1922),[34] followed by HMS Hermes (1924, although laid down before Hōshō in 1918) and Béarn (1927). During World War II, these ships would become known as fleet carriers.

World War II

HMS Ark Royal h85716
The Royal Navy's HMS Ark Royal in 1939, with Swordfish biplane bombers passing overhead. The British aircraft carrier was involved in the crippling of the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941

The aircraft carrier dramatically changed naval warfare in World War II, because air power was becoming a significant factor in warfare. The advent of aircraft as focal weapons was driven by the superior range, flexibility, and effectiveness of carrier-launched aircraft. They had greater range and precision than naval guns, making them highly effective. The versatility of the carrier was demonstrated in November 1940, when HMS Illustrious launched a long-range strike on the Italian fleet at their base in Taranto, signalling the beginning of the effective and highly mobile aircraft strikes. This operation in the shallow water harbor incapacitated three of the anchored six battleships at a cost of two torpedo bombers.

World War II in the Pacific Ocean involved clashes between aircraft carrier fleets. The Japanese surprise attack on the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor naval / air bases on Sunday, 7 December 1941, was a clear illustration of the power projection capability afforded by a large force of modern carriers. Concentrating six carriers in a single unit turned naval history about, as no other nation had fielded anything comparable. Further versatility was demonstrated during the "Doolittle Raid", on 18 April 1942, when US Navy carrier USS Hornet sailed to within 650 nautical miles (1,200 km) of Japan and launched 16 B-25 bombers from her deck in a retaliatory strike on the mainland, including the capital, Tokyo. However, the vulnerability of carriers compared to traditional battleships when forced into a gun-range encounter was quickly illustrated by the sinking of HMS Glorious by German battleships during the Norwegian campaign in 1940.

This new-found importance of naval aviation forced nations to create a number of carriers, in efforts to provide air superiority cover for every major fleet in order to ward off enemy aircraft. This extensive usage led to the development and construction of 'light' carriers. Escort aircraft carriers, such as USS Bogue, were sometimes purpose-built but most were converted from merchant ships as a stop-gap measure to provide anti-submarine air support for convoys and amphibious invasions. Following this concept, light aircraft carriers built by the U.S., such as USS Independence, represented a larger, more "militarized" version of the escort carrier. Although with similar complement to escort carriers, they had the advantage of speed from their converted cruiser hulls. The UK 1942 Design Light Fleet Carrier was designed for building quickly by civilian shipyards and with an expected service life of about 3 years.[35] They served the Royal Navy during the war, and the hull design was chosen for nearly all aircraft carrier equipped navies after the war, until the 1980s. Emergencies also spurred the creation or conversion of highly unconventional aircraft carriers. CAM ships were cargo-carrying merchant ships that could launch (but not retrieve) a single fighter aircraft from a catapult to defend the convoy from long range land-based German aircraft.

Postwar era

Arromanches (R95) with Hellcat landing c1953
An F6F-5 landing on the French Arromanches in the Tonkin Gulf, 1953.
USS Tripoli LPH10 a
USS Tripoli, a U.S. Navy Iwo Jima-class helicopter carrier
USS Enterprise (CVN-65)
USS Enterprise (CVN-65), "The Big E", the world's first nuclear-powered carrier, commissioned in 1961

Before World War II, international naval treaties of 1922, 1930, and 1936 limited the size of capital ships including carriers. Since World War II, aircraft carrier designs have increased in size to accommodate a steady increase in aircraft size. The large, modern Nimitz class of U.S.N. carriers has a displacement nearly four times that of the World War II–era USS Enterprise, yet its complement of aircraft is roughly the same—a consequence of the steadily increasing size and weight of individual military aircraft over the years. Today's aircraft carriers are so expensive that some nations which operate them risk significant political, economic, social and military impact if a carrier is lost, or is even sent to a potential crisis zone or used in conflict.

Modern navies that operate such aircraft carriers treat them as the capital ship of the fleet, a role previously held by the sailing galleons, frigates and ships-of-the-line and later steam or diesel powered battleship. This change took place during World War II in response to air power becoming a significant factor in warfare, driven by the superior range, flexibility and effectiveness of carrier-launched aircraft. Following the war, carrier operations continued to increase in size and importance, and along with, carrier designs also increased in size and ability. Some of these larger carriers, dubbed by the media as "supercarriers", displacing 75,000 tonnes or greater, have become the pinnacle of carrier development. Some are powered by nuclear reactors and form the core of a fleet designed to operate far from home. Amphibious assault ships, such as the Wasp and Mistral classes, serve the purpose of carrying and landing Marines, and operate a large contingent of helicopters for that purpose. Also known as "commando carriers"[36] or "helicopter carriers", many have the capability to operate VSTOL aircraft.

Lacking the firepower of other warships, carriers by themselves are considered vulnerable to attack by other ships, aircraft, submarines, or missiles. Therefore, an aircraft carrier is generally accompanied by a number of other ships to provide protection for the relatively unwieldy carrier, to carry supplies and perform other support services, and to provide additional offensive capabilities. The resulting group of ships is often termed a battle group, carrier group, carrier battle group or carrier strike group.

There is a view among some military pundits that modern anti-ship weapons systems, such as torpedoes and missiles, or even ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads have made aircraft carriers and carrier groups obsolete as too vulnerable for modern combat.[37] On the other hand, the threatening role of aircraft carriers has a place in modern asymmetric warfare, like the gunboat diplomacy of the past.[38] Furthermore, aircraft carriers facilitate quick and precise projections of overwhelming military power into such local and regional conflicts.[39]

Description

Structure

USS Roosevelt CV-42 Med 1976-77
STOVL Harriers preparing to take off from CATOBAR carrier, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt

Carriers are large and long ships, although there is a high degree of variation depending on their intended role and aircraft complement. The size of the carrier has varied over history and among navies, to cater to the various roles that global climates have demanded from naval aviation.

Regardless of size, the ship itself must house their complement of aircraft, with space for launching, storing, and maintaining them. Space is also required for the large crew, supplies (food, munitions, fuel, engineering parts), and propulsion. US aircraft carriers are notable for having nuclear reactors powering their systems and propulsion. This makes the carrier reasonably tall.

