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This is about the warships. For the television program, see Supercarrier (TV series).
USS Enterprise, a supercarrier, and the medium-sized carrier Charles de Gaulle (R 91)
The 100,000t USS Nimitz, a supercarrier, and the medium-sized 43,000t carrier HMS Ark Royal, ca. 1978

Supercarrier is an unofficial descriptive term for the largest type of aircraft carrier, usually displacing over 70,000 long tons.[1] In comparison, a few countries operate medium carriers of around 40,000 tons (such as Charles de Gaulle), whereas light carriers closer to 20,000 (such as HMS Illustrious) are more typical. Supercarriers are the largest warships ever built— indeed, only some oil tankers are longer and heavier ships of any kind.



The first ship to be described by The New York Times as a supercarrier was HMS Ark Royal in 1938;[2] with a length of 685 ft and a displacement of 22,000 tons, it was designed to carry 72 aircraft.[3] In 1943 the superlative was transferred to the 45,000-ton carriers of the Midway class, as a step-up from the 27,000-ton Essex class.[4] The post-war standard for supercarriers was set by the proposed USS United States and USS Forrestal.[5]

Forrestal displaced 60,000 tons standard, and 78,000 tons in deep load, when launched,[6] and is considered the first operational supercarrier in the present-day sense, as dubbed by the American press.[7] The similarly-sized United States would have been in service earlier, had it been completed; its cancellation triggered the "Revolt of the Admirals".

The 72,000-ton armored Japanese carrier Shinano of the World War II era could be argued to be heavy enough to be considered a supercarrier.[8]

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, due to post-Cold-War funding cuts.

The United States is no longer alone in building supercarriers, with the United Kingdom procuring two 65,000-ton carriers, and France considering building one vessel, possibly based on the same design. These ships are routinely referred to as supercarriers by legislators[9][10][11][12] and the media.[13][14][15][16][17][18][19] The two Queen Elizabeth class vessels will provide the Royal Navy with capabilities much closer to United States Navy carriers than its current Invincible class vessels. Giving evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee, the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West 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.[20]

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


Because of their size and expense, even the United States can only maintain a few of these ships and given their vulnerability to conventional and asymmetrical threats, more and smaller carriers have been suggested over the years, such as Zumwalt's Sea Control Ship.[21][22]

However supercarriers are considered to be more cost effective than smaller carriers.[23]

The mobile offshore base (MOB) is a concept for 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.


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. ^ 'Reich's Cruise Ships Held Potential Plane Carriers', New York Times (May 1, 1938), p. 32.
  3. ^ "The Ark Royal Launched. Most Up-To-Date Carrier. Aircraft In The Fleet.", The Times (14 April 1937), p. 11.
  4. ^ John G. Norris, "World's Largest Warships: Three 45,000-Ton Carriers For Bombers Ordered by Navy", The Washington Post (23 October 23, 1943), pg. 1
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ Donald, David; Daniel J. March (2001). Carrier Aviation Air Power Directory. Norwalk, CT: AIRtime Publishing. pp. 77. ISBN 1-880588-43-9.  
  7. ^ MacDonald, Scot (1964-02-01). "14". Evolution of Aircraft Carriers. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 69. "The versatility of the current U.S. 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."  
  8. ^ The sinking of a supercarrier - excerpt from Shinano!
  9. ^ House of Commons Written Questions for Answer, 8 September 2003
  10. ^ House of Lords, 15 March 2007.
  11. ^ House of Commons Written Answers for 17 June 2008
  12. ^ Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence, Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1–19), 17 July 2007
  13. ^ "Hoon to confirm ‘supercarrier’". BBC News. 2001-06-22. Retrieved 2008-12-23.  
  14. ^ "Go-ahead given for work to start on supercarriers". Portsmouth News. 2008-05-20. Retrieved 2008-12-23.  
  15. ^ "VT at forefront of £3.9bn supercarrier project". Portsmouth News. 2008-05-20. Retrieved 2008-12-23.  
  16. ^ "Navy (France), Navy Assessment". Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment—Western Europe . 2008-12-03. Retrieved 2008-12-28.  
  17. ^ "Navy aircraft carriers delayed". The Northern Echo. 2008-12-11. Retrieved 2008-12-23.  
  18. ^ "Job concerns as MoD proposes carrier delay". The Courier. 2008-12-12. Retrieved 2008-12-23.  
  19. ^ "The £4billion Airfix Kit: Behind-the-scenes at Britain's biggest warships". Daily Mail. 2008-05-28. Retrieved 2008-12-28.  
  20. ^ House of Commons Minutes of Evidence
  21. ^ Fortress at Sea? The Carrier Invulnerability Myth
  22. ^ Lawmaker Calls for Study on Small Carriers
  23. ^ Warbirds of the sea: a history of aircraft carriers & carrier-based aircraft, By Walter A. Musciano, Page 553

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