Supercarrier is an unofficial descriptive term for the largest type of aircraft carrier, typically those displacing over 70,000 tons (64,000 metric tons). Supercarriers are the largest warships ever built, larger than the largest battleship class laid down by any country. The U.S. Navy has ten supercarriers as of 2014[update].
A few countries operate medium-sized fleet carriers of around 40,000 tons, such as the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91). The size and configuration of the Charles de Gaulle corresponds closely with the 45,000-ton Midway class the United States built at the end of World War II as a successor class to the much more numerous 27,000-ton Essex-class aircraft carrier, mainstay vessels of WWII after 1943 when they entered service. Outside the US, there are more light carriers closer to 30,000 tons, such as Italy's Cavour. In 2009 the United Kingdom cut the first steel for construction of two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, with the first ship to be delivered in early 2017 and expected to become fully operational by 2020. Their displacement is expected to be 65,000 metric tons, making them the third largest supercarrier class in service, after the United State's Gerald R. Ford (first expected in 2015) and Nimitz classes.
The first ship to be described by The New York Times as a supercarrier was HMS Ark Royal in 1938, with a length of 685 ft and a displacement of 22,000 tons, designed to carry 72 aircraft. In 1943 the superlative was transferred to the 45,000-ton Midway class carriers as a step-up from the 27,000-ton Essex-class aircraft carrier.
The post-war standard for supercarriers was set by the proposed USS United States and USS Forrestal. Forrestal displaced 60,000 tons standard and 78,000 tons in deep load and is considered the first operational supercarrier in the present-day sense, as used by the US press. The similar-sized United States would have been in service earlier, had it been completed; its cancellation triggered the "Revolt of the Admirals".
The Soviet Union's 85,000-ton nuclear carrier Ulyanovsk, closely comparable in size to earlier American supercarriers, was 40% complete when it and a follow-on vessel were canceled in 1991 during post-Cold War funding cuts.
As of 2014[update] the United Kingdom has two 70,000-ton Queen Elizabeth class carriers being built,  and France had until 2013 been considering building one vessel based on the same design. These ships are referred to as supercarriers by British legislators and the news media. The two Queen Elizabeth class carriers will provide the Royal Navy with capabilities much closer to United States Navy carriers than its current Invincible-class vessels. Giving evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee in 2004, 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:
I have talked with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) in America. He is very keen for us to get these because he sees us slotting in with his carrier groups. He really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have the same sort of clout as one of their carriers.
Future plans for supercarriers in the United States involve the construction of the U.S. Navy's next generation of carriers, the Gerald R. Ford class, which will have a 100,000-ton displacement.
The United States maintains ten of these ships. Given carriers' vulnerability in combat and to peacetime asymmetrical warfare attacks, the use of more and smaller carriers rather than large vessels has been suggested over the years, such as Elmo Zumwalt's Sea Control Ship, and carriers the size of USS America (LHA-6) carrying STOVL and UCAV aircraft. However, supercarrier advocates consider them to be more cost-effective than a larger number of smaller carriers. An American carrier strike group costs $25 million per week for routine operations, rising to $40 million during combat operations.
The mobile offshore base (MOB) is an extension of the supercarrier concept, a modular floating military base as large as 10 aircraft carriers. If realized, it could be moved anywhere throughout the world's oceans, obviating the need to seek permission from allied nations for use of land bases. The concept was studied in the 1990s by the U.S. government but was abandoned in 2001 as cost prohibitive.
