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An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project airpower worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations. They have evolved from wooden vessels used to deploy balloons into nuclear-powered warships that carry dozens of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.
Aircraft carriers are typically the capital ship of a fleet, and are extremely expensive to build and important to protect. Of the ten nations that possess an aircraft carrier, eight possess only one. Twenty aircraft carriers are currently active throughout the world with the U.S. Navy operating 10 as of February 2013 though some of these nations no longer have carrier-capable aircraft in inventory and have repurposed these ships.
The 1903 advent of heavier-than-air, fixed-wing aircraft was closely followed in 1910 by the first experimental take-off of such an airplane from the deck of a United States Navy vessel (cruiser USS Birmingham), and the first experimental landings were conducted in 1911. On 4 May 1912 the first plane to take-off from a ship underway flew from the deck of the British Royal Navy's HMS Hibernia.
Seaplane tender support ships came next; in September 1914, the Imperial Japanese Navy Wakamiya conducted the world's first successful naval-launched air raids. Used against German forces during World War I, it carried four Maurice Farman seaplanes, which took off and landed on the water and were lowered from and raised to the deck by crane. On 6 September 1914 a Farman aircraft launched by Wakamiya attacked the Austro-Hungarian cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth and the German gunboat Jaguar in Qiaozhou Bay off Tsingtao; neither were hit
The development of flat top vessels produced the first large fleet ships. In 1918, HMS Argus became the world's first carrier capable of launching and landing naval aircraft. Carrier evolution was well underway by the mid-1920s, resulting in the commissioning of ships such as Hōshō (1922), HMS Hermes (1924), and Béarn (1927). Most early aircraft carriers were conversions of ships that were laid down (or had served) as different ship types: cargo ships, cruisers, battlecruisers, or battleships. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 affected aircraft carrier plans. The U.S. and UK were permitted up to 135,000 tons of carriers each, while specific exemptions on the upper tonnage of individual ships permitted conversion of capital ship hulls to carriers such as the Lexington-class aircraft carriers (1927).
During the 1920s, several navies began ordering and building aircraft carriers that were specifically designed as such. This allowed the design to be specialized to their future role and resulted in superior ships. During World War II, these ships became the backbone of the carrier forces of the United States, British, and Japanese navies, known as fleet carriers.
The aircraft carrier was used extensively in World War II, and several types were created as a result. Escort aircraft carriers, such as USS Bogue, were built only during World War II. Although some were purpose-built, most were converted from merchant ships as a stop-gap measure to provide air support for convoys and amphibious invasions. Light aircraft carriers built by the US, such as USS Independence, represented a larger, more "militarized" version of the escort carrier concept. Although the light carriers usually carried the same size air groups as escort carriers, they had the advantage of higher speed since they had been converted from cruisers under construction. The UK 1942 Design Light Fleet Carrier served the Royal Navy during the war and was the hull design chosen for nearly all aircraft carrier equipped navies after the war until the 1980s.
Wartime emergencies also spurred the creation or conversion of unconventional aircraft carriers. CAM ships, like SS Michael E, were cargo-carrying merchant ships that could launch but not retrieve fighter aircraft from a catapult. These vessels were an emergency measure during World War II as were Merchant aircraft carriers (MACs), such as MV Empire MacAlpine. Submarine aircraft carriers, such as the French Surcouf and the Japanese I-400-class submarine, which was capable of carrying three Aichi M6A Seiran aircraft, were first built in the 1920s but were generally unsuccessful at war.
Modern navies that operate such ships treat aircraft carriers as the capital ship of the fleet, a role previously played by the battleship. While some will call ballistic missile submarines capital ships, this is more in recognition of their overwhelming firepower as a national strategic nuclear deterrent than their role in the fleet. The change took place during World War II in response to air power becoming a significant factor in warfare. This change was driven by the superior range, flexibility and effectiveness of carrier-launched aircraft. Following the war, carrier operations continued to increase in size and importance. Supercarriers, displacing 75,000 tonnes or greater, have become the pinnacle of carrier development. Some are powered by nuclear reactors and form the core of a fleet designed to operate far from home. Amphibious assault ships, such as USS Tarawa and HMS Ocean, serve the purpose of carrying and landing Marines, and operate a large contingent of helicopters for that purpose. Also known as "commando carriers" or "helicopter carriers", many have a secondary capability to operate VSTOL aircraft.
