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World Wide Aircraft Carriers

America has twice as many aircraft carriers - 20 - as the rest of humanity combined - 10 -, 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 twenty American carriers of all classes add up to nearly 70 acres of deck space. Deckspace is probably a good measure of combat power. The rest of the world's carriers have less than 15 acres of deck space, one fifth that of America's.

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.

A number of medium sized amphibious assault ships are currently under construction, including the Italian Luigi Einaudi [NUM], four "13,500 ton" [light] ships in Japan, a pair of Mistral [NTCD] in France, and the Buque de Proyección Estratégica in Spain. In early 2004 the Netherlands expressed interest in acquiring an underway replinishment ship with features similar to those of the Spanish Buque de Proyección Estratégica and the UK's e Ocean. In August 1994 Australia announced plans to evaluate the Mistral [NTCD]and Buque de Proyección Estratégica for possible purchase of a pair of units, with delivery expected around 2012. These ships all have a displacement of roughly 20,000 tons.

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, there is growing evidence that China is actively working on an aircraft carrier. Although the Shichang Multi-Role Aviation Ship is one of the largest vessels in the People's Liberation Army Navy fleet, it would be a bit of a stretch to class this ship as an aircraft carrier. 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."

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, 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.

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.

LHA-1 Tarawa class LHD-1 Wasp class CVN-65 Enterprise CVN-68 Nimitz-class CVN-77 George H.W. Bush São Paulo Charles de Gaulle R 22 Viraat Giuseppe Garibaldi Admiral Flota Svetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov LP-X Dokdo Principe de Asturias Chakri Naruebet Invincible Class Ocean

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 10-11-2011 13:45:24 ZULU