When World War II (WWII) ended with the advent of nuclear weapons, many suggested the era of the aircraft carrier and amphibious warfare was over. Yet every single one of the worldwide aircraft carriers – nearly 50 aircraft-carrying ships – described below was laid down after WWII. Today, at a time when criticism of the usefulness of aircraft carriers is particularly strident, seagoing nations across the globe are building or procuring air capable ships at a rate unseen for decades. Even the Chinese, who provoked much of the criticism of aircraft carriers when they announced their ‘carrier killer’ DF-21 ballistic missile, have commissioned one carrier and have announced they are building several others. They are doing so for the simple reason that no other naval vessel can perform the range of missions that the carrier can. From humanitarian operations to full-on conflict, none have the capacity to perform even a single mission with anything approaching an aircraft carrier’s effectiveness. The nations whose navies have aircraft-carrying ships as the centre pieces of their naval capabilities, whether they be multi-purpose amphibious warfare ships or conventional aircraft carriers, are described below.
Australia is building two Canberra-class LHDs to the same design as Spain’s Juan Carlos I, of almost 26,000 tons displacement and 231 meters (758 feet) overall length. The two ships are planned to embark up to 20 helicopters and have well decks that can hold four Landing Craft, Medium (LCM). Crew complement is expected to be 358 personnel, including aircrew, along with more than 1,000 troops. Up to 110 vehicles can be carried. Both ships are equipped to operate Short Take Off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft, and might do so in the future.
Brazil’s sole aircraft carrier is the former French Clemenceau-class carrier Foch, now renamed São Paulo. São Paulo, 265 meters (869 feet) long and displacing 34,000 tons full load, was commissioned in 1963 by the French navy and was transferred in 2000 to Brazil. São Paulo was designed as a Catapult Launch But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) ship, and has undergone a series of upgrades. She is rated at 30 knots and has a range of 7,000 nautical miles at 18 knots. São Paulo can embark an air group of up to 40 aircraft, including AF-1 Skyhawks (formerly of the Kuwaiti air force), and assorted helicopters. Her crew complement is approximately 1,600 including the air wing.
In 1998, China purchased the stripped hulk of the former Russian aircraft carrier Varyag and towed it to Dalian Shipyard, where it emerged after 13 years for commissioning, bearing the new name Liaoning. Designated a training carrier, the Short-Takeoff But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) configured ship is 304 meters (997 feet) overall in length, and presumably near the displacement of her sister Kuznetsov, at more than 58,000 tons. Refitted with Chinese radar, electronics, engines, and weapons, Liaoning went on sea trials in 2011, and as commissioned in September 2012. Deck landings and launches of J-15 aircraft, essentially copies of Sukhoi Su-33s, took place in 2012 and 2013. Little is known about the air group, performance, range, or complement of the aircraft carrier. China has said it plans to build at least two more carriers of an indigenous design.
France operates the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, likely to be the only ship of its class. The CATOBAR-configured De Gaulle is 262 meters (859 feet) overall, and displaces 42,000 tons fully loaded. Her submarine-derived nuclear reactors give her a top speed of 27 knots, and her range is unlimited. The carrier embarks an air group of more than 40 Rafale M, Super Étendard, and Hawkeye airplanes, and Caracal and Cougar helicopters. De Gaulle accommodates up to 1,950 crewmembers, including air group and flag staff. A program to build a second aircraft carrier has been postponed. France also has three Mistral-class large deck amphibious assault ships – Mistral, Tonnerre, and Dixmude – each more than 21,000 tons displacement and 199 meters (652 feet) overall length. They have a top speed of 19 knots, and a range, at 15 knots, of 11,000 nautical miles. Each can embark between 16 and 35 helicopters, and boast well decks capable of handling two LCAC hovercraft or four landing craft. Crew is 177, plus 450 troops and up to 60 armored vehicles.