Summary List Placement
Few weapons have made an impact on warfare like the aircraft carrier. Just a few decades after the first purpose-built carrier was commissioned by the Japanese in 1922, they became essential instruments of naval warfare. US carriers played pivotal roles in World War II naval battles and in nearly every war or conflict the US has been involved in since. "When word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it's no accident that the first question that comes to everyone's lips is: 'Where's the nearest carrier?'" President Bill Clinton said on the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 1993. With decades of hard experience, the US Navy has mastered carrier warfare, fielding some of the most impressive vessels in history. Starting small
The first operational class of carrier was the Lexington class. Both ships of the class, Lexington and Saratoga, were intended to be battlecruisers but were converted after the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which limited the number of battleships and cruisers the US Navy could have. They were 880 feet long, had a crew of over 2,000, and could carry up to 90 aircraft. They were also originally fitted with eight 8-inch guns in four turrets in front of and behind the carrier island, because early carrier doctrine dictated that aircraft alone were insufficient armament.
The two ships were commissioned in 1927. They were two of three carriers in the Pacific Fleet when Pearl Harbor was attacked but, luckily, were at sea and avoided being destroyed. Both saw action in the Pacific. Aircraft from Lexington helped sink the Japanese carrier Shōhō and prevent a Japanese invasion of Port Moresby at the Battle of the Coral Sea, but it was scuttled after sustaining too much damage. Saratoga saw action at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, where its aircraft sank the carrier Ryūjō. It served in four campaigns and was damaged at the Battle of Iwo Jima. After the war it was sunk as a target ship during the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1949. The first true carriers
The US Navy's first purpose-built carriers were the Yorktown class. It had three ships: Yorktown, Enterprise, and Hornet. They were over 800 feet long, had a crew of 2,900, and could carry 80 to 90 aircraft. The armament included eight 5-inch guns, 16 1.1-inch anti-aircraft guns in four quad mounts, and up to 24 .50-caliber machine guns. The 1.1-inch guns and .50-caliber machine guns on Enterprise were later replaced with 40 40-mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns and 50 20-mm Oerlikon cannons. The Yorktown class is famous for bearing the brunt of US carrier action during the early months of World War II — part of Enterprise's air group was present at Pearl Harbor during the attack and engaged Japanese aircraft, and it was the ship that carried the Doolittle Raid bombers to Japan. Two Yorktown-class ships were sunk by enemy action: Yorktown at the Battle of Midway and Hornet at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. Enterprise fought in almost every major action of the Pacific and became the most decorated US ship of World War II. Its planes and guns shot down 911 enemy planes, sunk 71 ships, and damaged 192 more. The backbone of the US Navy
After the Washington Naval Treaty expired in 1936, the US Navy set about building more modern carriers. The result was the Essex class, the lead ship of which entered service in 1942. Due to the demands of World War II, "short-hull" and "long-hull" versions of Essex-class carriers were built, and many were modified and refitted throughout the war. They were between 872 feet and 888 feet long, had crews of over 3,000, and could carry 90 to 100 aircraft. They were outfitted with four twin and four single 5-inch gun turrets, 60 20-mm canons, and sometimes as many as 68 40-mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns.
Essex-class carriers became the backbone of the US Navy's strength during the war. Twenty-four were completed in total — more than any other capital ship in the 20th century — and they saw action in almost all major naval battles of the Pacific. Although none were lost, some took massive damage. USS Bunker Hill and USS Franklin, for instance, suffered kamikaze and air attacks that killed 390 and 800 crewmen, respectively. The carriers were used long after World War II and were constantly upgraded and modified. Some were given angled flight decks and the ability to carry jets. A few carriers even served in Vietnam. The last Essex-class carrier, used as a training ship, was decommissioned in 1991. Enter the super carriers
The dawn of the jet age meant a new type of carrier was needed — one that could carry large numbers of jets and operate for extended periods in support of operations inland. The Midway-class achieved this in some respects but still had to be upgraded to meet demand. The answer was a new generation of vessels known as "supercarriers," an unofficial designation often given to carriers of this era and those that followed. Four types of supercarriers have seen action with the US Navy: the Forrestal class, Kitty Hawk class, the Enterprise class, and the Nimitz class. All were over 1,000 feet long and crew sizes from 4,300 to over 5,000. All were built with angled decks and four steam-powered catapults, which allowed them to launch jets with heavier payloads as well as larger reconnaissance and transport planes. Instead of naval and anti-aircraft guns, they were armed with anti-air missiles and Phalanx Close-in Weapons Systems, or CIWS, capable of firing 4,500 20-mm rounds a minute. They could hold anywhere from 60 to 90 aircraft including helicopters, and, more recently, drones.