- Forrestal class (1955): Four unit class, all decommissioned
- Kitty Hawk class (1961): Four unit class, all decommissioned
- Enterprise class (1961): Six unit class, five cancelled, one decommissioned
- Nimitz class (1975): 10 unit class, all active
- Kuznetsov class (1990): Two unit class, all active
- Gerald R. Ford class (2015): 10 unit class, two under construction, one ordered, 7 planned
- Queen Elizabeth class (2016): Two unit class, all under construction
- United States class (1950s): Five planned, one laid down, all cancelled
- Project 1153 OREL (1970s): Cancelled
- Ulyanovsk class (1990s): Two planned, one partially completed, all cancelled
- Porte-Avions 2 (2010s): One planned, cancelled
Supercarriers in service
|Country||Name (Hull number)||Length||Tonnage (mt)||Class||Propulsion||Type||Commission|
|China||Liaoning (CV-16)||304 m (997 ft)||59,100 mt||Kuznetsov||Conventional||STOBAR||25 September 2012|
|Russia||FADMSU Kuznetsov (063)||305 m (1,001 ft)||55,200 mt||Kuznetsov||Conventional||STOBAR||21 January 1991|
|US||Nimitz (CVN-68)||333 m (1,093 ft)||100,020 mt||Nimitz||Nuclear||CATOBAR||3 May 1975|
|US||Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69)||333 m (1,093 ft)||103,200 mt||Nimitz||Nuclear||CATOBAR||18 October 1977|
|US||Carl Vinson (CVN-70)||333 m (1,093 ft)||102,900 mt||Nimitz||Nuclear||CATOBAR||13 March 1982|
|US||Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)||333 m (1,093 ft)||106,300 mt||Nimitz||Nuclear||CATOBAR||25 October 1986|
|US||Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72)||333 m (1,093 ft)||105,783 mt||Nimitz||Nuclear||CATOBAR||11 November 1989|
|US||George Washington (CVN-73)||333 m (1,093 ft)||105,900 mt||Nimitz||Nuclear||CATOBAR||4 July 1992|
|US||John C. Stennis (CVN-74)||333 m (1,093 ft)||105,000 mt||Nimitz||Nuclear||CATOBAR||9 December 1995|
|US||Harry S. Truman (CVN-75)||333 m (1,093 ft)||105,600 mt||Nimitz||Nuclear||CATOBAR||25 July 1998|
|US||Ronald Reagan (CVN-76)||333 m (1,093 ft)||103,000 mt||Nimitz||Nuclear||CATOBAR||12 July 2003|
|US||George H.W. Bush (CVN-77)||333 m (1,093 ft)||104,000 mt||Nimitz||Nuclear||CATOBAR||10 January 2009|
Supercarriers under construction
|Country||Name (Hull number)||Length||Tonnage||Class||Propulsion||Type||Commission date||Status|
|UK||HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08)||280 m (920 ft)||65,000 mt||Queen Elizabeth||Conventional||STOVL||2017 (expected)||Being fitted out|
|UK||HMS Prince of Wales (R09)||280 m (920 ft)||65,000 mt||Queen Elizabeth||Conventional||STOVL||2018 (expected)||Under construction|
|US||USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)||333 m (1,093 ft)||102,000 mt||Gerald R. Ford||Nuclear||CATOBAR||2015 (expected)||Under construction|
|US||USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79)||333 m (1,093 ft)||102,000 mt||Gerald R. Ford||Nuclear||CATOBAR||2020 (expected)||Under construction|
- List of aircraft carrier classes of the United States Navy
- Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano
- Project Habakkuk
- David Miller and Lindsay Peacock, Carriers: The Men and the Machines (London and New York: Salamander, 1991), p. 7: "There are four main types of carrier in service today. Largest of these are the super-carriers displacing over 70,000 tons; the U.S. Navy currently has fourteen, the Soviet Navy one."
- USS Enterprise carrier taken out of active service
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The versatility of the current US carrier fleet is largely due to the operation of what the press has labeled 'super-carriers,' heavy duty aircraft carriers of the size, power, and potency of the Forrestals and the nuclear-powered Enterprise.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Aircraft carriers.|
- Haze Gray & Underway, World Aircraft Carrier Lists—comprehensive and detailed listings of all the world's aircraft carriers and seaplane tenders from 1913 to 2001, with photo gallery.
- Aircraft carriers of the USN