Lacking the firepower of other warships, carriers by themselves are considered vulnerable to attack by other ships, aircraft, submarines, or missiles. Therefore, aircraft carriers are generally accompanied by a number of other ships to provide protection for the relatively unwieldy carrier, to carry supplies, and to provide additional offensive capabilities. This is often termed a battle group or carrier group, sometimes a carrier battle group.
Before World War II international naval treaties of 1922, 1930 and 1936 limited the size of capital ships including carriers. Aircraft carrier designs since World War II have been effectively unlimited by any consideration save budgetary, and the ships have increased in size to handle the larger aircraft. The large, modern Nimitz class of United States Navy carriers has a displacement nearly four times that of the World War II–era USS Enterprise, yet its complement of aircraft is roughly the same—a consequence of the steadily increasing size and weight of military aircraft over the years.
Today's aircraft carriers are so expensive that many nations risk significant political, economic, and military ramifications if one were lost, or even used in conflict. Observers have opined that modern anti-ship weapons systems, such as torpedoes and missiles, have made aircraft carriers obsolete as too vulnerable for modern combat. Nuclear weapons would threaten whole naval carrier groups in open generalised combat. On the other hand, the proven or threatening role of aircraft carriers has an undeniably modern place in asymmetric warfare, like the gunboat diplomacy of the past. Furthermore, aircraft carriers facilitate quick and precise projections of overwhelming military power into such local and regional conflicts.
Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, head of the Royal Navy, has said that "To put it simply, countries that aspire to strategic international influence have aircraft carriers".
A fleet carrier is intended to operate with the main fleet and usually provides an offensive capability. These are the largest carriers capable of fast speeds. By comparison escort carriers were developed to provide defense for convoys of ships. They were smaller and slower with lower numbers of aircraft carried. Most were built from mercantile hulls or, in the case of merchant aircraft carriers, were bulk cargo ships with a flight deck added on top. Light aircraft carriers were carriers that were fast enough to operate with the fleet but of smaller size with reduced aircraft capacity. Soviet aircraft carriers now in use by Russia are actually called aviation cruisers, these ships while sized in the range of large fleet carriers were designed to deploy alone or with escorts and provide both strong defensive weaponry and heavy offensive missiles equivalent to a guided missile cruiser in addition to supporting fighters and helicopters.
- Anti-submarine warfare carrier
- Helicopter carrier
- Light aircraft carrier
- Amphibious assault ship
- Seaplane tender & seaplane carriers
- Balloon carrier & balloon tenders
There are three main configurations of aircraft carrier in service in the world's navies, divided by the way that aircraft take off and land:
- Catapult-assisted take-off but arrested-recovery ( CATOBAR): these carriers generally carry the largest, heaviest, and most heavily armed aircraft, although smaller CATOBAR carriers may have other limitations (weight capacity of aircraft elevator, etc.). Three nations currently operate carriers of this type: ten by the United States, and one each by France, and Brazil for a total of twelve in service.
- Short take-off but arrested-recovery ( STOBAR): these carriers are generally limited to carrying lighter fixed-wing aircraft with more limited payloads. STOBAR carrier airwings, such as the Sukhoi Su-33 and future Mikoyan MiG-29K wings of the Admiral Kuznetsov are often geared primarily towards air superiority and fleet defense roles rather than strike/power projection tasks, which require heavier payloads (bombs and air-to-ground missiles). Currently, only Russia possesses an operational carrier of this type, China has rebuilt the sister ship to the Admiral Kuznetsov as well as a domestic Su-33 clone, this carrier is currently in commission for experimentation and training, Russia is also preparing a similar rebuilt carrier formerly of the Kiev class for India.
- Short take-off vertical-landing ( STOVL): limited to carrying STOVL aircraft. STOVL aircraft, such as the Harrier Jump Jet family and Yakovlev Yak-38 generally have very limited payloads, lower performance, and high fuel consumption when compared with conventional fixed wing aircraft; however, a new generation of STOVL aircraft, currently consisting of the F-35B has much improved performance. This type of aircraft carrier is in service with one each for India and Spain and two for Italy making four total in active carrier service; the UK and Thailand each have one active STOVL carrier but both no longer have any operational STOVL aircraft in inventory. Some also count the nine US amphibious assault ships in their secondary light carrier role boosting the overall total to fifteen.