In 1961, the USS Enterprise, the only ship of its class to be built, entered service with the Navy. Powered by nuclear reactors, Enterprise revolutionized carrier design. As a result of its success, the following Nimitz-class carriers are all nuclear-powered, giving them virtually unlimited range, though the reactors need to be refueled at some point during the carrier's service life. Supercarriers quickly made their mark on history. Forrestal and Kitty Hawk carriers served in Vietnam, as did Enterprise. The Nimitz class first saw action in the 1981 Gulf of Sidra incident off Libya and, along with other supercarriers, was used extensively in the Gulf War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Supercarriers were also involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis. More recently, Nimitz-class carriers were involved in airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Today, the only carriers in service with the US Navy are the 10 Nimitz-class carriers and one from the new Gerald R. Ford-class, which is meant to replace the Nimitz class in the coming decades. Ford-class carriers are about 1,100 feet long, have a crew of 4,500, and can carry 75 aircraft, including the Navy's new F-35C stealth fighter. The ships feature a suite of new technology and systems, including the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, which uses electromagnetic power instead of steam. The first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford has struggled to get underway, but designers and crew continue to work through the problems, which have helped inform the design and construction of the next carriers in the class.SEE ALSO: Here are the bombers the US has used to dominate skies all over the world for over 80 years Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How the US's futuristic new aircraft carrier will change naval warfare forever
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China is getting ready to field its 3rd aircraft carrier — here's why they're no match for US flattops
Summary List Placement Of all the new weapons in China's modern, ever-growing military arsenal, few have...Summary List Placement Of all the new weapons in China's modern, ever-growing military arsenal, few have gotten as much attention as its aircraft carriers. China has two carriers in service with a third on the way. The first, the Liaoning, was commissioned in 2012, while the second, the Shandong, was commissioned in December 2019. Chinese state media has repeatedly displayed the ships in flashy videos showing off their capabilities, the most recent of which was released at the end of last August. Despite the hype and praise lavished on them, China's carriers are just not that big a threat compared to US carriers. An outdated design Both the Liaoning and Shandong are based on the Soviet-designed Kuznetsov-class carrier of the 1980s. The ship that became Liaoning, in fact, was being built as a Kuznetsov-class carrier for the Soviet navy until its construction was halted by the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. China purchased the incomplete hull from Ukraine in 1998 and then did a nearly decade-long refit in an attempt to turn the ship into a true aircraft carrier, removing some older Soviet-designed systems like its missile arsenal. The Shandong was given upgrades as well. But one relic of their Soviet origin still hampers their effectiveness: ski-jump ramps. The ski-jump is part of the Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system, which launches an aircraft by forcing it upward as it speeds down the deck, allowing it to take off with less speed than normally required. STOBAR carriers come with a significant trade off in that the aircraft have to be light in order to take off. This means Chinese jets can only carry a handful of missiles and have a limited fuel capacity. In contrast, US carriers use steam-powered (and eventually electromagnetically powered) catapults to launch aircraft, allowing them to take off with heavier payloads. US carriers can launch fighters, fighter-bombers, surveillance and airborne-control aircraft, and even small transports, while Chinese carriers can only launch fighter jets with limited strike capability. Chinese carriers must also launch their jets one at a time, while US carriers can launch two jets within seconds. An inferior air wing Added to this is the fact that China's current naval fighter, the J-15 Flying Shark, is believed to be largely inferior to its American counterparts. Like China's carriers, the J-15 is based on a Soviet design. Unable to buy the Su-33 carrier-based fighter from Russia, the Chinese instead bought an unfinished Su-33 prototype from Ukraine and reverse-engineered it. The result is a carrier fighter plagued with problems. While the prototype provided a good frame, it did not include the Su-33's engines. China, known for having difficulty producing efficient jet engines, had to settle for underpowered domestic versions. The underpowered engines and other mechanical issues resulted in numerous crashes, some fatal, that were such a problem that at one point the