These Are The 20 Aircraft Carriers In Service Today

principe de austrias aircraft carrier

Photo: US Navy PHC Jack Bahm

Despite aircraft carriers immense cost, the Navy believes there is no replacing a well-armed, aircraft equipped, sovereign piece of U.S. territory, powered by dual nuclear reactors.Former defence Secretary William Cohen was fond of saying that without “flattops” the U.S. has “less of a voice, less of an influence.”

Perhaps, but there is another school of thought that questions the wisdom of floating something that expensive within range of an attack that may send it to the bottom of the sea.

Despite which group you fall into, carriers are likely here to stay as the U.S. works to replace its ageing fleet with the new Ford class carriers and China builds up a fleet of its own. We thought we’d take a look at the carriers each country has in service today.

The NAe São Paulo was bought by Brazil for $12 million from France in 2000

Length: 869 ft

Commissioned: 2000

Carries: 39 aircraft including A-4 Skyhawks and S-70B Seahawk helicopters

Crew: 1,920 seamen

Propulsion System: 6 boilers, 4 steam turbines, 2 propellers

History: For an absolute bargain price of $12 million, for a naval flagship, the São Paulo was bought by Brazil to upgrade their ailing fleet.

Originally launched in 1959 by France as the Foch, she served in a number of NATO efforts all around the world.

Since the transfer to Brazil, she underwent an upgrade from 2005 to 2010 and has been stocked with S-70B Seahawk helicopters and A-4 Skyhawks, the latter bought from Kuwait.

The INS Viraat was Britain's flagship in the Falklands War before being sold to India

Length: 743 ft

Commissioned: 1987

Carries: Up to 30 aircraft, including the Sea Harrier and the Sea King

Crew: Maximum 2,100 crew. Typically 1,207 sailors and 143 airmen

Propulsion System: 4 boilers, 2 steam turbines

History: India purchased the HMS Hermes from England in 1986, renaming it the INS Viraat after a series of upgrades and modifications. The Viraat has been refitted to last for another 20 years while India builds its own aircraft carriers.

As the Hermes, the ship was the Royal Navy Flagship during the 1982 Falklands war

The Cavour is one of Italy's two aircraft carriers and will host the F-35 JSF

Length: 735 ft

Commissioned: 2008

Carries: 20-30 aircraft, including the Harrier combat jet.

Crew: 451 crew, 203 airmen, 140 command staff and 325 Marines.

Propulsion System: 2 gas turbines, 6 diesel generators

History: Launched in 2004, the Cavour's first mission was an aid mission to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

The Cavour will be eventually be stocked with the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, replacing the ageing Harriers. It has room for 10 F-35Bs in the hanger and six on the deck.

The F-35B is the version of the jet with a short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities.

The Giuseppe Garibaldi was Italy's flagship for decades, serving in Kosovo, Libya, and Afghanistan

Length: 591 ft

Commissioned: 1985

Carries: Harrier II fighters, AgustaWestland EH101 helicopters

Crew: 630 crew, 100 airmen, 100 command

Propulsion System: 4 gas turbines, 6 diesel generators

History: Italy's first aircraft carrier, the Garibaldi was commissioned in 1985. She has a long service history, including combat air operations off Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Harrier fighters from the Garibaldi carried out 30 sorties over the Balkans in 1999. Planes from the Garibaldi carried out 288 missions in the first year of the War in Afghanistan. During the NATO Libya mission, planes from the Garibaldi dropped 160 guided bombs during 1221 flight hours.

The Admiral Kuznetsov is Russia's sole aircraft carrier

Length: 1,005 ft

Commissioned: 1991

Carries: 41-53 aircraft. 14 Su-33 fighters, 28 MiG-29K fighters (upcoming), 15 Ka-27 helicopters.

Crew: 1,960 sailors, 626 airmen, 46 command.

Propulsion System: Steam turbines. 8 boilers, 2 turbines, 9 turbogenerators, 6 diesel generators, 4 propellers.

History: While the full name -- Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov -- is a bit of a mouthful, this ship is one of the largest carriers and the flagship of the Russian Navy.

Originally launched in 1985, the Kuznetsov wasn't fully operational until 1995 after the fall of the Soviet Union. It has never fought in combat, but has engaged in frequent exercises.

Her sister ship, the Varyag, was never commissioned and sold to China as a hulk by Ukraine.

It is schedule for a full refitting in 2012.

The Príncipe de Asturias is Spain's only Aircraft Carrier

Length: 643 ft

Commissioned: 1988

Carries: 29 aircraft

Crew: 1,920 seamen

Propulsion System: 2 gas turbines

History: The Príncipe de Asturias is the flagship of the Spanish Navy. Launched in 1982, the ship is armed with 12 20mm guns, 29 aircraft, and Raytheon's 3D air-search radar. It has served in peace support operations in the Adriatic.

rumours circulated in May that Spain would put the ship into reserve due to national financial pressures, but it has yet to do so.

