Top 15 Biggest Aircraft Carriers in the World

The world’s biggest aircraft carriers are not mere vessels equipped to engage in warfare. With never-ending territorial disputes, an aircraft carrier symbolises prestige and power for global navies.

These new ‘battleships’ have been one of the most significant assets to the warfare merchandise of all nations. Ever since their inception, these ships have made a massive difference in the defence systems of several countries.

The biggest aircraft carriers are floating air bases equipped with a full-length flight deck capable of carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft. Acting as the capital ship of a naval fleet on a waterfront, these vessels can carry numerous aircraft, including fighters, strike aircraft, helicopters laden with efficient weapon systems, etc.

Most world powers are operating or building technologically advanced aircraft carriers to safeguard their maritime rights and interests. There are a total of 41 active aircraft carriers in operation by thirteen navies across the world.

While the US Navy has the most number of -eleven -aircraft carriers in service, the navies of China and the UK operate two aircraft carriers, and India, France, Russia, and Italy currently operate a single aircraft carrier each (However, India is ready to launch its homemade aircraft carrier in 2022).

In addition, countries such as Japan (4), France (3), Australia (2), Egypt (2), Brazil (1), South Korea (1), and Thailand (1) operate a total of fourteen small carriers that are capable of only carrying helicopters.

Here is a list of the top 10 most notable and largest aircraft carriers worldwide.

1. USS Gerald R Ford Class (CVN-78)

The world’s biggest aircraft carrier title belongs to the US Navy’s Gerald R Ford Class battleships. The first carrier in this class, USS Gerald R. Ford, was commissioned in May 2017, and the four remaining vessels announced for this class are under construction.

Gerald R Ford Class
Representation Image

The Gerald R Ford, currently active in service, is 337m long with a beam of 78m. The vessels feature a total load displacement of 100,000t, and its 78m flight deck features an electromagnetic aircraft launch system and advanced arresting gear. USS Gerald R. Ford can carry over 75 aircraft and accommodate 4,539 personnel. It is fueled by two nuclear reactors and has RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles, Airframe Missiles or RAMS and Phalanx close-in weapon system or CIWS.

2. Nimitz Class, USA

The US Navy’s ten Nimitz class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are the second-largest aircraft carriers in the world. They are certainly one of the best breeds and flaunt all the features such battleships require. Named after the World War II US Pacific Fleet commander Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the lead ship of this class, USS Nimitz, was launched in May 1975, and the tenth and last of the course, USS George H.W. Bush, was commissioned in January 2009.

Nimitz Class
Representation Image

With a total load displacement of 97,000t, these 332.8m-long aircraft carriers have a 4.5-acre flight deck capable of carrying over 60 aircraft. These ships can accommodate 3,000 to 3,200 ship company, 1,500 air wings, and 500 other crew. They are powered by two nuclear reactors and can reach a speed of over 30 kt.

They were constructed in 1968 and launched in 1972. Soon, they were re-launched as multirole carriers with a nuclear propulsion system.

3. Queen Elizabeth Class, UK

The largest aircraft carriers of the UK Royal Navy are the third-largest aircraft carriers in the world. The biggest warships ever built for the British Navy, the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers are also the second-largest non-US Navy warships after Japan’s Yamato-class battleships.

Queen Elizabeth Class
Representation Image

Among the Royal Navy’s two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth was commissioned in December 2017, while HMS Prince of Wales was launched in December 2017 and commissioned in December 2019.

Both vessels have a displacement of around 65,000 tonnes and measure 280 meters in length. The vessels can embark on up to 40 rotary and fixed-wing aircraft. They can embark on 36 F-35B and four Merlin Helicopters. Featuring the latest technology and automated systems aboard, these vessels only require a crew of 679 for a combat operation.

4. Fujian, China

Jiangnan Shipyard of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation in Shanghai launched the nation’s third aircraft carrier on 17th June 2022. China now has the highest number of aircraft carriers in the world after the US.

The Fujian aircraft carrier is named after the country’s eastern coastal province across from Taiwan. 

