For the television program, see Supercarrier (TV series).
USS Enterprise (rear), the first nuclear-powered supercarrier (94,781 tons), and Charles de Gaulle (front), a medium-sized nuclear-powered carrier (37,085 metric tons).
The 100,000 ton USS John C. Stennis, a modern-day supercarrier (left), alongside the 22,000 metric ton light carrier HMS Illustrious (right).
Nimitz and Queen Elizabeth, both supercarriers compared with Charles de Gaulle, a medium-sized carrier, and Invincible, a light carrier.

Supercarrier is an unofficial descriptive term for the largest type of aircraft carrier, typically those displacing over 70,000 short tons (64,000 metric tons).[1] Supercarriers are the largest warships ever built, larger than the largest battleship class laid down by any country. The United States Navy has ten active supercarriers as of 2015,[2] while the United Kingdom will have two—the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers[3] Queen Elizabeth and the second Prince of Wales which are currently being built, and are expected to enter service in 2018.[4][5]

Outside the US, there are more light carriers closer to 30,000 tons, such as Italy's Cavour. A few countries operate medium-sized fleet carriers of around 40,000 tons, such as the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.


The first ship to be described by The New York Times as a supercarrier was HMS Ark Royal in 1938,[6] with a length of 685 feet (209 m) and a displacement of 22,000 tons, designed to carry 72 aircraft.[7][8] In 1943 the superlative was transferred to the 45,000-ton Midway-class carriers as a step-up from the 27,000-ton Essex class.[9] The Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano, launched in 1944, was the first aircraft carrier with a standard displacement of over 65,000 metric tons.

The post-war standard for supercarriers was set by the proposed USS United States and USS Forrestal.[10] Forrestal displaced 60,000 tons standard and 78,000 tons in deep load[11] and is considered the first operational supercarrier in the present-day sense, as used by the US press.[12] The similar-sized United States would have been in service earlier, had it been completed; its cancellation triggered the "Revolt of the Admirals".

The Soviet Union's 85,000-ton nuclear carrier Ulyanovsk, closely comparable in size to earlier American supercarriers, was 40% complete when it and a follow-on vessel were canceled in 1991 during post-Cold War funding cuts.

As of 2015 the United Kingdom has one 70,000-ton Queen Elizabeth-class carrier being fitted out, and another under construction,[13] and France had until 2013 been considering building one vessel based on the same design. These ships are referred to as supercarriers by British legislators[14][15][16][17] and the news media.[18][19][20][21][22][23][24] The two Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will provide the Royal Navy with capabilities much closer to United States Navy carriers than the Invincible-class vessels retired in 2014. Giving evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee in 2004, the First Sea Lord Alan West, Baron West of Spithead explained that interoperability with the United States Navy was as much a deciding factor of the size of the carriers as the firepower of the carrier's airwing:

I have talked with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) in America. He is very keen for us to get these because he sees us slotting in with his carrier groups. He really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have the same sort of clout as one of their carriers.[25]

Future plans for supercarriers in the United States involve the construction of the U.S. Navy's next generation of carriers, the Gerald R. Ford class, which will have a 100,000-ton displacement.


The United States maintains ten of these ships, with each typically operating 45 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet aircraft for traditional fighter, attack and electronic countermeasure roles with twelve Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, four Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft and two Grumman C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery aircraft.[26] Given carriers' vulnerability in combat and to peacetime asymmetrical warfare attacks, the use of more and smaller carriers rather than large vessels has been suggested over the years, such as Elmo Zumwalt's Sea Control Ship, and carriers the size of USS America carrying STOVL aircraft and Unmanned combat aerial vehicle.[27][28][29] However, supercarrier advocates consider them to be more cost-effective than a larger number of smaller carriers.[30] An American carrier strike group costs $25 million per week for routine operations, rising to $40 million during combat operations.[31]

The mobile offshore base (MOB) is an extension of the supercarrier concept, a modular floating military base as large as 10 aircraft carriers. If realized, it could be moved anywhere throughout the world's oceans, obviating the need to seek permission from allied nations for use of land bases. The concept was studied in the 1990s by the U.S. government but was abandoned in 2001 as cost prohibitive.




Supercarriers in service

Country Name (Hull number) Length Tonnage (mt) Class Propulsion Type Commission
 US Nimitz (CVN-68) 333 m (1,093 ft) 100,020 mt Nimitz Nuclear CATOBAR 3 May 1975
 US Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) 333 m (1,093 ft) 103,200 mt Nimitz Nuclear CATOBAR 18 October 1977
 US Carl Vinson (CVN-70) 333 m (1,093 ft) 102,900 mt Nimitz Nuclear CATOBAR 13 March 1982
 US Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) 333 m (1,093 ft) 106,300 mt Nimitz Nuclear CATOBAR 25 October 1986
 US Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) 333 m (1,093 ft) 105,783 mt Nimitz Nuclear CATOBAR 11 November 1989
 US George Washington (CVN-73) 333 m (1,093 ft) 105,900 mt Nimitz Nuclear CATOBAR 4 July 1992
 US John C. Stennis (CVN-74) 333 m (1,093 ft) 105,000 mt Nimitz Nuclear CATOBAR 9 December 1995
 US Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) 333 m (1,093 ft) 105,600 mt Nimitz Nuclear CATOBAR 25 July 1998
 US Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) 333 m (1,093 ft) 103,000 mt Nimitz Nuclear CATOBAR 12 July 2003
 US George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) 333 m (1,093 ft) 104,000 mt Nimitz Nuclear CATOBAR 10 January 2009