The HTMS Chakri Naruebet is basically a glorified Royal Yacht

Length: 600 ft

Commissioned: 1997

Carries: 4 to 6 S-70B Seahawk helicopters, up to 675 soldiers

Crew: 393 sailors, 62 officers, 146 airmen

Propulsion System: 2 gas turbines, 2 diesel engines

History: The Chakri Naruebet is Thailand's only aircraft carrier and was built in Spain. The ship has spent most of its life in dock, but has been deployed on several disaster relief missions in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and floods in 2010 and 2011.

Other than a single training day per month, the ship is used for the transportation of the Royal Family of Thailand, its main consistent use.

The HMS Illustrious is the UK's only carrier, for now

Length: 686 ft

Commissioned: 1982

Carries: Until 2011, 12 Harrier II Fighter Jets and 10 Sea King ASaC helicopters

Crew: 685 sailors, 366 airmen

Propulsion System: 4 gas turbines, 8 diesel generators

History: Illustrious, affectionately called 'Lusty' by those serving on her, entered service just after the end of the Falklands War in 1982, and served there as an air station in the postwar years.

She was deployed to Bosnia and Iraq in the 1990s, but was undergoing an extensive re-fit during the initial phases of the Iraq War.

She'll be replaced once the HMS Queen Elizabeth is commissioned in 2016 .

France's flagship — The Charles de Gaulle — is the only non-American nuclear powered carrier

Length: 858 ft

Commissioned: 2001

Carries: 20-40 aircraft, up to 800 commandos, 500 rounds of ammunition

Crew: 1,350 sailors, 500 airmen

Propulsion System: Two pressurised water nuclear reactors

History: The Charles de Gaulle is a nuclear powered aircraft carrier commissioned in May 2001.

While originally plagued with production issues -- there was a recession at the beginning of construction, allegations of British spying in the middle, and technical issues toward the end -- the carrier was deployed to the Indian Ocean during Operation Enduring Freedom and the initial liberation of Afghanistan.

The de Gaulle carried out air strikes against believed al Qaeda targets and conducted combat air-patrols with the U.S. Navy off the coast of Pakistan.

After a series of upgrades, the de Gaulle enforced the United Nations no-fly zone over Libya in 2011. The fleet flew 1,350 sorties during that war.

The USS Enterprise watched the Cuban Missile Crisis from the front lines

Length: 1,123 ft

Commissioned: 1961

Carries: Up to 90 aircraft

Crew: Maximum 5,828 crew. 2,700 crew, 150 Chiefs, 150 Officers, 250 pilots, 1,550 air support personnel

Propulsion System: 8 Westinghouse A2W nuclear reactors. Four steam turbines.

History: The Enterprise was the United State's first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, and set the pace for the future of Carriers in the U.S.

It took 60,923 tons of steel to build and was one of the ships involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The Enterprise was one of the first ships to respond to the declaration of Operation Enduring Freedom in Fall of 2001, expending 800,000 pounds of ordnance.

The ship will be decommissioned at the end of 2012 as the Gerald R. Ford-class carriers enter service.


The USS Nimitz is the first of the latest class of US supercarriers

Length: 1,092 ft

Commissioned: 1975

Carries: 90 aircraft

Crew: 3,200 sailors, 2,480 airmen

Propulsion System: 2 Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, 4 steam turbines

History: The Nimitz, nicknamed 'Old Salt,' is the first in its class of supercarriers and has a long history of Naval service. Named after Chester Nimitz, the man who led the Navy throughout the Second World War, the Nimitz first was deployed to the Indian Ocean during the Iran Hostage Crisis.

It provided security at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, and was in the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of Desert Storm. It did a world tour between 1997 and 1998, and was stationed in the Persian Gulf in 2003.

The Nimitz' home port is Naval Station Everett in Everett, Washington.

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower served during the Iranian Hostage Crisis

Length: 1,092 ft

Commissioned: 1977

Carries: 90 aircraft

Crew: 3,200 sailors, 2,480 airmen

Propulsion System: 2 Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, 4 steam turbines

History: 'Mighty Ike,' or the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, served during operation Eagle Claw during the Hostage Crisis. It went through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea during Desert Storm.

The aircraft of the Eisenhower first dropped ordnance during Operation Southern Watch, the mission to secure Iraqi airspace in the years before the 2003 invasion.

The Eisenhower's home port is Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

The USS Carl Vinson flew the first airstrikes of Operation Enduring Freedom

Length: 1,092 ft

Commissioned: 1982

Carries: 90 aircraft

Crew: 3,200 sailors, 2,480 airmen

Propulsion System: 2 Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, 4 steam turbines

History: The USS Carl Vinson is named after the congressman from Georgia who served in the House during the Second World War, and later oversaw the transition of the Departments of War and the Navy into a singular Department of defence. The carrier has a number of nicknames -- 'Starship Vinson,' the 'Battlestar,' 'The Gold Eagle,' and 'America's favourite Carrier' to name a few.