Fujian
Credits: @Military9News / Twitter

The 1st indigenous aircraft carrier, the new-generation Fujian (Type 003), is said to be more technologically advanced and efficient than China’s other two aircraft carriers.

The other two are Shandong (Type 001), commissioned in 2019 and the Liaoning ( Type 002), a second-hand carrier bought from Ukraine in 1998.

Fujian boasts a full-load displacement of around 80,000 tonnes, which is more than the other Chinese carriers and comparable to the aircraft carriers of the US Navy. It is 316 m long and has a beam of 76 m. 

It is also the nation’s first aircraft carrier to utilise an electromagnetic catapult for launching aircraft from the deck instead of a ski ramp used by Liaoning and Shandong carriers. Fujian also has a flat-top flight deck for smooth take-offs and landings.

5. Liaoning, China

The aircraft carrier in operation with China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the type 001 aircraft carrier Liaoning, is the fourth largest aircraft carrier in the world. Initially planned as the second Kuznetsov-class aircraft for the Soviet Navy, the vessel was later purchased by China after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. It has an overall length of 304.5 m and an overall beam of 75 m.

Liaoning
Representation Image

The ship was rebuilt and commissioned for PLAN in September 2012. Currently classified as a training ship, Liaoning offers a platform for the Navy to experiment, train and become familiar with aircraft carrier operations. Displacing more than 58,000t (full load), Liaoning can carry around 50 aircraft, including fixed-wing planes and helicopters.

6. Shandong, China

The 2nd aircraft carrier of China, Shandong, was launched on April 26, 2017. Unlike its predecessor (Liaoning), the Shandong is China’s first domestically built carrier.

Both carriers are similar in size and use a STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) system to launch and recover aircraft. However, being constructed in recent years, Shandong features much more advanced technology and noticeable equipment, which makes it the lead aircraft carrier for China.

Shandong
Representation Image

The Shandong measures 305 meters in length and has a beam of 75 meters with a total load displacement of 70,000 tons. It can carry a maximum of 44 aircraft on its deck.

7. Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia

Russia’s Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier is one of the best aircraft carriers currently in service. Currently serving as the flagship of the Russian Navy, the 305m-long Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, with a beam of 72m, has a full load displacement of 58,500t. With its multi-role capacity, this heavily armed ship can potentially serve as an aircraft carrier besides being laced with armaments that make it deadly enough.

Admiral Kuznetsov
Representation Image

Its 14,700m² flight deck facility can carry up to 33 fixed-wing aircraft and 12 helicopters. The aircraft carrier can accommodate Su-33, MiG-29K, Su-25UTG/UBP STOVL fighters, Ka-27S, Ka-27LD32, and Ka-27PLO helicopters. Admiral Kuznetsov can also house 1,960 ship companies, 626 air groups, and 40 flagstaffs abroad.

As of July 2021, Admiral Kuznetsov is out of service for a repair and refit. A falling 70-ton crane damaged it from the floating dry dock PD-50 in November 2018 that killed two during the refit. It is planned to go to an upgrade in June 2022.

8. INS Vikrant, India

INS Vikrant is an indigenous aircraft carrier that is the first aircraft carrier conceptualized and constructed in India. The construction happened in the Cochin Shipyard Limited. The ship has completed the sea trials and will be commissioned in the coming months (August 2022). The total project cost was approximately US$3.1 billion.

INS IAC Vikrant
Image Credits: @SpokespersonMoD

The loaded displacement of the ship is around 45.000 tons, and the ship measures 262m in length and 59m in width (Beam). Even though INS Vikramaditya is bigger in dimensions, INS Vikrant can carry a maximum of 40 aircraft on its deck and is technologically more advanced than INS Vikramaditya.

9. Charles De Gaulle, France

The first French nuclear-powered surface ship, Charles De Gaulle, is one of France’s most important flight carriers and has been in service since 2001. The ship, which has a total displacement of 36,000 tons with a 780X103X27.8 feet structure, is the only nuclear-powered carrier with navies other than the US Navy.