The top of the carrier is the flight deck, where aircraft are launched and recovered. On the starboard side of this is the island, where air-traffic control and the bridge are located.

The constraints of constructing a flight deck affect the role of a given carrier strongly, as they influence the weight, type, and configuration of the aircraft that may be launched. For example, assisted launch mechanisms are used primarily for heavy aircraft, especially those loaded with air-to-ground weapons. CATOBAR is most commonly used on USN fleet carriers as it allows the deployment of heavy jets with full loadouts, especially on ground-attack missions. STOVL is used by other navies because it is cheaper to operate and still provides good deployment capability for fighter aircraft.

DeHavilland Vampire HMS Ocean Dec1945 NAN1 47
The first carrier landing and take-off of a jet aircraft: Eric "Winkle" Brown landing on HMS Ocean in 1945

Due to the busy nature of the flight deck, only 20 or so aircraft may be on it at any one time. A hangar storage several decks below the flight deck is where most aircraft are kept, and aircraft are taken from the lower storage decks to the flight deck through the use of an elevator. The hangar is usually quite large and can take up several decks of vertical space.[40]

Munitions are commonly stored on the lower decks because they are highly explosive. Usually this is below the water line so that the area can be flooded in case of emergency.

Flight deck

Vikramaditya 5
Expansive flight deck of INS Vikramaditya at night showing the ski-jump ramp used for STOBAR configuration

As "runways at sea", aircraft carriers have a flat-top flight deck, which launches and recovers aircraft. Aircraft launch forward, into the wind, and are recovered from astern. The flight deck is where the most notable differences between a carrier and a land runway are found. Creating such a surface at sea poses constraints on the carrier. For example, the fact that it is a ship means that a full-length runway would be costly to construct and maintain. This affects take-off procedure, as a shorter runway length of the deck requires that aircraft accelerate more quickly to gain lift. This either requires a thrust boost, a vertical component to its velocity, or a reduced take-off load (to lower mass). The differing types of deck configuration, as above, influence the structure of the flight deck. The form of launch assistance a carrier provides is strongly related to the types of aircraft embarked and the design of the carrier itself.

There are two main philosophies in order to keep the deck short: add thrust to the aircraft, such as using a Catapult Assisted Take-Off (CATO-); and changing the direction of the airplanes' thrust, as in Vertical and/or Short Take-Off (V/STO-). Each method has advantages and disadvantages of its own:

  • Catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR): A steam- or electric-powered catapult is connected to the aircraft, and is used to accelerate conventional aircraft to a safe flying speed. By the end of the catapult stroke, the aircraft is airborne and further propulsion is provided by its own engines. This is the most expensive method as it requires complex machinery to be installed under the flight deck, but allows for even heavily loaded aircraft to take off.
  • Short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) depends on increasing the net lift on the aircraft. Aircraft do not require catapult assistance for take off; instead on nearly all ships of this type an upwards vector is provided by a ski-jump at the forward end of the flight deck, often combined with thrust vectoring by the aircraft. Alternatively, by reducing the fuel and weapon load, an aircraft is able to reach faster speeds and generate more upwards lift and launch without a ski-jump or catapult.
  • Short take-off vertical-landing (STOVL): On aircraft carriers, non-catapult-assisted, fixed-wing short takeoffs are accomplished with the use of thrust vectoring, which may also be used in conjunction with a runway "ski-jump". Use of STOVL tends to allow aircraft to carry a larger payload as compared to during VTOL use, while still only requiring a short runway. The most famous examples are the Hawker Siddeley Harrier and the Sea Harrier. Although technically VTOL aircraft, they are operationally STOVL aircraft due to the extra weight carried at take-off for fuel and armaments. The same is true of the F-35B Lightning II, which demonstrated VTOL capability in test flights but is operationally STOVL.
  • Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL): Aircraft are specifically designed for the purpose of using very high degrees of thrust vectoring (e.g. if the thrust to weight-force ratio is greater than 1, it can take off vertically), but are usually slower than conventionally propelled aircraft.

On the recovery side of the flight deck, the adaptation to the aircraft loadout is mirrored. Non-VTOL or conventional aircraft cannot decelerate on their own, and almost all carriers using them must have arrested-recovery systems (-BAR, e.g. CATOBAR or STOBAR) to recover their aircraft. Aircraft that are landing extend a tailhook that catches on arrestor wires stretched across the deck to bring themselves to a stop in a short distance. Post-WWII Royal Navy research on safer CATOBAR recovery eventually led to universal adoption of a landing area angled off axis to allow aircraft who missed the arresting wires to "bolt" and safely return to flight for another landing attempt rather than crashing into aircraft on the forward deck.

If the aircraft are VTOL-capable or helicopters, they do not need to decelerate and hence there is no such need. The arrested-recovery system has used an angled deck since the 1950s because, in case the aircraft does not catch the arresting wire, the short deck allows easier take off by reducing the number of objects between the aircraft and the end of the runway. It also has the advantage of separating the recovery operation area from the launch area. Helicopters and aircraft capable of vertical or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) usually recover by coming abreast of the carrier on the port side and then using their hover capability to move over the flight deck and land vertically without the need for arresting gear.

Staff and deck operations

F/A-18 Hornet aircraft landing video

Carriers steam at speed, up to 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph) into the wind during flight deck operations to increase wind speed over the deck to a safe minimum. This increase in effective wind speed provides a higher launch airspeed for aircraft at the end of the catapult stroke or ski-jump, as well as making recovery safer by reducing the difference between the relative speeds of the aircraft and ship.

Since the early 1950s on conventional carriers it has been the practice to recover aircraft at an angle to port of the axial line of the ship. The primary function of this angled deck is to allow aircraft that miss the arresting wires, referred to as a bolter, to become airborne again without the risk of hitting aircraft parked forward. The angled deck allows the installation of one or two "waist" catapults in addition to the two bow cats. An angled deck also improves launch and recovery cycle flexibility with the option of simultaneous launching and recovery of aircraft.