It was the carrier that buried bin Laden at sea. It also was the carrier that hosted the UNC vs. University of Michigan NCAA basketball game several years ago.

It is stationed at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt flew thousands of sorties during Desert Storm

Length: 1,092 ft

Commissioned: 1986

Carries: 90 aircraft

Crew: 3,200 sailors, 2,480 airmen

Propulsion System: 2 Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, 4 steam turbines

History: The USS Theodore Roosevelt is stationed at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. Nicknamed 'TR' or 'Big Stick,' the aircraft of the TR flew 4,200 sorties in Desert Storm and dropped 4.8 million pounds of ordnance.

The carrier enforced no-fly zones over Bosnia, Iraq, and carried out airstrikes in Kosovo. In Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the TR's aircraft flew 3,100 sorties and dropped 59,500 pounds of ordnance.


Length: 1,092 ft

Commissioned: 1989

Carries: 90 aircraft

Crew: 3,200 sailors, 2,480 airmen

Propulsion System: 2 Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, 4 steam turbines

History: The USS Abraham Lincoln is stationed at Naval Station Everett in Washington and nicknamed 'Abe.'

It first was deployed when rendering relief to U.S. personnel on Luzon island in the Philippines during the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, moving 45,000 people off the island. It carried out air patrols over Mogadishu in Somalia and was the first carrier to fully integrate female airmen.

It served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. President George W. Bush gave a speech in front of a 'Mission Accomplished' banner on the ship upon its return. It helped during Japanese Tsunami relief and recently passed through the Strait of Hormuz.

The USS George Washington has a 200 page Japanese manga comic written about it

Length: 1,092 ft

Commissioned: 1992

Carries: 90 aircraft

Crew: 3,200 sailors, 2,480 airmen

Propulsion System: 2 Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, 4 steam turbines

History: The USS George Washington, nicknamed 'GW' or 'G-Dub', is currently stationed at Yokosuka, Japan. It was in the Persian Gulf in 2000, and was in New York Harbor after 9/11 providing airspace defence. It has served in Operation Southern Watch and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Particularly interesting is the fact that, in order to explain to the Japanese what the aircraft carrier was doing in their harbor, the Navy had a 200 page manga made to explain the ship. 30,000 copies were distributed.

It is the only United States naval ship that is the subject of a full-length and official Manga.

The USS John C. Stennis had a starring role in the Transformers films

Length: 1,092 ft

Commissioned: 1995

Carries: 90 aircraft

Crew: 3,200 sailors, 2,480 airmen

Propulsion System: 2 Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, 4 steam turbines

History: The Stennis has home port at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington. It's nicknamed 'Johnny Reb,' and is named after the former Senator John Stennis from Mississippi and was commissioned in 1995.

It has served in Operation Enduring Freedom and has engaged in pirate hunting in the Persian Gulf. It was also featured rather prominently in the Transformers films.


The USS Harry S. Truman flew thousands of sorties in Operation Iraqi Freedom

Length: 1,092 ft

Commissioned: 1998

Carries: 90 aircraft

Crew: 3,200 sailors, 2,480 airmen

Propulsion System: 2 Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, 4 steam turbines

History: The Truman, called the 'HST' or the 'Lone Warrior,' is stationed at the Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. The HST was launched in late 1996, first serving abroad during the enforcement of the no-fly zone and eventual hostilities over Bosnia.

The HST then served during Operation Southern Watch and flew 1,300 sorties during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The ship passed through the Suez canal coming from the Mediterranean. The ship is now undergoing repairs.

The USS Ronald Reagan was commissioned in 2003

Length: 1,092 ft

Commissioned: 2003

Carries: 90 aircraft

Crew: 3,200 sailors, 2,480 airmen

Propulsion System: 2 Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, 4 steam turbines

History: The USS Ronald Reagan is stationed at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, California. It saw a 2006 deployment which brought it to the Persian Gulf.

It's served in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

It provided relief to Japan after the earthquake and Tsunami, and also aided the Philippines after Typhoon Fengshen.

The USS George H.W. Bush is the Navy's newest aircraft carrier.

Length: 1,092 ft

Commissioned: 2009

Carries: 90 aircraft

Crew: 3,200 sailors, 2,480 airmen

Propulsion System: 2 Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, 4 steam turbines

History: Named after the President, a former Navy airman himself, the USS George HW Bush is nicknamed the 'Avenger.'

It's the most recent Carrier addition to the Navy, delivered only in May 2009. It is the last of the Nimitz class of carriers. It has since served in Operation Enduring Freedom.


There are many new aircraft carriers entering service soon.

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