The World Aircraft Carrier
In the early twenty first century, many countries still see the
aircraft carrier as a viable platform for projecting power – there are currently nine countries which have carriers
in service: Brazil, France, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States.
Surprisingly, China does not yet formally have a carrier in service, though this is expected to change in the next
few years. Japan is also expected to join the elite group of countries which have floating naval airbases. The
total number of carriers in service worldwide is currently twenty two, with half of that fleet being in US
At least eight countries have new carriers at the concept,
design, bought/refurbish or build stages. Spain in particular has been successful in selling its ‘Principe de
Asturias’ design to other countries, and China, Japan and India are developing the capability to build their own
carriers – in China’s case, a nuclear powered carrier.
The advent of the naval version of the UK Sea Harrier VTOL
(vertical take off and landing) aircraft, used for example by India, Spain and Italy, has enabled these
countries to deploy viable carrier power. With the Sea Harrier in its various forms becoming increasingly difficult
to support, the US F35 family (JSF – Joint Strike Aircraft) can only increase the viability of the
Despite the vast concentration of power and investment (both
political and financial) in what many see as a very visible and vulnerable target, the aircraft carrier is a
keystone of military doctrine in the armoury of these countries.
Russia, with only one operational aircraft carrier at
present, is an exception. The country extends for almost 12 time zones – halfway around the world - and its
perceived strategic opponents are all within the northern hemisphere. Arguably, with a fleet of modern land-based
aircraft and up to date missile technology, it can therefore project its power without the need for a large carrier
What is an Aircraft Carrier?
A floating, self-propelled airbase. The classification does
not include helicopter carriers, and is generally taken to include any vessel capable of handling fixed wing
aircraft, of which there are several classifications.
Types of Aircraft Carrier
Except for the very largest carriers, the main
classifications are flexible, depending on a country’s typical carrier fleet:
Supercarrier: typically greater than 80,000 tons loaded displacement,
usually nuclear powered, with a CATOBAR configuration.
Fleet Carrier: mid size 20,000 tons upward, oil/turbine or even
diesel powered, the ‘typical’ size in a country’s fleet.
Light Aircraft Carrier: Smaller than the fleet carrier.
Escort Carrier: this classification is obsolete in modern naval