A supercarrier is a ship belonging to the largest class of aircraft carrier, and generally has a displacement greater than 75,000 tons. Most countries that have carriers operate ones that have a displacement of less than 40,000 tons (such as Charles de Gaulle, INS Vikramaditya), and more often closer to 20,000 (such as HMS Invincible, INS Viraat). Supercarriers currently hold the world record of the largest warships ever built; however, they are not the largest ships ever built, as the world’s largest supertankers are larger and heavier than supercarriers. Supercarrier is not an official designation.


The 81,000-ton USS Forrestal was the first operational supercarrier, though USS United States would have been in service earlier, had it been completed; its cancellation triggered the "Revolt of the Admirals". United States would have had a nuclear strategic bombing role, rather than the multipurpose role that all subsequent supercarriers have had, carrying tactical fighters only for defense. The 72,000-ton armored Japanese carrier Shinano of the World War II era was almost heavy enough to be considered a supercarrier, but lacked several defining features, such as catapults, arrestor wires, and angled flight decks, and also did not possess the sheer size of modern supercarriers. Because of the angled deck and large deck area, supercarriers can have a far larger island than conventional carriers, greatly improving both their aviation capabilities and their capability as flagships.

The U.S. Navy is now the only major sea power building large aircraft carriers, of which the 100,000-ton Nimitz class is the most prolific. All completed supercarriers are American, although the Soviet Union did begin construction of Ulyanovsk, an 85,000-ton nuclear carrier comparable in size to earlier American supercarriers. Ulyanovsk was 40% complete when canceled, along with a follow-on vessel, due to lack of funding after the end of the Cold War in 1991. Admiral Kuznetsov was completed, but, while considerably larger than the earlier Kiev class, it is still too small to be considered a true supercarrier.

While not supercarriers as defined above, the two Queen Elizabeth class vessels will provide the United Kingdom with capabilities much closer to United States Navy carriers than their current Invincible class vessels. Indeed, they will be the second largest carriers in service, with a displacement of 65,000 tons possibly rising to 75,000 tons near end of service in the 2050 (due to refits and extra equipment fits) period. 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.


  • United States (USA, 1950s): Single-unit laid down, canceled along with four others
  • Forrestal class (USA, 1955): Four-unit class, all decommissioned
  • Kitty Hawk class (USA, 1961): Three-unit class, two decommissioned, one active
  • Enterprise (USA, 1961): Single-unit class, still active
  • John F. Kennedy (USA, 1968): Single-unit class, a modified Kitty Hawk design, decommissioned
  • Orel (USSR, 1970s): canceled
  • Nimitz-class (USA, 1975): Final unit (of ten) scheduled for completion in 2008, all units still active
  • Ulyanovsk (USSR, 1990s): Two units canceled after partial completion
  • Gerald R. Ford class (USA, 2013): One unit in construction, two pending, construction of more units likely over coming decades

See also

External links

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