Conventional ("tailhook") aircraft rely upon a landing signal officer (LSO, radio call sign paddles) to monitor the aircraft's approach, visually gauge glideslope, attitude, and airspeed, and transmit that data to the pilot. Before the angled deck emerged in the 1950s, LSOs used colored paddles to signal corrections to the pilot (hence the nickname). From the late 1950s onward, visual landing aids such as the optical landing system have provided information on proper glide slope, but LSOs still transmit voice calls to approaching pilots by radio.

USS John C. Stennis flight operations 121229-N-OY799-239
USS John C. Stennis shooter launching F/A-18

Key personnel involved in the flight deck include the shooters, the handler, and the air boss. Shooters are naval aviators or naval flight officers and are responsible for launching aircraft. The handler works just inside the island from the flight deck and is responsible for the movement of aircraft before launching and after recovery. The "air boss" (usually a commander) occupies the top bridge (Primary Flight Control, also called primary or the tower) and has the overall responsibility for controlling launch, recovery and "those aircraft in the air near the ship, and the movement of planes on the flight deck, which itself resembles a well-choreographed ballet."[41] The captain of the ship spends most of his time one level below primary on the Navigation Bridge. Below this is the Flag Bridge, designated for the embarked admiral and his staff.

To facilitate working on the flight deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier, the sailors wear colored shirts that designate their responsibilities. There are at least seven different colors worn by flight deck personnel for modern United States Navy carrier air operations. Carrier operations of other nations use similar color schemes.

Deck structures

US Navy 100512-N-8446A-004 An F-A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the Fighting Checkmates of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 211 lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65)
Island control structure of USS Enterprise
FS CDG bridge3
The command bridge of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle

The superstructure of a carrier (such as the bridge, flight control tower) are concentrated in a relatively small area called an island, a feature pioneered on HMS Hermes in 1923. While the island is usually built on the starboard side of the flight deck, the Japanese aircraft carriers Akagi and Hiryū had their islands built on the port side. Very few carriers have been designed or built without an island. The flush deck configuration proved to have significant drawbacks, primary of which was management of the exhaust from the power plant. Fumes coming across the deck were a major issue in USS Langley. In addition, lack of an island meant difficulties managing the flight deck, performing air traffic control, a lack of radar housing placements and problems with navigating and controlling the ship itself.[42]

Another deck structure that can be seen is a ski-jump ramp at the forward end of the flight deck. This was first developed to help launch STOVL aircraft take off at far higher weights than is possible with a vertical or rolling takeoff on flat decks. Originally developed by the Royal Navy, it since has been adopted by many navies for smaller carriers. A ski-jump ramp works by converting some of the forward rolling movement of the aircraft into vertical velocity and is sometimes combined with the aiming of jet thrust partly downwards. This allows heavily loaded and fueled aircraft a few more precious seconds to attain sufficient air velocity and lift to sustain normal flight. Without a ski-jump launching fully loaded and fueled aircraft such as the Harrier would not be possible on a smaller flat deck ship before either stalling out or crashing directly into the sea.

FRS.1 ski-jump take-off HMS Invincible.JPEG
Ski-jump on Royal Navy carrier HMS Invincible

Although STOVL aircraft are capable of taking off vertically from a spot on the deck, using the ramp and a running start is far more fuel efficient and permits a heavier launch weight. As catapults are unnecessary, carriers with this arrangement reduce weight, complexity, and space needed for complex steam or electromagnetic launching equipment, vertical landing aircraft also remove the need for arresting cables and related hardware. Russian, Chinese, and future Indian carriers include a ski-jump ramp for launching lightly loaded conventional fighter aircraft but recover using traditional carrier arresting cables and a tailhook on their aircraft.

The disadvantage of the ski-jump is the penalty it exacts on aircraft size, payload, and fuel load (and thus range); heavily laden aircraft can not launch using a ski-jump because their high loaded weight requires either a longer takeoff roll than is possible on a carrier deck, or assistance from a catapult or JATO rocket. For example, the Russian Su-33 is only able to launch from the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov with a minimal armament and fuel load. Another disadvantage is on mixed flight deck operations where helicopters are also present such as a US landing helicopter dock or landing helicopter assault amphibious assault ship a ski jump is not included as this would eliminate one or more helicopter landing areas, this flat deck limits the loading of Harriers but is somewhat mitigated by the longer rolling start provided by a long flight deck compared to many STOVL carriers.

National fleets

The U.S. Navy has the largest carriers in the world, and currently has eleven in service. The UK has two 65,000 tonne STOVL carriers in sea trials. These will enter service in 2020. The navies of China, France, India, and Russia each operate a single medium-sized fleet carrier. The US has nine similarly sized Amphibious Warfare Ships. There are three small light carriers in use capable of operating both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, Italy operates two, and Spain one.

Additionally there are fourteen small carriers which only operate helicopters serving the navies of Australia (2), Brazil (1), Egypt (2), France (3), Japan (4), South Korea (1), and Thailand (1).

Australia

Current

The Canberra class of landing helicopter docks is based on the Spanish vessel Juan Carlos I. The two ship class, built by Navantia and BAE Systems Australia, represents the largest ships ever built for the Royal Australian Navy.[43]

HMAS Canberra underwent sea trials in late 2013 and was commissioned in 2014. Her sister ship, HMAS Adelaide, was commissioned in December 2015. The Australian ships retain the ski-ramp from the Juan Carlos I design, although the RAN has not acquired carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft.