- Fleet carrier
- Light aircraft carrier
- Escort carrier
As "runways at sea," modern aircraft carriers have a flat-top deck design that serves as a flight deck for the launch and recovery of aircraft. Aircraft launch forward, into the wind, and are recovered from astern. Carriers steam at speed, up to 35 knots (65 km/h) into the wind during flight deck operations to increase wind speed over the deck to a safe minimum. This increase in effective wind speed provides a higher launch airspeed for aircraft at the end of the catapult stroke or ski-jump, plus it makes recovery safer by reducing the difference between the relative speeds of the aircraft and ship.
On CATOBAR carriers, a steam-powered catapult is used to accelerate conventional aircraft to a safe flying speed by the end of the catapult stroke, after which the aircraft is airborne and further propulsion is provided by its own engines. On STOVL or STOBAR carriers aircraft do not require catapult assistance for take off; instead on nearly all ships of this type an upwards vector is provided by a ski-jump at the forward end of the flight deck often combined with thrust vectoring by the aircraft; though a STOVL is able to launch without a ski-jump or catapult with reduced fuel and weapon load. The form of assistance a carrier provides depends on the types of aircraft embarked and the design of the carrier itself.
Conversely, when recovering onto a CATOBAR or STOBAR carrier, conventional aircraft rely on a tailhook that catches on arrestor wires stretched across the deck to bring them to a stop in a short distance. Post WW-II Royal Navy research on safer CATOBAR recovery eventually lead to universal adoption of a landing area angled off axis to allow aircraft who missed the arresting wires to "bolt" and safely return to flight for another landing attempt rather than crashing into aircraft on the forward deck. Helicopters and vertical/short take-off and landing ( V/STOL) aircraft usually recover by coming abreast the carrier on the port side and then using their hover capability to move over the flight deck and land vertically without the need for arresting gear.
Conventional ("tailhook") aircraft rely upon a landing signal officer (LSO, sometimes called paddles) to monitor the plane's approach, visually gauge glideslope, attitude, and airspeed, and transmit that data to the pilot. Before the angled deck emerged in the 1950s, LSOs used colored paddles to signal corrections to the pilot (hence the nickname). From the late 1950s onward, visual landing aids such as optical landing system have provided information on proper glide slope, but LSOs still transmit voice calls to approaching pilots by radio.
To facilitate working on the flight deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier, the sailors wear colored shirts that designate their responsibilities. There are at least seven different colors worn by flight deck personnel for modern United States Navy carrier air operations. Carrier operations of other nations use similar colour schemes.
Key personnel involved in the flight deck include the shooters, the handler, and the air boss. Shooters are naval aviators or Naval Flight Officers and are responsible for launching aircraft. The handler works just inside the island from the flight deck and is responsible for the movement of aircraft before launching and after recovery. The air boss (usually a commander) occupies the top bridge (Primary Flight Control, also called primary or the tower) and has the overall responsibility for controlling launch, recovery and "those aircraft in the air near the ship, and the movement of planes on the flight deck, which itself resembles a well-choreographed ballet." The captain of the ship spends most of his time one level below primary on the Navigation Bridge. Below this is the Flag Bridge, designated for the embarked admiral and his staff.
Since the early 1950s on conventional carriers it has been the practice to recover aircraft at an angle to port of the axial line of the ship. The primary function of this angled deck is to allow aircraft that miss the arresting wires, referred to as a bolter, to become airborne again without the risk of hitting aircraft parked forward. The angled deck also allows simultaneous launching and recovery of aircraft, and the installation of one or two "waist" catapults in addition to the two bow cats.
The superstructure of a carrier (such as the bridge, flight control tower) are concentrated to the starboard side of the deck in a relatively small area called an island, a feature pioneered on the HMS Hermes in 1923. Very few carriers have been designed or built without an island. The flush deck configuration proved to have very significant drawbacks, complicating navigation, air traffic control, and had numerous other adverse factors.