Charles De Gaulle
Representation Image

With a displacement of 42,500 tonnes, the battleship can carry up to 40 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, including Rafale M, E-2C Hawkeye, Super Étendard, EC725 Caracal, AS532 Cougar, and SA365 Dauphin. The aircraft carrier can attain a maximum speed of 27 knots and has been provided with two K17 reactors for propulsion. Its design has been made considering the need for a battleship to show versatility and stealth. Known for its multirole, the ship is highly combatting friendly, with both assaulting and carrying roles.

10. INS Vikramaditya, India

The Indian Navy’s largest warship in service, INS Vikramaditya, also finds its place among the biggest aircraft carriers in the world. This 283.5-meter-long beam of 61 meters is a modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier that entered service in 2013.

INS Vikramaditya
Image Credits: @Indian Navy

Previously served the Soviet Navy and the Russian Navy under Baku and Admiral Gorshkov, respectively. India purchased this battleship in January 2004. With a displacement of 45,400t, INS Vikramaditya can carry a maximum of 36 aircraft, including 26 Mikoyan MiG-29K multi-role fighters and 10 Kamov Ka-31 AEW&C and Kamov Ka-28 ASW helicopters.

11. Cavour, Italy

The flagship of the Italian Navy, the Cavour aircraft carrier, has a full load displacement of 30,000t and features several defence systems, such as short-range defence systems, guns and decoy launchers.

Cavour
Representation Image

With a 232.6m x 34.5m flight deck, Cavour can accommodate up to 20 aircraft, including AV-8B Harrier and JSF and EH101, AB212, NH 90 and SH3D helicopters. The 244-long aircraft carrier with a beam of 39m can also hold up to 24 main battle tanks. Its maximum speed is 16 knots, achieved with the help of six diesel generators.

12. Juan Carlos I, Spain

Juan Carlos I is an aircraft carrier of the Spanish Navy. It is named after the former Spanish King and is the largest ship ever constructed in the history of the Spanish Navy. It was launched in September 2009 and commissioned on September 30, 2010. 

The aircraft carrier is 230.8 m long and has a 32 m beam. It has a displacement of 27,079 tonnes and a range of 9000 nautical miles at 15 knots. It is powered by a diesel-electric propulsion system and can attain a maximum speed of 21 knots. 

Juan Carlos I
Credits: Engineering Channel / YouTube

It has a 202 m flight deck with a ski-jump ramp equipped with AV-8B Harrier II aircraft. It has a multi-functional garage and hangar area on 2 levels spanning 6000 square metres. 

Juan Carlos I has 11 decks, including a floating, heavy, hangar, medium, and flying deck. It can easily accommodate 1,400 personnel, including 890 embarked forces and 247 crew. 

It was designed to operate during amphibious operations, joint force projection, Disaster relief work and Humanitarian assistance.

13. Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italy

An Italian aircraft carrier, Guissepe Garibaldi is the 1st through-deck ship constructed for the Italian Navy. It is also the first Italian vessel constructed to operate fixed-wing aircraft.

She has short take-off and vertical landing aircraft and helicopters and has been a part of several combat operations off the coast of Libya, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Somalia. 

Giuseppe Garibaldi
Credits: @ItalianNavy / Twitter

Also, it is the 14th ship of the Italian Navy to be named after 19th-century Italian General Giuseppe Garibaldi. 

The ship was built by Fincantieri at Monfalcone Shipyards near Trieste Gulf. She was launched on 11th June 1983 and commissioned in 1985. 

She is 180.2 m long and has a beam of 33.4 m with an 8.2 m draught. She has a full-load displacement of 14,150 tonnes and a top speed of 30 knots. Her range is 7000 nautical miles at 20 knots, and she can carry about 830 people. 

She has a 174 m long and 30 m wide flight deck and can accommodate about 18 aircraft. 

14. HTMS Chakri Naruebet, Thailand

HTMS Chakri Naruebet is the flagship of the Navy of Thailand. It is also the country’s only aircraft carrier, inspired by the design of the Spanish aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias.

It was built by Spanish shipbuilder Bazan and launched in 1996. It was commissioned into the Royal Thai Navy in 1997. It is the pride of the nation and even the region as it is the first aircraft carrier operated by a Southeast Asian country. 