Brazil

HMS Ocean MOD 45151277
HMS Ocean, an Ocean-class multi-purpose helicopter carrier, seen in 2010. The ship is now operated by the Brazilian Navy as Atlântico

Current

The Brazilian Navy commissioned the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship and helicopter carrier HMS Ocean on 29 June 2018 in the United Kingdom, which was renamed Atlântico. The helicopter carrier package for Brazil includes an Artisan 3D search radar, KH1007 surface surveillance radar system, four 30 mm DS30M Mk 2 remote weapon systems and four Mk 5B landing craft. However, the three original 20 mm Mk 15 Block 1B Phalanx close-in weapon systems, the torpedo defence systems and 7.62 mm M134 machine guns were removed from the ship before its transfer to Brazil. The ship displaces 21,578 tonnes, is 203.43 m long and has a range of 8,000 nautical miles. She has been undergoing maintenance work by Babcock and BAE Systems since February. Scheduled to reach its homeport, Arsenal do Rio de Janeiro (AMRJ), on 25 August, Atlântico will undergo operational sea training under the Royal Navy's Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) programme.[44][45][46]

It was reported in 2017 that Brazil was interested in purchasing Ocean from the UK as a replacement for São Paulo which was withdrawn from service in 2017 following multiple mechanical failures. The Royal Navy released an asking price of £80.3 million (US$105,800,871), which the Brazilian Navy called "convenient".[47] In December 2017, the Brazilian Navy confirmed the purchase of Ocean for (GBP) £84.6 million (equivalent to R$359.5M and US$113.2M). The ship was decommissioned from Royal Navy service in March 2018, and after undertaking a period of maintenance in the United Kingdom, is expected to arrive in Rio de Janeiro by the end of 2018 with the intention of being fully operational by 2020.[48][49][50]

China

Current

One STOBAR carrier: Liaoning was originally built as the 57,000 tonne Soviet Admiral Kuznetsov-class carrier Varyag[51] and was later purchased as a stripped hulk by China in 1998 on the pretext of use as a floating casino, then partially rebuilt and towed to China for completion.[52][53] Liaoning was commissioned on 25 September 2012, and began service for testing and training.[54] On 24 or 25 November 2012, Liaoning successfully launched and recovered several Shenyang J-15 jet fighter aircraft.[55][56][57] She is classified as a training ship, intended to allow the navy to practice with carrier usage. On 26 December 2012, the People's Daily reported that it will take four to five years for Liaoning to reach full capacity, mainly due to training and coordination which will take significant amount of time for Chinese PLA Navy to complete as this is the first aircraft carrier in their possession.[58] As she is a training ship, Liaoning is not assigned to any of China's operation fleets.[59]

Future

A second carrier was launched on 26 April 2017. She is the first to be built domestically, to a modified Kuznetsov-class design. The Type 001A aircraft carrier started sea trials on 23 April 2018,[60] and is scheduled to enter service in 2020.[61]

Chinese officials stated that a third carrier, also known as Type 002 carrier is being constructed in the Shanghai Jiangnan Shipyard. She will be the first Chinese aircraft carrier to use catapult take off system.[62] In May 2019, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies released satellite images of what they said was the third carrier under construction at Jiangnan Shipyard near Shanghai.[63][64]

Egypt

ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser LHD
Gamal Abdel Nasser LHD docked at Saint-Nazaire, April 2016

Current

Egypt signed a contract with French shipbuilder DCNS to buy two Mistral-class helicopter carriers for approximately 950 million euros. The two ships were originally destined for Russia, but the deal was canceled by France due to Russian involvement in Ukraine.[65]

On 2 June 2016, Egypt received the first of two helicopter carriers acquired in October 2015, the landing helicopter dock Gamal Abdel Nasser. The flag transfer ceremony took place in the presence of Egyptian and French Navies' chiefs of staff, chairman and chief executive officers of both DCNS and STX France, and senior Egyptian and French officials.[66] On 16 September 2016, DCNS delivered the second of two helicopter carriers, the landing helicopter dock Anwar El Sadat which also participated in a joint military exercise with the French Navy before arriving at its home port of Alexandria.[67]

Egypt is so far the only country in Africa or the Middle East to possess an aircraft carrier.[68]

France

Charles De Gaulle (R91) underway 2009
The aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle of the French Navy

Current

1 CATOBAR carrier: Charles de Gaulle is a 42,000 tonne nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, commissioned in 2001 and is the flagship of the French Navy (Marine Nationale). The ship carries a complement of Dassault Rafale M and E‑2C Hawkeye aircraft, EC725 Caracal and AS532 Cougar helicopters for combat search and rescue, as well as modern electronics and Aster missiles. She is a CATOBAR-type carrier that uses two 75 m C13‑3 steam catapults of a shorter version of the catapult system installed on the U.S. Nimitz-class carriers, one catapult at the bow and one across the front of the landing area.[69]

3 amphibious assault ships: Mistral class, 21,500 tonne full deck amphibious assault ships with hospital and well deck.[70]

India

INS Vikramaditya 13
Indian Navy's aircraft carriers INS Vikramaditya and INS Viraat in 2014

Current

1 STOBAR carrier: INS Vikramaditya, 45,400 tonnes, modified Kiev class. The carrier was purchased by India on 20 January 2004 after years of negotiations at a final price of $2.35 billion. The ship successfully completed her sea trials in July 2013 and aviation trials in September 2013. She was formally commissioned on 16 November 2013 at a ceremony held at Severodvinsk, Russia.[71]

Future

India started the construction of INS Vikrant, a 40,000-tonne, 260-metre-long (850 ft) aircraft carrier in 2009.[72] The new carrier will operate MiG-29K and naval HAL Tejas aircraft along with the Indian-made helicopter HAL Dhruv.[72] The ship will be powered by four gas-turbine engines and will have a range of 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 kilometres), carrying 160 officers, 1,400 sailors, and 40 aircraft.[73] The carrier is being constructed by Cochin Shipyard.[72] The ship was launched in August 2013 and is scheduled for commissioning in 2021.[74][75][76][77]

A second carrier, INS Vishal, with a displacement of over 65,000 tons is planned and likely to be nuclear-powered with CATOBAR system to launch and recover heavier aircraft and unmanned combat aircraft. The project is in the design phase as of April 2015.[78]

Italy

Cavour (550)
The aircraft carrier Cavour of the Italian Navy

Current

2 STOVL carriers:

Future

Italy plans to replace aging aircraft carrier Garibaldi, as well as one of the San Giorgio-class landing helicopter docks, with a new amphibious assault ship, to be named Trieste.[80][81] The ship will be significantly larger than her predecessors with a displacement of 33,000 tons at full load. Trieste is to carry the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.