A more recent configuration, originally developed by the Royal Navy but since adopted by many navies for most smaller carriers, has a ski-jump ramp at the forward end of the flight deck. A ski jump is a fixed ramp at the end of the flight deck with a curved incline. This was first developed to help launch short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft. STOVL aircraft such as the Sea Harrier can take off at far higher weights than is possible with a vertical or rolling takeoff on a short flat deck on STOBAR carriers. A ski-jump works by converting some of the forward rolling motion of the aircraft into a jump into the air at the end of the flight deck, the jump combined with the aiming of jet thrust partly downwards by swiveling exhaust nozzles on aircraft with this feature allows the heavily loaded and fueled aircraft precious seconds to attain sufficient air velocity and lift to sustain normal flight. Without a ski-jump launching fully loaded and fueled aircraft such as the Harrier would not be possible on a smaller flat deck ship before either stalling out or crashing directly into the sea. Although STOVL aircraft are capable of taking off vertically from a spot on the deck, using the ramp and a running start is far more fuel efficient and permits a heavier launch weight. As catapults are unnecessary, carriers with this arrangement reduce weight, complexity, and space needed for complex steam or electromagnetic launching equipment, vertical landing aircraft also remove the need for arresting cables and related hardware. Russian, Chinese, and future Indian carriers include a ski-jump ramp for launching lightly loaded conventional fighter aircraft but recover using traditional carrier arresting cables and a tailhook on their aircraft.
The disadvantage of the ski-jump is the penalty it exacts on aircraft size, payload, and fuel load (and thus range); heavily laden aircraft can not launch using a ski-jump because their high loaded weight requires either a longer takeoff roll than is possible on a carrier deck, or assistance from a catapult or JATO rocket, for example the Russian Su-33 is only able to launch from the carrier Kuznetsov with a minimal armament and fuel load. Another disadvantage is on mixed flight deck operations where helicopters are also present such as a US Landing Helicopter Dock or Landing Helicopter Assault amphibious assault ship a ski jump is not included as this would eliminate one or more helicopter landing areas, this flat deck limits the loading of Harriers but is somewhat mitigated by the longer rolling start provided by a long flight deck compared to many STOVL carriers.
Unusual flight decks have been proposed for use in the jet age; from the SCADS conversion kit, to Skyhook, seaplane fighters, even a rubber flight deck. Shipborne containerized air-defense system (SCADS) was a proposed modular kit to convert a Ro-Ro or Container ship into a STOVL aircraft carrier in two days during an emergency with thirty days of jet fuel, munitions, defensive systems and missiles, ASW helicopters, crew and work areas, radar, and a ski jump, it could be quickly removed afterwards for storage, it was effectively a modern merchant aircraft carrier. Skyhook was proposed by British Aerospace and even more ambitious, a system using a crane with a top mating mechanism hung over the sea to fuel, launch, and recover a few Harriers even from ships as small as frigates. The Convair F2Y Sea Dart was a supersonic seaplane jet fighter that had skis rather than wheels, in the late 1940s the Navy feared that supersonic aircraft would not be able to land on a carrier, it would rather be lowered and raised from the sea via crane. The HMS Warrior tested a rubber coated flight deck where de Havilland Vampire fighters landed without needing landing gear or tailhook.
Aircraft carriers in service
Aircraft carriers are generally the largest ships operated by navies. A total of 22 aircraft carriers in active service are maintained by ten navies. Australia, Brazil, China, France, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, also operate vessels capable of carrying and operating multiple helicopters.
Classes currently in service:
- Brazil (1)
- NAe São Paulo (A12): 32,800 tonne ex-French carrier FS Foch (launched 1960), purchased in 2000.
- China (1)
- Liaoning: formerly an incomplete stripped hulk of 57,000 tonne ex-Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier Varyag, commissioned on 25 September 2012. In service for experimentation and training it can navigate the high seas but not yet operate in combat or conduct regular fixed wing aircraft operations. It did experimentally recover its first plane, a Shenyang J-15 fighter on Nov 25, 2012.
- France (1)
- Charles de Gaulle (R 91): 42,000 tonne nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, commissioned in 2001.
- India (1)
- INS Viraat: 28,700 tonne ex-British STOVL converted carrier HMS Hermes (launched 1953), purchased in 1986 and commissioned in 1987, scheduled to be decommissioned in 2019.
- Italy (2)
- Giuseppe Garibaldi (551): 14,000 tonne Italian STOVL carrier, commissioned in 1985.
- Cavour (550): 27,000 tonne Italian STOVL carrier, commissioned in 2008.
- Russia (1)
- Admiral Flota Sovetskovo Soyuza Kuznetsov: 55,000 tonne Kuznetsov-class STOBAR aircraft carrier. Launched in 1985 as Tbilisi, renamed and operational from 1995.