HTMS Chakri Naruebet
Credits: กองทัพเรือ Royal Thai Navy / Facebook

Her home port is Chuk Samet Pier, Sattahip Naval Base, where she was named by HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej. 

The ship has 11 floors and measures 182.65 m lengthwise and 30.5 m breadthwise with a 6.12 m draught. She has a range of 10,000 nautical miles at 12 knots and can attain a maximum speed of 25.5 knots. 

It is also equipped with cutting-edge munitions and a long-range search radar system. It can carry up to 675 troops and has a 174.6-long and 27.5 m-wide flight deck and hangar space for 10 aircraft.

It is made for vertical take-off and landing aeroplanes and helicopters. It functions as a flagship, commanding the naval fleet during warfare and overseeing air defence and combat on the seas.

During normal times, it protects the nation’s interests at sea, assists in disaster relief and protects the marine environment.

15. TCG Anadolu, Turkey

Anadolu is an assault ship which can also be configured as a V/STOL aircraft carrier. It is named after Anatolia, which forms the majority of the Turkish landmass. 

Construction began on 30th April 2016 at Sedef Shipbuilding Inc. in Istanbul, and the keel was laid on 7th February 2018. It was commissioned on 10th April 2023. 

TCG Anadolu
Credits: @trtworld / Twitter

It is designed in such a way that it meets all the requirements of the Turkish Armed Forces, such as long-distance military combat and humanitarian relief operations. 

It is also the world’s first drone carrier. Interestingly, 70% of the ship was built using local resources over a period of 7 years. 

Anadolu is 231 m long and 32 m wide and can carry helicopters, too. It has 27,079 tonnes of displacement and a 6.9 m draught. 

Conclusion

Hence, aircraft carriers are a vital component of naval warfare, and their importance is increasing in the modern age when countries are willing to invest a lot in military expenditure. 

The largest aircraft carriers in the world are marvels of technology and engineering. They have a diverse range of capabilities, going from power projection to humanitarian aid and disaster relief. 

They are not only massive in size but have several risks associated with their operations and maintenance. Nonetheless, countries should try to develop new aircraft carriers that are less harmful to the environment by creating sustainable technologies. 

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Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.

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9 Comments

  1. Why are you referring to carriers as battleships? They are totally different classes of ships. Nobody else seems to be doing this.

  2. Why don’t you use feet in describing the length and beam of US ships, after all these are US Navy ships and that is the standard measurement we use. The last comment is correct as well, The designation Battleship was used for a specific type of ship with several battery,s of large caliber of guns. Built at the end of the 19th century until the mid 1940s. Aircraft carriers are also specificity designed to carry Aircraft.

  3. The absence of fossil fuels onboard also frees up much more room for missiles and bombs.
    This case is true in both submarines and naval vessels.
    Nuclear electric energy provides catapults and sensors with more energy than fossil fuels.
    However, there are only two countries with nuclear aircraft carriers in the world: the United States and France.
    France has the Charles de Gaulle, one nuclear carrier.

  4. US Navy carriers carry fossil fuels…there are generators on ships that require it as well as the aircraft.

  5. The U.S. military uses metric measurements extensively to ensure interoperability with allied forces, particularly NATO Standardization Agreements (STANAG). Ground forces have measured distances in “klicks”, slang for kilometers, since 1918.[62] Most military firearms are measured in metric units, beginning with the M-14 which was introduced in 1957,[58] although there are a few legacy exceptions, such as .50-caliber guns. Aircraft ordnance is normally measured in pounds. Heavy weapon caliber is measured in millimeters. Military vehicles are generally built to metric standards. An exception is the U.S. Navy, whose guns are measured in inches and whose undersea fleet measures distances in terms of “kiloyards”[63][64] (equivalent to 914.4 m), depth as “feet”, and velocity, in some cases, as “feet per second”. The Navy and Air Force continue to measure distance in nautical miles and speed in knots; these units are now accepted for use with SI by the BIPM.[65] Furthermore, in military aviation NATO countries use feet for flight heights, as they do in the civilian aviation.

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