World Wide Aircraft Carriers
An aircraft carrier is a ship that is capable of operating fixed wing aircraft, including jump-jets such as the Harrier. America has nearly twice as many aircraft carriers - 19 - as the rest of humanity combined - 12 - and America's aircraft carriers are substantially larger than almost all the other's aircraft carriers. The Navy likes to call the big Nimitz class carriers "4.5 acres of sovereign and mobile American territory" -- and all nineteen American carriers of all classes add up to nearly over 65 acres of deck space. Deckspace is probably a good measure of combat power. The rest of the world's carriers have about 25 acres of deck space, approximately one third that of America's [until 2011, this number was only 15 acres, but new Chinese and Italian vessels upped the total appreciably].
There is no hard and fast precise definition of an "aircraft carrier" and some smaller aviation related ships are not included here. The Italian San Giorgio class small dock landing ships and Japan's Osumi class Landing Ship Tank (LST) resemble diminuative aircraft carriers, but lack a hangar deck which would provide an enclosed maintenance area. Although Helicopter Destroyers such as Italy's Vittorio Veneto and Japan's Haruna and Shirane have hangars, these hybrid vessels are clearly outside any reasonable definition of an aircraft carrier.
The United Kingdom plans construction of a pair of CVF Queen Elizabeth class CTOL big deck carriers, and France has decided to build a conventionally-powered Second Aircraft Carrier to pair with the Charles de Gaulle. These ships will have a displacement of upwards of 60,000 tons, surpassing American amphibious assault ships.
Negotiations between Russia and India began in 1994 for the sale of the 45,500 tons full load Admiral Gorshkov, and on 20 January 2004 it was announced that India and Russia had signed a $1.6 billion deal finalizing the sale, with delivery expected in 2008 [by 2007 delayed to possibly 2011]. In April 2005 India began construction of the 37,500-ton displacement Air Defense Ship indigenous carrier, with delivery expected no sooner than the year 2012.
Argentina no longer operates an aircraft carrier, having paid off the 25° de Mayo in January of 1999, at which time she was towed away for scrapping in India by March 2000. Australia no longer operates an aircraft carrier, having decommissioned HMAS Melbourne (ex HMAS Majestic) 30 June 1982. She was sold in February 1985, to China United Shipbuilding Company, and reportedly broken up. But in January 2001, it was reported that China has been using her flight deck for pilot training. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands also operated carriers in the mid-20th century, but gave it up many decades ago.
After years of speculation, In August 2011 China's first aircraft carrier the Shi Lang ex-Varyag finally put to sea. In 1998 China bought from Ukraine the Varyag, a 67,500-ton Kuznetsov-class attack aircraft carrier about two-thirds complete. The August 2009 US Office of Naval Intelligence report "The People's Liberation Army Navy: A Modern Navy With Chinese Characteristics" stated "This carrier is expected to become operational in the 2010 to 2012 timeframe, and will likely be used to develop basic proficiencies in carrier operations." According to the US Department of Defense's Annual Report to Congress on The Military Power of the People's Republic of China for 2010, "China has an active aircraft carrier research and development program. The PRC shipbuilding industry could start construction of an indigenous platform by the end of this year. China is interested in building multiple operational aircraft carriers with support ships in the next decade."
A pair of amphibious assault ships capable of embarking AV-8 Harrier fixed wing aircraft recently entered service: the Italian Conte di Cavour [ex-Luigi Einaudi [NUM]] and the Juan Carlos I Buque de Proyección Estratégica in Spain. The a pair of similar Mistral [NTCD] in France are not considered aircraft carriers, as France does not operate that AV-8 Harrier. Italy and Spain thus join the United States and the United Kingdom in having more than one aircraft carrier, an essential pre-requisite for having full time continuous naval aviation, ship maintenance requirements notwithstanding.
Japan was a pioneer in carrier based aviation prior to the Second World War, but has not operated aircraft carriers since that time, as they are considered offensive rather than defensive weapons. In recent years, Japan has built a succession of small "carrier-like" vessels, including four "13,500 ton" [light] but nothing approaching an actual aircraft carrier. Japan is currently building a pair of 22DDH helicopter destroyers that are aircraft carriers in everything but name, with a larger flightdeck [though not displacement] than the aircraft carriers with which Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Although nominally intended to support helicopters, these new ships could easily accomodate the VSTOL F-35B attack aircraft. The designation 22DDH is short for helicopter destroyer project, Heisei Year 22. Heisei is the name of the reign of the current emperor. Each emperor's reign is named, i.e. Meiji, Showa, etc. Heisei 22 is the 22nd year of rule by Emperor Akihito.
A number of medium sized amphibious assault ships are currently under constructio, In early 2004 the Netherlands expressed interest in acquiring an underway replenishment ship with features similar to those of the Spanish Buque de Proyección Estratégica and the UK's Ocean. In August 1994 Australia announced plans to evaluate the Mistral [NTCD]and Buque de Proyección Estratégica for purchase of a pair of units, with delivery of a a design based on the later expected around 2012. These ships all have a displacement of roughly 20,000 tons. Whether any of them would count as "aircraft carriers" depends on whether they operate fixed wing aircraft [neccessarily VSTOL], as seems likely in Italy and Spain, or only helicopters, as is expected for the some of the rest.
Sometimes it is difficult to understand the scope of American military power relative to that of the rest of the world. This graphic illustrates America's aircraft carriers, and those of the rest of the world. Each icon is an accurate depiction of the flight deck of the ship as seen from above, all to a common scale. Each of the middle column of ships is roughly the size of the Empire State Building.
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