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The World Aircraft Carrier Fleet
An Overview

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 (the Shi-Lang is undergoing sea-trials, August 2011). 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 service. 

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 STOBAR carriers.

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 fleet.

Below is a table of world aircraft carrier tonnage.

World Aircraft Carrier Fleet 21st Century
Country Name Classification Configuration  Tonnage In Service
(N)= Nuclear Powered (first owner)
Brazil Sao Paulo (A12) Fleet Carrier CATOBAR 32,800        2000 (1963)


Shi-Lang Fleet Carrier STOBAR 


France Charles de Gaulle (R31) Fleet Carrier (N) CATOBAR 42,000 2001
India Viraat (R22) Fleet Carrier STOVL 28,700        1987(1953)
Italy Giuseppe Garibaldi (551) Light Aircraft Carrier STOVL 13,850 1985
Cavour (550) Fleet Carrier STOVL 30,000 2008
Russia Admiral Flota Sovetskovo Soyuza Kuznetsov Fleet Carrier STOBAR 58,600 1991
Spain Principe de Asturias (R11) Light Aircraft Carrier STOVL 17,200 1988
Juan Carlos I (L61) Light Aircraft Carrier STOVL 27,000 2010
Thailand HMTS Chakri Naruebet Light Aircraft Carrier V/STOL 11,400 1997
United Kingdom HMS Illustrious (R06) Light Aircraft Carrier STOVL 22,000 1982
United States USS Enterprise (CVN-65) Supercarrier (N) CATOBAR 95,000 1961
USS Nimitz (CVN-68) Supercarrier (N) CATOBAR 100,000 1975
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) Supercarrier (N) CATOBAR 102,000 1977
USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) Supercarrier (N) CATOBAR 101,000 1982
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) Supercarrier (N) CATOBAR 105,000 1986
USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Supercarrier (N) CATOBAR 100,000 1989
USS George Washington (CVN-73) Supercarrier (N) CATOBAR 104,000 1992
USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) Supercarrier (N) CATOBAR 103,000 1995
USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) Supercarrier (N) CATOBAR 104,000 1998
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) Supercarrier (N) CATOBAR 101,000 2003
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) Supercarrier (N) CATOBAR 102,000 2009
Number in Commission 21 Tonnage 1,460,550


NB HMS Ark Royal Decommissioned 2011

(c) James Marinero 2011

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