Japan

Helicopter carrier Hyūga (16DDH)
Helicopter carrier Hyūga

Current

4 helicopter carriers:

Russia

Current

1 STOBAR carrier: Admiral Flota Sovetskovo Soyuza Kuznetsov: 55,000 tonne Admiral Kuznetsov-class STOBAR aircraft carrier. Launched in 1985 as Tbilisi, renamed and operational from 1995. Without catapults she can launch and recover lightly fueled naval fighters for air defense or anti-ship missions but not heavy conventional bombing strikes. Officially designated an aircraft carrying cruiser, she is unique in carrying a heavy cruiser's complement of defensive weapons and large P-700 Granit offensive missiles. The P-700 systems will be removed in the coming refit to enlarge her below decks aviation facilities as well as upgrading her defensive systems.[84][85]

Future

The Russian Government just recently gave the green light for the construction of the Shtorm-class aircraft carrier. This carrier will be a hybrid of CATOBAR and STOBAR, given the fact that she utilizes both systems of launching aircraft. The carrier is expected to cost between $1.8 billion and $5.63 billion. Once commissioned, she will replace Admiral Kuznetsov.[86]

South Korea

Current

One Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship 18,860 ton full deck amphibious assault ship with hospital and well deck and facilities to serve as fleet flagship.

Future

South Korea believes it can procure 2 light aircraft carriers by 2036, which will help make the ROKN a blue water navy.[87]

Spain

El L-61 virando a babor en su partida de Vigo (34939349652)
Spanish Juan Carlos I with Harrier II

Current

Juan Carlos I: 27,000 tonne, specially designed multipurpose strategic projection ship which can operate as an amphibious assault ship and aircraft carrier. Juan Carlos I has full facilities for both functions including a ski jump for STOVL operations, is equipped with the AV-8B Harrier II attack aircraft. Also, well deck, and vehicle storage area which can be used as additional hangar space, launched in 2008, commissioned 30 September 2010.[88]

Turkey

Future

TCG Anadolu L-408 is a planned amphibious assault ship (LHD) of the Turkish Navy that can be configured as a light aircraft carrier. Construction began on 30 April 2016 by Sedef Shipbuilding Inc. at their Istanbul shipyard and is expected to be completed in 2021.

Thailand

DN-SD-03-08801-1-
The aircraft carrier HTMS Chakri Naruebet of the Royal Thai Navy

Current

One offshore helicopter support ship: HTMS Chakri Naruebet helicopter carrier: 11,400 tonne STOVL carrier based on Spanish Príncipe de Asturias design. Commissioned in 1997. The AV-8S Matador/Harrier STOVL fighter wing, mostly inoperable by 1999,[89] was retired from service without replacement in 2006.[90] As of 2010, the ship is used for royal transport, helicopter operations, and for disaster relief.[91]

United Kingdom

Current

One STOVL carrier: the 65,000 tonne[8] HMS Queen Elizabeth was commissioned in December 2017 with Initial operating capability scheduled for 2020.[92]

Future

The Royal Navy is constructing the second of its larger STOVL Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, HMS Prince of Wales to complete replacement of the three now retired Invincible-class carriers. Prince of Wales was floated for the first time in late 2017 and is expected to begin sea trials in 2019.[93] Each Queen Elizabeth-class ship is able to operate around 40 aircraft during peacetime operations, up to 50 during wartime, and will have a displacement of 65,000 tonnes.[8][94][95][96]

United States

USS Wasp (LHD 1)
Amphibious assault ship USS Wasp

Current

11 CATOBAR carriers, all nuclear-powered:

  • Nimitz class: ten 101,000-ton, 1,092 ft long fleet carriers, the first of which was commissioned in 1975. A Nimitz-class carrier is powered by two nuclear reactors providing steam to four steam turbines and is 1,092 feet (333 m) long,
  • Gerald R. Ford class, one 110,000-ton, 1,106 ft long fleet carrier. The lead of the class Gerald R. Ford, came into service in 2017, with another nine planned.

Nine amphibious assault ships carrying vehicles, Marine fighters, attack and transport helicopters, and landing craft with STOVL fighters for CAS and CAP:

  • America class: a class of 45,000-ton amphibious assault ships, although the lead ship in this class does not have a well deck. One ship in service out of a planned 11 ships. Ships of this class can have a secondary mission as a light carrier with 20 AV-8B Harrier II, and in the future the F-35B Lightning II aircraft after unloading their Marine expeditionary unit.
  • Wasp class: a class of eight 41,000-ton amphibious assault ships, members of this class have been used in wartime in their secondary mission as light carriers with 20 to 25 AV-8Bs after unloading their Marine expeditionary unit.

Future

The current US fleet of Nimitz-class carriers will be followed into service (and in some cases replaced) by the Gerald R. Ford class. It is expected that the ships will be more automated in an effort to reduce the amount of funding required to maintain and operate the vessels. The main new features are implementation of Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) (which replace the old steam catapults) and unmanned aerial vehicles.[97]

Following the deactivation of USS Enterprise in December 2012, the U.S. fleet comprised 10 fleet carriers, but that number increased back to 11 with the commissioning of Gerald R. Ford in July 2017. The House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee on 24 July 2007, recommended seven or eight new carriers (one every four years). However, the debate has deepened over budgeting for the $12–14.5 billion (plus $12 billion for development and research) for the 100,000 ton Gerald R. Ford-class carrier (estimated service 2017) compared to the smaller $2 billion 45,000 ton America-class amphibious assault ships, which are able to deploy squadrons of F-35Bs. The first of this class, USS America, is now in active service with another, USS Tripoli, under construction and 9 more are planned.[98][99]

In a report to Congress in February 2018, the Navy stated it intends to maintain a "12 CVN force" as part of its 30-year acquisition plan.[100]

Aircraft carriers in preservation

Current museum carriers

A few aircraft carriers have been preserved as museum ships. They are:

