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July 5, 2017updated 21 Apr 2022 7:56pm

The world’s biggest aircraft carriers

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 owns the world's biggest aircraft carrier, the Gerald R Ford Class.

Naval Technology lists the world’s top ten biggest aircraft carriers by displacement.

Gerald R Ford Class, US

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Full load displacement of 100,000t makes the Gerald R Ford Class the world’s biggest aircraft carrier. The first carrier in class, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), was delivered to the US Navy in May 2017, while initial operational capability is anticipated to be achieved in 2020.

The CVN-78 features a 78m-wide flight deck equipped with electromagnetic aircraft launch system and advanced arresting gear. The carrier has the capacity to carry more than 75 aircraft and can accommodate 4,539 personnel including ship’s company, air wing and other support staff.

Gerald R Ford is powered by two A1B nuclear reactors offering 250% more electrical capacity than the Nimitz Class. The weaponry includes RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles, Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAMs) and Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS).

Nimitz Class, US

Nimitz Class, with a full load displacement of 97,000t, is the world’s second 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 2020.

Queen Elizabeth Class, UK

Displacing 65,000t, the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers are the biggest warships ever built for the Royal Navy. The first vessel in class, HMS Queen Elizabeth, began her sea trials in June 2017 and is scheduled to enter service in 2020, while the second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, is scheduled to be operational by 2023.

The vessels in Queen Elizabeth class are three times larger than the Invincible Class aircraft carriers and can support the embarkation of up to 40 rotary and fixed wing aircraft. Latest technology and automated systems aboard the vessel enable operations with a streamlined crew of 679.

Each vessel in the class is armed with a Phalanx CIWS, 30mm guns and mini-guns for self-defence against asymmetric threats. The aircraft carrier is powered by two Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbines and four diesel generator sets providing a total installed power of 109MWe. The propulsion system will enable the vessel to sail at a maximum speed of 25kt.

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 fourth largest aircraft carrier. It has a full load displacement of 58,500t.

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 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 58,000t (full load), is powered by steam turbine propulsion. Its flight deck can house approximately 50 aircraft, including fixed-wing planes and helicopters.

INS Vikramaditya, India

INS Vikramaditya, with a displacement of 44,500t, is the biggest warship in service with the Indian Navy. Commissioned into service in November 2013, it is a modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier acquired from Russia.

The warship measures 284m-long and 60m-wide. The short take-off, but assisted recovery (STOBAR) flight deck can carry more than 30 aircraft including a mix of MiG 29K/Sea Harrier, Kamov 31, Kamov 28, Sea King, ALH-Dhruv and Chetak helicopters. The carrier is armed with anti-ship missiles, air-to-air missiles, guided bombs and rockets.

The propulsion system of INS Vikramaditya integrates eight turbo-pressurised boilers and four geared steam turbines generating a total output power of 180,000shp.  The six turbo alternators and six diesel alternators aboard the vessel generate a total power of 18MW.

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 eighth 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 ninth 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 tenth 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.

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