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. 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. 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, reduces the times and transit distances of aircraft and therefore significantly increase the time of availability on the combat zone.
Here are the top 10 largest aircraft carriers in the world.
1. Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier
Full load displacement: 100,000 tonnes
Gerald R. Ford class is a class of aircraft carrier built for United States Navy. It features a 78m-wide flight deck equipped with electromagnetic aircraft launch system and advanced arresting gear. The carrier has the capacity to carry more than 75 aircraft and can accommodate 4,539 personnel including ship’s company, air wing and other support staff. Gerald R. Ford is powered by two A1B nuclear reactors. The weaponry includes RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles, Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAMs) and Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS).
2. Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
Full load displacement: 97,000 tonnes
The Nimitz class is a class of ten nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in service with the United States Navy. The 332.8m-long supercarrier features a 4.5-acre flight deck capable of carrying more than 60 aircraft. Each ship towers 20 stories above the water and can accommodate 3,000 to 3,200 ship’s company, 1,500 air wing and 500 other crew. Nimitz class is powered by two nuclear reactors providing a maximum speed of more than 30kt. The Sea Sparrow missiles, Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS) and Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAMs) mounted aboard the vessel defend against potential threats.
3. Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier
Full load displacement: 65,000 tonnes
The Queen Elizabeth class is a class of two aircraft carriers of the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. The vessels can support the embarkation of up to 40 rotary and fixed wing aircraft. Latest technology and automated systems aboard the vessel enable operations with a streamlined crew of 679. Each vessel in the class is armed with a Phalanx CIWS, 30mm guns and mini-guns for self-defence against asymmetric threats. The aircraft carrier is powered by two Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbines and four diesel generator sets providing a total installed power of 109MWe. The propulsion system enables the vessel to sail at a maximum speed of 25kt.
4. Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
Full load displacement: 58,500 tonnes
Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov is an aircraft carrier serving as the flagship of the Russian Navy. The spacious 14,700m² flight deck of the Admiral Kuznetsov can accommodate Su-33, MiG-29K and Su-25UTG/UBP STOVL fighters, as well as Ka-27S, Ka-27LD32 and Ka-27PLO helicopters. The ship can accommodate 1,960 ship’s company, 626 air group and 40 flag staff. The aircraft carrier is propelled by a steam turbine propulsion system, providing a maximum speed of 32kt. The weaponry is composed of AK-630 AA guns, CADS-N-1 Kashtan CIWS, P-700 Granit anti-ship cruise missile and RBU-12000 UDAV-1 ASW rocket launchers.
5. Liaoning aircraft carrier
Full load displacement: 58,000 tonnes
Liaoning is a Chinese Type 001 aircraft carrier, the first aircraft carrier commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army Navy Surface Force. It was originally meant to be part of the Admiral Kuznetsov class. However, it was still incomplete when the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991 and was eventually sold by Ukraine to China, completed in Dalian and commissioned as Liaoning. The aircraft carrier is armed with Type 1030 CIWS, HQ-10 missiles and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) rocket launchers. The vessel is powered by steam turbine propulsion. Its flight deck can house approximately 50 aircraft, including fixed-wing planes and helicopters.
6. INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier
Full load displacement: 44,500 tonnes
INS Vikramaditya is a modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier and the flagship of the Indian Navy, acquired from Russia. The warship measures 284m-long and 60m-wide. The short take-off, but assisted recovery (STOBAR) flight deck can carry more than 30 aircraft including a mix of MiG 29K/Sea Harrier, Kamov 31, Kamov 28, Sea King, ALH-Dhruv and Chetak helicopters.
The carrier is armed with anti-ship missiles, air-to-air missiles, guided bombs and rockets. The propulsion system of INS Vikramaditya integrates eight turbo-pressurised boilers and four geared steam turbines generating a total output power of 180,000shp. The six turbo alternators and six diesel alternators aboard the vessel generate a total power of 18MW.
7. Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier
Full load displacement: 42,000 tonnes
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. The ship carries a complement of 40 Dassault Rafale M, Super Étendard, E‑2C Hawkeye aircraft, SA365 Dauphin, EC725 Caracal and AS532 Cougar helicopters for combat search and rescue, as well as modern electronics and Aster missiles.
The vessel 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. 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. Its power plant comprises of two K15 pressurised water reactors and provides a speed of 27kt.
8. São Paulo aircraft carrier
Full load displacement: 32,000 tonnes
São Paulo is a Clemenceau-Class aircraft carrier currently operated by the Brazilian Navy. Originally commissioned by French Navy in 1963, the carrier was sold to Brazil in 2000. The São Paulo can complement 1,920 crew, including 1,338 ship’s company and 582 Air Group crew. Its flight deck can accommodate 39 aircraft including fighters, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
The armament aboard the ship includes SACP Crotale EDIR systems, Simbad launchers and naval guns for protection against surface and aerial threats. The six boilers generating 126,000shp make São Paulo one of the most powerful conventional aircraft carriers in operation. The propulsion system of the vessel provides a maximum speed of 32kt.
9. Cavour aircraft carrier
Full load displacement: 30,000 tonnes
The Cavour is an Italian aircraft carrier serving as the flagship of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare). The Cavour features a 232.6m x 34.5m flight deck, which can accommodate fixed-wing aircraft such as AV-8B Harrier and JSF as well as EH101, AB212, NH 90 and SH3D helicopters. The vessel can complement 1,292 crew, including troops. The armament includes short range defence systems, guns and decoy launchers defending against a variety of threats. The power plant integrating four 22MW AVIO/GE LM2500 Gas Turbines provides a maximum sustained speed of 29kt.
10. INS Viraat aircraft carrier
Full load displacement: 28,700 tonnes
INS Viraat is a Centaur-class aircraft carrier operated by the Indian Navy. It was originally commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Hermes in 1959 and sold to India in 1986. INS Viraat carries up to 30 fixed and rotary wing aircraft, such as Sea Harrier, Westland Sea King, HAL Chetak and HAL Dhruv. It complements a crew of 1,350, including 43 officers. The Bofors AA guns and Barak surface-to-air missile (SAM) launchers mounted on the Viraat aircraft carrier protect the ship from aerial and surface attacks. The steam turbine propulsion system provides a maximum speed of 28kt.
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