Future museum carriers

See also

Related lists

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Further reading

  • Ader, Clement. Military Aviation, 1909, Edited and translated by Lee Kennett, Air University Press, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, 2003, ISBN 978-1-58566-118-3.
  • Chesneau, Roger. Aircraft Carriers of the Word, 1914 to the Present: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Naval Institute Press, 1984.
  • Francillon, René J, Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club US Carrier Operations off Vietnam, 1988, ISBN 978-0-87021-696-1.
  • Friedman, Norman (1983). U.S. Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 9780870217395.
  • Friedman, Norman. British Carrier Aviation: The Evolution of the Ships and Their Aircraft. Conway Maritime Press, 1988.
  • Hone, Thomas C., Norman Friedman, and Mark D. Mandeles. "Innovation in Carrier Aviation", Naval War College Newport Papers (no. 37, 2011), 1–171.
  • Melhorn, Charles M. Two-Block Fox: The Rise of the Aircraft Carrier, 1911–1929. Naval Institute Press, 1974.
  • Nordeen, Lon, Air Warfare in the Missile Age, 1985, ISBN 978-1-58834-083-2.
  • Polak, Christian (2005). Sabre et Pinceau: Par d'autres Français au Japon. 1872–1960 (in French and Japanese). Hiroshi Ueki (植木 浩), Philippe Pons, foreword; 筆と刀・日本の中のもうひとつのフランス (1872–1960). éd. L'Harmattan.
  • Polmar, Norman. Aircraft Carriers: A History of Carrier Aviation and its Influence on World Events, 1901–2006. (two vols.) Potomac Books, 2006.
  • Sturtivant, Ray (1990). British Naval Aviation, The Fleet Air Arm, 1917–1990. London: Arm & Armour Press. ISBN 0-85368-938-5.
  • Till, Geoffrey. "Adopting the Aircraft Carrier: The British, Japanese, and American Case Studies" in Murray, Williamson; Millet, Allan R, eds. Military Innovation in the Interwar Period. Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Trimble, William F. Admiral William A. Moffett: Architect of Naval Aviation. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.
  • Wadle, Ryan David. United States navy fleet problems and the development of carrier aviation, 1929–1933. PhD dissertation Texas A&M University, 2005. online.

External links

1942 Design Light Fleet Carrier

The 1942 Design Light Fleet Carrier, commonly referred to as the British Light Fleet Carrier, was a light aircraft carrier design created by the Royal Navy during the Second World War, and used by eight naval forces between 1944 and 2001. They were designed and constructed by civilian shipyards to serve as an intermediate step between the expensive, full-size fleet aircraft carriers and the less expensive but limited-capability escort carriers.

Sixteen Light Fleet carriers were ordered, and all were laid down to the Colossus class design during 1942 and 1943. However, only eight were completed to this design; of these, four entered service before the end of the war, and none saw front line operations. Two more were fitted with maintenance and repair facilities instead of aircraft catapults and arresting gear, and entered service as aircraft maintenance carriers. The final six were modified during construction to handle larger and faster aircraft, and were redesignated the Majestic class. The construction of the six ships was suspended at the end of the war. Five were eventually completed with the last commissioning in 1961; however, the sixth, Leviathan, was dismantled for spare parts and scrap.

Although not completed in time to fight in the war, the carriers in Royal Navy service participated in the Korean War and the Suez Crisis. During the latter, two Colossus-class ships performed the first ship-based helicopter assault in history. Four Colossuses and all five completed Majestics were loaned or sold to seven foreign nations – Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, India, and the Netherlands – with three ships serving in three different naval forces during their careers. Foreign-operated Light Fleets took part in the Korean War, the First Indochina War, the Vietnam War, the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, and the Falklands War.

Despite being intended as 'disposable warships', all of the completed Light Fleet carriers exceeded their planned three-year service life. The maintenance carriers were the first to be paid off in the 1950s, and by the 1960s, all of the Royal Navy carriers, (bar Triumph, which was later recommissioned as a repair ship) had been sold to other nations or for ship breaking. The carriers in other navies had longer service lives. At the time of her decommissioning in 2001, Minas Gerais was the oldest active aircraft carrier in the world. Despite attempts to preserve several of these carriers as museum ships, the last surviving example, Vikrant, was sold for scrapping in 2014.

Bogue-class escort carrier

The Bogue class were a class of escort carriers built in the United States for service with the U.S. Navy and (under lend-lease) the Royal Navy during World War II. Following the war, ten Bogue-class ships were kept in service by the U.S. Navy and were used for helicopter and aircraft transport operations.

The ships operated by the Royal Navy were renamed and grouped as the Attacker class and the Ruler class; the latter all having names of "Ruler"s. Following the war, those ships that served with the Royal Navy were returned to the United States and were either scrapped or converted for mercantile use.

Brazilian aircraft carrier São Paulo

NAe São Paulo (pennant number A12) was a Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier in service with the Brazilian Navy. São Paulo was first commissioned in 1963 by the French Navy as Foch and was transferred in 2000 to Brazil, where she became the new flagship of the Brazilian Navy. IHS Jane's reported that during its career with the Brazilian Navy, São Paulo suffered from serviceability issues and never managed to operate for more than three months at a time without the need for repairs and maintenance. On 14 February 2017, the navy announced the ship's demobilisation and subsequent decommissioning.

Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning

Liaoning (16; Chinese: 辽宁舰; pinyin: Liáoníng Jiàn) is a Chinese Type 001 aircraft carrier. The first aircraft carrier commissioned into the People's Liberation Army Navy Surface Force, she is classified as a training ship, intended to allow the Navy to experiment, train and gain familiarity with aircraft carrier operations.

Originally laid down in 1985 for the Soviet Navy as the Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser Riga, she was launched on 4 December 1988 and renamed Varyag in 1990. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, construction was halted and the ship was put up for sale by Ukraine. The stripped hulk was purchased in 1998 and towed to the Dalian naval shipyard in northeast China.

The ship was rebuilt and commissioned into the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as Liaoning on 25 September 2012. Its Chinese ship class designation is Type 001. In November 2016, the political commissar of Liaoning, Commodore Li Dongyou, stated that Liaoning was combat ready.

