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The 10 biggest aircraft carriers

21 October 2013




The eminence of aircraft carriers as floating air bases has been proven since World War II. Three of the world's 10 biggest aircraft carriers by displacement are operated by Asian naval forces, while the US Navy operates the world's biggest aircraft carrier, the Nimitz Class. Naval-technology.com lists the world's 10 biggest aircraft carriers by displacement.


The 10 biggest aircraft carriers

Nimitz Class, US

Nimitz Class, with a full load displacement of 97,000t, is the world's largest aircraft carrier. The first carrier in the class was deployed in May 1975, while the tenth and last ship, USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), was commissioned in January 2009. Each carrier of the Nimitz Class is designed to operate for about 50 years, requiring just one mid-life overhaul.

The 332.8m-long supercarrier features a 4.5-acre flight deck capable of carrying more than 60 aircraft. Each ship towers 20 stories above the water and can accommodate 3,000 to 3,200 ship's company, 1,500 air wing and 500 other crew.

Nimitz Class is powered by two nuclear reactors providing a maximum speed of more than 30kt. The Sea Sparrow missiles, Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS) and Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAMs) mounted aboard the vessel defend against potential threats. The ships in Nimitz Class will be replaced by the Gerald R. Ford Class (CVN 78) next generation aircraft carriers from 2015.

Admiral Kuznetsov, Russian Federation

The Admiral Kuznetsov is the only operational aircraft carrier in the Russian Navy. Built by Nikolayev South shipyard, Kuznetsov ranks as the second largest aircraft carrier. It has a displacement of 58,500t to 67,500t.

The spacious 14,700m² flight deck of the Admiral Kuznetsov can accommodate Su-33, MiG-29K and Su-25UTG/UBP STOVL fighters, as well as Ka-27S, Ka-27LD32 and Ka-27PLO helicopters. The ship can accommodate 1,960 ship's company, 626 air group and 40 flag staff.

The Russian aircraft carrier is propelled by a steam turbine propulsion system, providing a maximum speed of 32kt. The weaponry is composed of AK-630 AA guns, CADS-N-1 Kashtan CIWS, P-700 Granit anti-ship cruise missile and RBU-12000 UDAV-1 ASW rocket launchers.

Liaoning, China

Liaoning (16) is the only aircraft carrier in service with People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China. Initially developed as part of the Admiral Kuznetsov Class for the Soviet Union, Liaoning was earlier known by the names Riga and Varyag.

Hong Kong-based Chong Lot Travel Agency bought Liaoning at an auction in 1998 with the idea of converting it into a floating casino but never completed the conversion. The uncompleted ship was transferred to the Ukraine after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was later acquired by China and refitted in Dalian Shipyard, to serve as an aircraft carrier for the PLAN. Liaoning was finally commissioned into service in September 2012.

The aircraft carrier is armed with Type 1030 CIWS, HQ-10 missiles and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) rocket launchers. The vessel displacing more than 59,000t (full load) is powered by steam turbine propulsion. Its flight deck can house about 50 aircraft, including fixed wing planes and helicopters.

Charles de Gaulle (R91), France

The Charles de Gaulle (R91) aircraft carrier, the first French nuclear-powered surface ship, is the largest warship in Western Europe. It is also the only nuclear-powered carrier in service outside of the US Navy.

The French aircraft carrier underwent a six-month refit, which was concluded at Toulon naval base in July 2013. It can support the operations of 40 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters including Rafale M, Super Étendard, E-2C Hawkeye, SA365 Dauphin, EC725 Caracal and AS532 Cougar.

The vessel with a full load displacement of 42,000t carries 1,350 ship's company and 600 air wing. Its power plant comprises of two K15 pressurised water reactors and provides a speed of 27kt.

São Paulo (A12), Brazil

São Paulo (A12) is the fifth biggest aircraft carrier, weighing more than 32,000t at full load. It is a Clemenceau-Class aircraft carrier currently operated by the Brazilian Navy. Originally commissioned by French Navy in 1963 as Foch (R99), the carrier was sold to Brazil in 2000.

The São Paulo can complement 1,920 crew, including 1,338 ship's company and 582 Air Group crew. Its flight deck can accommodate 39 aircraft including fighters, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

The armament aboard the ship includes SACP Crotale EDIR systems, Simbad launchers and naval guns for protection against surface and aerial threats. The six boilers generating 126,000shp make São Paulo one of the most powerful conventional aircraft carriers in operation. The propulsion system of the vessel provides a maximum speed of 32kt.

