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 air power great distances 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 and rotary wing aircraft.
Artist's impression of the US Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier
The current US fleet of Nimitz-class carriers are to 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.
Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Vladimir Masorin officially stated on June 23, 2007, that the Navy was considering the specifications of a new nuclear aircraft carrier design for the class that was first announced about a month earlier. Production of the carriers is expected to start around 2010 at the Zvezdochka plant in Severodvinsk, where a large drydock, capable of launching vessels with more than 100,000 ton displacement, is now being built. In his statement, Admiral Masorin said that the general dimensions of the project have already been determined. The projected carrier is to have nuclear propulsion, to displace about 50,000 tons and to carry an air wing of 30–50 air superiority aircraft and helicopters, which makes her roughly comparable with the French Charles de Gaulle. "The giants that the US Navy builds, those that carry 100–130 aircraft, we won't build anything like that", said Admiral Masorin. The planned specifications reflect the role, traditional in the Russian Navy, of the aircraft carrier as an air support platform for guided missile cruisers and submarines.
Impression of the Queen Elizabeth-class, two of which are under construction for the Royal Navy.
The Royal Navy has signed a deal to build two new larger STOVL aircraft carriers, the Queen Elizabeth-class, to replace the three Invincible-class carriers. The ships are to 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 2014 and 2016 respectively. 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. Initially to be configured for STOVL operations, the carriers are to be adaptable to STOBAR or CATOBAR configurations to allow any type of future generation of aircraft to operate from them.
The 231-metre-long, 27,000 tonne Juan Carlos I for the Spanish Navy was approved in 2003, and its construction started in August 2005, with the shipbuilding firm Navantia in charge of the project. The ship was launched on 10 March 2008, and is due to be commissioned in 2011. Juan Carlos I is designed to operate both as an amphibious assault ship and as STOVL aircraft carrier, depending on the mission assigned. The design was made keeping in mind the low-intensity conflicts in which the Spanish Navy is likely to be involved in the future. When configured for air operations the ship will displace 24,660 tonnes and will be able to carry a mixed force of up to 30 aircraft comprising AV-8B+ Matadors, F-35s and helicopters. The ship is provided with a ski-jump and a three-dimensional radar-based combat system.