Chinese aircraft carrier programme

The Chinese aircraft carrier programme is the development, production and operation of aircraft carriers by China, primarily driven by the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). China has had ambitions to operate aircraft carriers since the 1970s, but at that time had never owned or operated an aircraft carrier before. Since 1985, China has acquired four retired aircraft carriers for study: the Australian HMAS Melbourne and the ex-Soviet carriers Minsk, Kiev and Varyag. The Varyag later underwent an extensive refit to be converted into the Liaoning, China's first operational aircraft carrier, which also served as a basis for China's subsequent design iterations. As of 2018, the PLAN has a single combat-ready aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with a second and third under construction. It is projected that China may possess five or six aircraft carriers by the 2030s.

Escort carrier

The escort carrier or escort aircraft carrier (US hull classification symbol CVE), also called a "jeep carrier" or "baby flattop" in the United States Navy (USN) or "Woolworth Carrier" by the Royal Navy, was a small and slow type of aircraft carrier used by the Royal Navy, the United States Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy and Imperial Japanese Army Air Force in World War II. They were typically half the length and a third the displacement of larger fleet carriers. While they were slower, carried fewer planes and were less well armed and armored, escort carriers were cheaper and could be built quickly, which was their principal advantage. Escort carriers could be completed in greater numbers as a stop-gap when fleet carriers were scarce. However, the lack of protection made escort carriers particularly vulnerable, and several were sunk with great loss of life. The light carrier (hull classification symbol CVL) was a similar concept to escort carriers in most respects, but were capable of higher speeds to allow operation alongside fleet carriers.

Most often built on a commercial ship hull, escort carriers were too slow to keep up with the main forces consisting of fleet carriers, battleships, and cruisers. Instead, they were used to escort convoys, defending them from enemy threats such as submarines and planes. In the invasions of mainland Europe and Pacific islands, escort carriers provided air support to ground forces during amphibious operations. Escort carriers also served as backup aircraft transports for fleet carriers and ferried aircraft of all military services to points of delivery.

In the Battle of the Atlantic, escort carriers were used to protect convoys against U-boats. Initially escort carriers accompanied the merchant ships and helped to fend off attacks from aircraft and submarines. As numbers increased later in the war, escort carriers also formed part of hunter-killer groups that sought out submarines instead of being attached to a particular convoy.

In the Pacific theater, CVEs provided air support of ground troops in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. They lacked the speed and weapons to counter enemy fleets, relying on the protection of a Fast Carrier Task Force. However, at the Battle off Samar, one U.S. task force of escort carriers managed to successfully defend itself against a much larger Japanese force of battleships and cruisers. The Japanese met a furious defense of carrier aircraft, screening destroyers, and destroyer escorts, proving that CVEs could appear to have the same striking power as full CVs.

Of the 151 aircraft carriers built in the U.S. during World War II, 122 were escort carriers. Though no examples survive to this day, the Casablanca class was the most numerous class of aircraft carrier, with 50 launched. Second was the Bogue class, with 45 launched.

Essex-class aircraft carrier

The Essex class was a class of aircraft carriers of the United States Navy that constituted the 20th century's most numerous class of capital ships. The class consisted of 24 vessels, which came in "short-hull" and "long-hull" versions. Thirty-two ships were originally ordered, but as World War II wound down, six were canceled before construction, and two were canceled after construction had begun. No Essex-class ships were lost to enemy action, despite several vessels sustaining very heavy damage. The Essex-class carriers were the backbone of the U.S. Navy's combat strength during World War II from mid-1943 on, and, along with the addition of the three Midway-class carriers just after the war, continued to be the heart of U.S. naval strength until the supercarriers began to come into the fleet in numbers during the 1960s and 1970s.

French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle is the flagship of the French Navy (Marine Nationale). The ship is the tenth French aircraft carrier, the first French nuclear-powered surface vessel, and the only nuclear-powered carrier completed outside of the United States Navy. She is named after French statesman and general Charles de Gaulle.

The ship carries a complement of Dassault Rafale M and E‑2C Hawkeye aircraft, EC725 Caracal and AS532 Cougar helicopters for combat search and rescue, as well as modern electronics and Aster missiles. She is a CATOBAR-type carrier that uses two 75 m C13‑3 steam catapults of a shorter version of the catapult system installed on the U.S. Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, one catapult at the bow and one across the front of the landing area. As of May 2019, Charles de Gaulle is the only non-American carrier-vessel that has a catapult launch system, which has allowed for operation of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and C-2 Greyhounds of the US Navy.

Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier

Gerald R. Ford class (or Ford class; previously known as CVN-21 class) is a class of aircraft carrier being built to replace USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and eventually the United States Navy's existing Nimitz-class carriers, beginning with the delivery of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78). The new vessels have a hull similar to the Nimitz carriers, but introduce technologies since developed such as the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, as well as other design features intended to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs, including sailing with smaller crews.

INS Vikrant (2013)

INS Vikrant, also known as Indigenous Aircraft Carrier 1 (IAC-1), is an aircraft carrier under construction by Cochin Shipyard in Kochi, Kerala for the Indian Navy. It is the first aircraft carrier to be built in India. The name Vikrant (Sanskrit vikrānta, literally "stepping beyond") means "courageous". The motto of the ship is Jayema Sam Yudhi Sprdhah, which is taken from Rigveda 1.8.3 and can be translated as "I defeat those who fight against me".

Work on the ship's design began in 1999, and the keel was laid in February 2009. The carrier was floated out of its dry dock on 29 December 2011 and was launched on 12 August 2013. As of 2019, the ship is expected to start sea trials in February 2021 and enter into service in early 2023. The project cost has escalated to ₹19,341 crore (US$2.8 billion) as of 2014.

Independence-class aircraft carrier

The Independence-class aircraft carriers were a class of light carriers built for the United States Navy that served during World War II.

Italian aircraft carrier Cavour

Cavour (Italian: portaerei Cavour) is an Italian aircraft carrier launched in 2004. It is the flagship of the Italian Navy.