- Spain (1)
- Juan Carlos I (L61): 27,000 tonne, Specially designed multipurpose strategic projection ship made to operate primarily as a STOVL carrier but also has a well deck and facilities to operate partly or fully as a amphibious assault ship depending on mission, launched in 2008, commissioned 30 September 2010.
- Thailand (1)
- HTMS Chakri Naruebet: 11,400 tonne STOVL carrier based on Spanish Principe De Asturias design. Commissioned in 1997. The AV-8S Matador/Harrier STOVL fighter wing mostly inoperable by 1999 was retired from service without replacement in 2006. Ship now used for royal VIP cruises, helicopter operations, and as a disaster relief platform.
- United Kingdom (1)
- HMS Illustrious: 22,000 tonne STOVL carrier, commissioned in 1982. Originally there were three of her class but the other two have since been retired to save money. Regular RN fixed wing aircraft carrier operations ended after first Sea Harrier and then RAF/RN joint force Harrier fighters were retired by the UK as a cost-saving measure, now operating as a Landing Platform Helicopter until Ocean is out of refit and then to be preserved as a museum in 2014.
- United States (10+9*)
- Nimitz class: ten 101,000 ton nuclear-powered supercarriers, the first of which was commissioned in 1975. A Nimitz-class carrier is powered by two nuclear reactors and four steam turbines and is 1,092 feet (333 m) long.
- USS Peleliu (LHA-5)* a 40,000 ton amphibious assault ship, last of the Tarawa class, ships of this class have been used in wartime in their secondary mission as a light carriers with 20 AV-8B Harrier fighters after unloading their marine expeditionary unit.
- Wasp class* a class of eight 41,000 ton amphibious assault ships, members of this class have been used in wartime in their secondary mission as light carriers in the with 20 to 25 AV-8B Harrier fighters after unloading their Marine expeditionary unit.
(*Normally carries only a few Harriers primary purpose is carrying, deploying, and supporting the transport and attack helicopters, tanks, trucks, guns, marines, and the equipment of the embarked MEU.)
Future aircraft carriers
Several nations that currently possess aircraft carriers are planning new classes to replace current ones. The world's navies still generally see the aircraft carrier as the main future capital ship, with developments such as the arsenal ship, which have been promoted as an alternative, seen as too limited in terms of flexibility.
In late December 2008 and early January 2009, there were multiple reports of China building two conventionally powered aircraft carriers displacing 50,000–60,000 tonnes, possibly to be launched in 2015. In December 2010 China's State Oceanic Administration announced that this vessel would be finished one year earlier, in 2014. A nuclear-powered carrier is planned for launch around 2020.
According to James Nolt, senior fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York, it might take China many years to develop the technology, training, and operational capability necessary for an effective carrier.
On 25 September 2012, NBCNews.com reported that the Chinese government had commissioned their first aircraft carrier, Liaoning. However, this carrier was not built by the Chinese, but rather laid down for the Soviet navy in 1988 and partially completed at a Ukrainian shipyard as Varyag. It was later purchased as a stripped hulk by China in 1998 on the pretext of use as a floating casino, then partially rebuilt and towed to China for completion. On 24 November 2012, China announced that for the first time Liaoning had successfully launched and recovered several J-15 jet fighter aircraft.
The French Navy has set in motion possible plans for a second CTOL aircraft carrier, to supplement Charles de Gaulle. The design would be much larger, at 65,000–75,000 tonnes, and would not be nuclear-powered like Charles de Gaulle. There are plans to base the carrier on the current Royal Navy design for CATOBAR operations (the Thales/BAE Systems design for the Royal Navy is for a STOVL carrier that can be reconfigured to CATOBAR operations.)
On 21 June 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy decided to place France's participation in the project on hold. He stated that a final decision on the future of the French carrier would be taken in 2011 or 2012. British plans for two aircraft carriers will proceed and were in no way conditional on French participation.
In 2004, India agreed to buy the Admiral Gorshkov from Russia for US$1.5 billion. It is named INS Vikramaditya, and was expected to join the Indian Navy in 2008 after a refit. However, after delays and cost overruns, the carrier is now scheduled to be handed over to India in last quarter of 2013, for an agreed price of US$2.35 billion.