Supercarriers under construction or being fitted out

Country Name (Hull number) Length Tonnage Class Propulsion Type Commission date Status
 UK Queen Elizabeth (R08)[33] 280 m (920 ft) 70,600 mt[34] Queen Elizabeth Conventional STOVL 2017 (expected)[35] Being fitted out
 UK Prince of Wales (R09)[33] 280 m (920 ft) 70,600 mt Queen Elizabeth Conventional STOVL 2020 (expected) Under construction
 US Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)[36] 337 m (1,106 ft) 102,000 mt Gerald R. Ford Nuclear CATOBAR 2016 (expected) Being fitted out
 US John F. Kennedy (CVN-79)[37] 337 m (1,106 ft) 102,000 mt Gerald R. Ford Nuclear CATOBAR 2020 (expected) Under construction

See also


  1. David Miller and Lindsay Peacock, Carriers: The Men and the Machines (London and New York: Salamander, 1991), p. 7: "There are four main types of carrier in service today. Largest of these are the super-carriers displacing over 70,000 tons; the U.S. Navy currently has fourteen, the Soviet Navy one."
  2. 1 December 2012. "USS Enterprise carrier taken out of active service". Fox News. Associated Press. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  3. Farmer, Ben (4 July 2014). "Queen christens Britain's new super carrier as head of navy hails new chapter". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  4. "'HMS Queen Elizabeth takes to the water as new carrier is moved for the first time'". 17 July 2014. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  5. "'British Royal Navy's HMS Prince of Wales to enter service'". 5 September 2014. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  6. "Reich's Cruise Ships Held Potential Plane Carriers". The New York Times. 1 May 1938. p. 32. Retrieved 17 May 2015. (subscription required)
  7. "The Ark Royal Launched. Most Up-To-Date Carrier. Aircraft In The Fleet". The Times. 14 April 1937. p. 11.
  8. Rossiter, Mike (2007) [2006]. Ark Royal: the life, death and rediscovery of the legendary Second World War aircraft carrier (2nd ed.). London: Corgi Books. pp. 48–51. ISBN 978-0-552-15369-0. OCLC 81453068.
  9. Norris, John G. (23 October 1943). "World's Largest Warships: Three 45,000-Ton Carriers For Bombers Ordered by Navy". The Washington Post. p. 1.
  10. "Va. Firm Gets Giant Carrier Building Job. 65,000-Ton Warship Will Be Largest in Postwar Program". The Washington Post. 8 August 1948. p. 3.
  11. Donald, David; March, Daniel J (2001). Carrier Aviation Air Power Directory. Norwalk, CT: AIRtime Publishing. p. 77. ISBN 1-880588-43-9.
  12. MacDonald, Scot (1964-02-01). "14" (PDF). Evolution of Aircraft Carriers (PDF). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. p. 69. The versatility of the current US carrier fleet is largely due to the operation of what the press has labeled 'super-carriers,' heavy duty aircraft carriers of the size, power, and potency of the Forrestals and the nuclear-powered Enterprise.
  13. "Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carrier". Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  14. "House of Commons Written Questions for Answer on Monday 8 September 2003". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Parliament of the United Kingdom. 8 September 2003.
  15. "House of Lords". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Parliament of the United Kingdom. 15 March 2007.
  16. "House of Commons Written Answers for 17 June 2008". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Parliament of the United Kingdom. 17 June 2008.
  17. "Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence, Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1–19), 17 July 2007". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Parliament of the United Kingdom. 17 July 2007.
  18. "Hoon to confirm 'supercarrier'". BBC News. 22 June 2001. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  19. "Go-ahead given for work to start on supercarriers". Portsmouth News. 20 May 2008. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  20. "VT at forefront of £3.9bn supercarrier project". Portsmouth News. 20 May 2008. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  21. "Navy (France), Navy Assessment". Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment—Western Europe . 3 December 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  22. Burton, Nigel (11 December 2008). "Navy aircraft carriers delayed". The Northern Echo. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  23. "Job concerns as MoD proposes carrier delay". The Courier. 12 December 2008. Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  24. Syson, Damon (30 December 2008). "The £4billion Airfix Kit: Behind-the-scenes at Britain's biggest warships". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  25. "House of Commons Minutes of Evidence Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540 - 559)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Parliament of the United Kingdom. 24 November 2004.
  26. Alvarez, Beto; Robbins, Gary (4 July 2014). "The Fleet". U-T San Diego: 10–11.
  27. Patch, John (January 2010). "Fortress at Sea? The Carrier Invulnerability Myth". Proceedings. U.S. Naval Institute. 136 (1). Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  28. "Lawmaker Calls for Study on Small Carriers".
  29. Hendrix, Henry J.; Williams, J. Noel (May 2011). "Twilight of the $UPERfluous Carrier". Proceedings. U.S. Naval Institute. 137 (05). Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  30. Musciano, Walter A. (1997). Warbirds of the sea: a history of aircraft carriers & carrier-based aircraft. Schiffer. p. 553. ISBN 0-88740-583-5.
  31. "US Navy: Cost Of Syria Strikes Would Not Be 'Extraordinary'". DefenseNews. Gannett. Agence France-Presse. 5 September 2013. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  32. Nikolai Novichkov (14 May 2015). "Russia developing Shtorm supercarrier". IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  33. 1 2 IISS 2010, p. 206
  34. Allison, George (2 April 2014). "Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier: A Guide". UK Defence Journal. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  35. "Equipped for the Future". Royal Navy. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  36. O'Rourke, Ronald (24 March 2015). "Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress" (pdf). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  37. "Navy names next aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy" (Press release). United States Department of Defense. 29 May 2011. Archived from the original on 20 August 2013. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
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