Japanese aircraft carrier Shōkaku

Shōkaku (Japanese: 翔鶴, "Soaring Crane") was an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the lead ship of her class. Along with her sister ship Zuikaku, she took part in several key naval battles during the Pacific War, including the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands before being torpedoed and sunk by a U.S. submarine at the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Light aircraft carrier

A light aircraft carrier, or light fleet carrier, is an aircraft carrier that is smaller than the standard carriers of a navy. The precise definition of the type varies by country; light carriers typically have a complement of aircraft only one-half to two-thirds the size of a full-sized fleet carrier. A light carrier was similar in concept to an escort carrier in most respects, however light carriers were intended for higher speeds to be deployed alongside fleet carriers, while escort carriers usually defended convoys and provided air support during amphibious operations.

List of aircraft carriers of the United States Navy

Aircraft carriers are warships that act as airbases for carrier-based aircraft. In the United States Navy, these consist of ships commissioned with hull classification symbols CV (aircraft carrier), CVA (attack aircraft carrier), CVB (large aircraft carrier), CVL (light aircraft carrier), CVN (aircraft carrier (nuclear propulsion) and CVAN (attack aircraft carrier (nuclear propulsion). Beginning with the Forrestal-class, (CV-59 to present) all carriers commissioned into service are classified as supercarriers. The United States Navy has also used escort aircraft carriers and airship aircraft carriers. This list does not include various amphibious warfare ships which can operate as carriers.

The first aircraft carrier commissioned into the United States Navy was USS Langley (CV-1) on 20 March 1922. The Langley was a converted Proteus-class collier (originally commissioned as USS Jupiter (AC-3), Langley was soon followed by the Lexington-class, USS Ranger (the first purpose-built carrier in the American fleet), the Yorktown-class, and USS Wasp. These classes made up the entirety of the United States carrier fleet active prior to the Second World War.With World War II looming, two more classes of carriers were commissioned under President Franklin Roosevelt: the Essex-class, which are informally divided into regular bow and extended bow sub-classes, and the Independence-class, which are classified as light aircraft carriers. Between these two classes, 35 ships were completed. During this time, the Navy also purchased two training vessels, USS Wolverine and USS Sable.The Cold War led to multiple developments in the United States' carrier fleet, starting with the addition of the Midway-class and the Saipan-class. One more class in the start of the Cold War, the United States-class, was canceled due to the Truman administration's policy of shrinking the United States Navy and in particular, the Navy's air assets. The policy was eventually revised after a public outcry and Congressional hearings sparked by the Revolt of the Admirals.Later in the Cold War era, the first of the classes dubbed "supercarriers" was born, starting with the Forrestal-class, followed by the Kitty Hawk-class; Enterprise (CVN-65), the first nuclear powered carrier; and John F. Kennedy (CV-67), the last conventionally powered carrier. These were then followed by the Nimitz-class and the post-cold war Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear supercarriers, the only classes that are currently in active-duty service. The ten-ship Nimitz-class is complete, while USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), the lead ship of her planned ten-ship class, is the only ship active so far, with construction started on two more ships, John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and Enterprise (CVN-80).

Midway-class aircraft carrier

The Midway-class aircraft carrier was one of the longest-serving aircraft carrier designs in history. First commissioned in late 1945, the lead ship of the class, USS Midway, was not decommissioned until 1992, shortly after service in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. USS Franklin D. Roosevelt was decommissioned in 1977. USS Coral Sea was decommissioned in 1990.

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier

The Nimitz class is a class of ten nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in service with the United States Navy. The lead ship of the class is named after World War II United States Pacific Fleet commander Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who was the U.S. Navy's last living fleet admiral. With an overall length of 1,092 ft (333 m) and full-load displacement of over 100,000 long tons (100,000 t), the Nimitz-class ships were the largest warships built and in service until USS Gerald R. Ford entered the fleet in 2017.Instead of the gas turbines or diesel-electric systems used for propulsion on many modern warships, the carriers use two A4W pressurized water reactors which drive four propeller shafts and can produce a maximum speed of over 30 knots (56 km/h) and maximum power of around 260,000 shaft horsepower (190 MW). As a result of the use of nuclear power, the ships are capable of operating for over 20 years without refueling and are predicted to have a service life of over 50 years. They are categorized as nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and are numbered with consecutive hull numbers between CVN-68 and CVN-77.All ten carriers were constructed by Newport News Shipbuilding Company in Virginia. USS Nimitz, the lead ship of the class, was commissioned on 3 May 1975, and USS George H.W. Bush, the tenth and last of the class, was commissioned on 10 January 2009. Since the 1970s, Nimitz-class carriers have participated in many conflicts and operations across the world, including Operation Eagle Claw in Iran, the Gulf War, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The angled flight decks of the carriers use a CATOBAR arrangement to operate aircraft, with steam catapults and arrestor wires for launch and recovery. As well as speeding up flight deck operations, this allows for a much wider variety of aircraft than with the STOVL arrangement used on smaller carriers. An embarked carrier air wing consisting of up to around 90 aircraft is normally deployed on board. After the retirement of the F-14 Tomcat, the air wings' strike fighters are primarily F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets and F/A-18A+ and F/A-18C Hornets. In addition to their aircraft, the vessels carry short-range defensive weaponry for anti-aircraft warfare and missile defense.

The unit cost was about $8.5 billion in FY 12 dollars, equal to $9.36 billion (2018) inflation adjusted.

Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov

Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov (Russian: Адмира́л фло́та Сове́тского Сою́за Кузнецо́в "Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov") is an aircraft carrier (heavy aircraft cruiser in Russian classification) serving as the flagship of the Russian Navy. It was built by the Black Sea Shipyard, the sole manufacturer of Soviet aircraft carriers, in Nikolayev within the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). The initial name of the ship was Riga; it was launched as Leonid Brezhnev, embarked on sea trials as Tbilisi, and finally named Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov after Admiral of the fleet of the Soviet Union Nikolay Gerasimovich Kuznetsov.It was originally commissioned in the Soviet Navy, and was intended to be the lead ship of the two-ship Kuznetsov class. However, its sister ship Varyag was still incomplete when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The second hull was eventually sold by Ukraine to the People's Republic of China, completed in Dalian and commissioned as Liaoning.

Type 001A aircraft carrier

The Type 001A aircraft carrier is a first generation Chinese aircraft carrier that was launched on 26 April 2017 for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China. It is the country's second aircraft carrier after the completion of Liaoning, and the first built domestically.

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