India started the construction of a 40,000-tonne, 260-metre-long Vikrant-class aircraft carrier in April 2005. The new carrier will cost US$762 million and will operate MiG-29K, Naval HAL Tejas, and Sea Harrier aircraft along with the Indian-made helicopter HAL Dhruv. The ship will be powered by four turbine engines and will have a range of 8,000 nautical miles (14,000 km), carrying 160 officers, 1,400 sailors, and 30 aircraft. The carrier is being constructed by a state-run shipyard in Cochin. The ship is scheduled for commissioning in 2014.
In December 2009, Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma said at his maiden navy week press conference that concepts currently being examined by the Directorate of Naval Design for the second indigenous aircraft carrier, the IAC-2, are for a conventionally powered carrier displacing over 50,000 tons and equipped with steam catapults (rather than the ski-jump on the Gorshkov/Vikramaditya and the IAC) to launch fourth-generation aircraft. The aim is to have a total of three aircraft carriers in service, with two fully operational carriers and the third in refit. This aim will increase the overall effectiveness of the Indian Navy. The long term plan was recently revealed by the Navy and shows a road-map to a blue-water navy with six aircraft carriers in service.
Speaking in St. Petersburg, Russia on 30 June 2011, the head of Russia's United Shipbuilding Corporation said his company expected to begin design work for a new carrier in 2016, with a goal of beginning construction in 2018 and having the carrier achieve initial operational capability by 2023. Several months later, on 3 November 2011 the Russian newspaper Izvestiya reported that the naval building plan now included (first) the construction of a new shipyard capable of building large hull ships, after which Moscow will build two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers by 2027. The spokesperson said one carrier would be assigned to the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet at Murmansk, and the second would be stationed with the Pacific Fleet at Vladivostok.
On the 16th of May 2011, the Turkish Under-secretariat for Defense Industries issued a Request for Proposal for the acquisition of one Landing Platform Dock in order to meet the operational requirements of Turkish Naval Forces.
The $4 billion project however has since evolved into the design, development and construction of a non-nuclear 230 metre, 24,000 to 28,000 Ton aircraft carrier capable of operating 12 to 20 F-35 VTOL, 700 troops, 60 Main Battle Tanks, Attack and Heavy lift helicopters.
In line with the evolvement of the project the Turkish Under-secretariat for Defense Industries has been instructed to acquire a further 20 F-35 VTOL variants in addition to the 100+ F-35C Turkey has already indicated it will be purchasing.
The following Turkish Naval companies responded to the Request for Proposals issued in May 2011: 1. DESAN Deniz İnşaatı San. A.Ş. (a joint proposal with China's Shipbuilding Corporation) 2. RMK Marine Gemi Yapım Sanayii ve Deniz Taşımacılığı İşletmesi A.Ş. (Solely indigenous design) 3. SEDEF Gemi İnşaatı A.Ş. (a joint proposal with Spain's Navantia S.A.)
A decision is expected on who Turkey awards the Aircraft Carrier tender to in late January 2013.
In January 2012, Turkey put a firm order for 1 F-35A and 1 F-35C in the Low Rate Initial Production batch. Accordingly, this evidences Turkey's intention to purchase 100+ F-35 CTOL and 20 F-35 Carrier Variants for its Aircraft Carrier development efforts.
The Royal Navy is constructing two new larger STOVL aircraft carriers, the Queen Elizabeth class, to replace the three Invincible-class carriers. The ships will be named HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. They will be able to operate up to 40 aircraft, and will have a displacement of around 65,000 tonnes. The two ships are due to enter service in 2016 and 2018 respectively, two years later than originally planned. Their primary aircraft complement will be made up of F-35B Lightning IIs, and their ship's company will number around 1450. The two ships will be the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy.
The current US fleet of Nimitz-class carriers will be followed into service (and in some cases replaced) by the Gerald R. Ford class. It is expected that the ships will be more automated in an effort to reduce the amount of funding required to maintain and operate its supercarriers. The main new features are implementation of Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) (which replace the old steam catapults) and unmanned aerial vehicles.
With the deactivation of the USS Enterprise in December 2012 (decommissioning scheduled for March 2013), the U.S. fleet comprises 10 supercarriers. The House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee on 24 July 2007, recommended seven or maybe eight new carriers (one every four years). However, the debate has deepened over budgeting for the $12–14.5 billion (plus $12 billion for development and research) for the 100,000 ton Gerald Ford-class carrier (estimated service 2015) compared to the smaller $2 billion 45,000 ton America-class amphibious assault ships able to deploy squadrons of F-35B of which two are already under construction and twelve are planned.