Cavour (550), Italy

The Cavour (550) with a full load displacement of 30,000t is the world's sixth largest aircraft carrier. The Italian aircraft carrier (CVH) serves as the flagship of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare).

The Cavour features a 232.6m x 34.5m flight deck, which can accommodate fixed-wing aircraft such as AV-8B Harrier and JSF as well as EH101, AB212, NH 90 and SH3D helicopters. The vessel can complement 1,292 crew, including troops.

The armament includes short range defence systems, guns and decoy launchers defending against a variety of threats. The power plant integrating four 22MW AVIO/GE LM2500 Gas Turbines provides a maximum sustained speed of 29kt.

INS Viraat, India

INS Viraat (R22), the seventh largest aircraft carrier in the world, is a Centaur-Class aircraft carrier operated by the Indian Navy. It is also the oldest carrier, serving as the flagship of the Indian Navy. It was originally commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Hermes in 1959 and sold to India in 1986.

INS Viraat has a full load displacement of 28,700t and carries up to 30 fixed and rotary wing aircraft, such as Sea Harrier, Westland Sea King, HAL Chetak and HAL Dhruv. It complements a crew of 1,350, including 43 officers.

The Bofors AA guns and Barak surface-to-air missile (SAM) launchers mounted on the Viraat aircraft carrier protect the ship from aerial and surface attacks. The steam turbine propulsion system provides a maximum speed of 28kt.

HMS Illustrious (R06), UK

HMS Illustrious is the eighth largest aircraft carrier in the world and the only Invincible Class aircraft carrier currently in service. The 22,000t (displacement) vessel serves the Royal Navy as a high readiness helicopter and commando carrier. It was commissioned in June 1982.

HMS Illustrious can accommodate helicopters such as Merlin, Sea King, Lynx or Apache and Chinook. It is mainly deployed in escort duties and counter-piracy operations. It will be replaced by HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2016.

The aircraft carrier is armed with Goalkeeper CIWS and GAM-B01 20mm close-range guns. Its power plant includes four Rolls-Royce Olympus TM3B gas turbines and eight Paxman Valenta diesel generators. The maximum speed of the vessel is 30kt and the range is 5,000 nautical miles (nm).

Giuseppe Garibaldi (551), Italy

Giuseppe Garibaldi (551) is the world's ninth biggest aircraft carrier with a full load displacement of 13,370t. The highly flexible vessel was built by the Italian company Fincantieri, for the Italian Navy.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was commissioned into the Italian Navy in September 1985. It can support the operations of helicopters and vertical or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) aircraft. The embarked helicopters are stowed in a hangar/garage measuring 2,500m² in area.

The aircraft carrier is powered by four FIAT-G.E LM 2500 gas turbines driving two controllable pitch propellers. The maximum speed of the naval ship is 30kt and the range is 7,000nm.

HTMS Chakri Naruebet, Thailand

The HTMS Chakri Naruebet is the tenth largest aircraft carrier in the world. It was built by Spanish shipbuilders Izar (now Navantia) and serves as a vertical/short take-off and landing (V/STOL) aircraft carrier for the Royal Thai Navy. It was commissioned into service in March 1997.

The carrier with a full-load displacement of 11,486t can complement a crew of 455, including 62 officers and 145 air crew. Its flight deck is fitted with a 12 degree ski jump to allow the operation of Harrier-style aircraft.

The armament fit is mainly composed of three MBDA Sadral six-cell launchers for the Mistral anti-aircraft missile. The propulsion system is a combined diesel or gas system, consisting of two GE LM2500 gas turbines and two Bazán-MTU 16V1163 TB83 diesel engines driving five-bladed propellers via two shafts. The system provides a speed of 26kt and range of 10,000nm at 12kt speed.

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Nimitz Class aircraft carriers are the largest surface combat ships in the world.
The Admiral Kuznetsov is in service with the Russian Navy.
Liaoning (16) is the only aircraft carrier in service with the People's Liberation Army Navy.
Charles de Gaulle (R 91) is the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier outside the US Navy.
Brazil's Sao Paulo (A12), foreground, passing US Navy's USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).
Cavour (550) aircraft carrier (CVH) is the flagship of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare).
INS Viraat (R 22) operated by India is currently the world's seventh biggest aircraft carrier.
HMS Illustrious is the only Invincible Class aircraft carrier in service with the Royal Navy.
Giuseppe Garibaldi (551) sails in heavy seas in the Atlantic Ocean.
Royal Thai Navy's HTMS Chakri Naruebet helicopter carrier is the world's tenth biggest.