entire J-15 fleet was grounded for three months. The J-15 is also the heaviest carrier-based fighter in service — an unwelcome distinction given the limits of the STOBAR system. The J-15's empty weight, or without any fuel or weapons, of 38,000 pounds is nearly 6,000 pounds heavier than the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and 4,000 pounds heavier than the F-35C. A different mission Other differences compound the weaknesses of China's carriers. Their total air wings are smaller (40 and 44 on Liaoning and Shandong compared to 60 and 75 on the Nimitz and Gerald R. Ford-classes). Chinese carriers are believed to be slower and can only operate at sea for roughly six days before needing to refuel, whereas US nuclear-powered carriers can operate continuously for years as long as the crew is resupplied. What's more, the Chinese have less than a decade of experience with carrier operations, while the US has close to a century of hard-earned experience from multiple conflicts across numerous continents. But it is important to remember that China has a different mission in mind for its carriers. "It has little to do with fighting Taiwan or even fighting in the East China Sea," Timothy Heath, a senior defense researcher at the Rand Corporation, told Insider. "In both of those situations, carriers are probably not going to last very long." Rather, China is hoping to use its carriers to help secure the important Indian Ocean trade routes that are the maritime part of China's Belt and Road Initiative. "That's the real value of these, and it's worth bearing that in mind when we start to question why they are willing to spend so much money on building carriers with limited air capacity," Heath said. "For that mission, it may be enough." Most of East Asia's oil imports flow through important choke points like the Strait of Malacca, and because China lacks allies in the region, it does not yet have military bases that can guarantee security to its interests there. Moreover, the presence of rivals like India — which has its own carriers — increase China's need for carriers to support its naval operations in the region. "They are the mobile air bases to go with the ships to provide security as a way to compensate for the fact that they don't have a string of military bases on land along that Indian Ocean route," Heath said. A steep learning curve The Chinese mainland's prime defense against enemy carriers is not China's carriers but its anti-access/area-denial arsenal, which includes ballistic missiles, submarines, ground-based aircraft, and navy surface ships. It is also worth noting that while China's current carriers may be inadequate, a new generation of carriers is under construction. The latest, the Type 003-class, which will have a flat deck rather than a ski jump, is believed to feature a steam-powered or electromagnetic catapult launch system and is expected to enter service in 2024, though state media claims it could be launched as soon as the end of this year. China is also reportedly working hard to replace the J-15 with a stealth fighter. With China's ability to build ships extremely fast and its strong commitment to military modernization, the current carriers could turn out to be training vessels that help it gain carrier experience. Until then, China's carriers have a lot to learn before they can rival US flattops. "It's a steep learning curve, and they are still on that curve," Heath said.SEE ALSO: How Navy aircraft carriers have projected US military might all over the world for 86 years Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How the US's futuristic new aircraft carrier will change naval warfare forever
The US Navy flaunted its aircraft carrier strength on social media on Sunday, as the chief...The US Navy flaunted its aircraft carrier strength on social media on Sunday, as the chief of naval operations announced that six of the Navy's 11 carriers are at sea. The post comes as the service continues to deal with the coronavirus outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt that has left the carrier sidelined in Guam for more than a month. The US military has repeatedly stressed the need to maintain readiness during the pandemic, with the secretary of defense saying just this week that "these are uncertain times ... so we got to remain vigilant out there on the front lines." Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. The US Navy flaunted its aircraft carrier strength on Sunday, revealing that it currently has more than half of the carrier fleet underway. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday tweeted that six carriers, the Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, Nimitz, Lincoln, and Ford, are all underway, adding that the Navy is a "#ForcetobeReckonedWith." #ICYMI – the @USNavy has 6 carriers underway right now. Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, Nimitz, Lincoln, and Ford all operating where ships belong ... at sea. We are a #ForcetobeReckonedWith. @USPacificFleet @USFleetForces @US5thFleet @USNavyEurope pic.twitter.com/LFod58nHXF — USNavyCNO (@USNavyCNO) May 10, 2020 The Navy also mentioned US carrier strength in its daily COVID-19 email update. SIX #USNavy Aircraft Carriers are out at sea 🌊!!! In this era of Great Power Competition, it’s important that the @USNavy operates continuously at sea! #ForceToBeReckonedWith #PowerForPeace https://t.co/8dn58V5P91 — U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet (@USNavyEurope) May 10, 2020 The Navy's carrier flex comes as the service continues to grapple with the challenges of a coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The aircraft carrier's Pacific deployment was upended by the virus, which has left the ship sidelined in Guam since late March. The service is no longer providing specific details on the Big Stick's status, but as of the last detailed update on April 30, the ship was dealing with 1,102 active cases among the roughly 4,800 sailors assigned to the carrier. The entire ship was tested for the coronavirus, and more than 4,200 sailors were moved off the ship in response to the outbreak on board. Sailors have started to return to the ship, but it may be a few more weeks before the carrier is ready to get underway. In addition to the carrier, the Navy also had a serious outbreak aboard the deployed destroyer USS Kidd, which was forced to return to port. Despite these setbacks, the Navy has repeatedly stressed that it has not been weakened by the coronavirus, reporting in its recent COVID-19 updates that it has more than one-third of its 299 ships currently deployed at sea and that these vessels do not have any active cases. Among the six of the Navy's 11 aircraft carriers mentioned Sunday, at least two, the Nimitz and the Reagan, had reported coronavirus cases among sailors assigned to them, although they did not result in outbreaks aboard the ships, and one, the Truman, has been unable to return home due to the coronavirus. Throughout the pandemic, the US military has emphasized the need to maintain readiness as countries like China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran continue to cause headaches. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Monday that while the US is largely focused on the ongoing fight against the coronavirus at home, the US military is "still seeing all the same bad behavior out there that we saw before." "These are uncertain times," Esper said. "You don't know how states or militaries will act. So we got to remain vigilant out there on the front lines." Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned US service members last month that "many of our adversaries, as you know, are trying to exploit this crisis, so it's important that we maintain readiness." The general added that it would be a "terrible and tragic mistake" for US adversaries and rivals to think they can get the better of the US "at a time of crisis." "As the forward deployed force of our country, we have a duty to ensure we are ready to respond. We cannot simply take a knee or keep everyone in port until this enemy is defeated," Adm. Gilday said in a message to the fleet this week. "We are America's away team," he continued. "The uncertainty caused by COVID-19 makes our mission of protecting America at sea more important than ever."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: We tested a machine that brews beer at the push of a button
US Navy finishes testing every sailor on aircraft carrier hit by coronavirus, with over 800 testing positive
The US Navy has finished testing the entire crew of the coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier USS Theodore...The US Navy has finished testing the entire crew of the coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, the service announced Thursday. Since the outbreak began a month ago, 840 sailors assigned to the carrier have tested positive for the virus. The carrier is mostly empty at the moment, as around 88% of the crew has been moved ashore in Guam, where the ship has been sidelined for weeks. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. One month after the first coronavirus cases appeared on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the US Navy has finished testing all of the roughly 4,800 sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier. The Navy reported Thursday that "100% of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) crewmembers have been tested for COVID-19" and 840 sailors aboard the deployed warship have tested positive. The service is still awaiting the results of about 10 tests. Eighty-eight of those infected have recovered, the Navy said. Four of the sailors who have not yet recovered are currently in the hospital in Guam. Since the outbreak began, the virus has claimed one life aboard the ship, that of 41-year-old Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr. The Navy reported Thursday that 4,234 sailors, approximately 88% of the crew, have been moved ashore in Guam, where the ship has been sidelined by the outbreak. The first three cases aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which deployed to the Pacific in January, were announced on March 24. In the days that followed, the number of coronavirus cases aboard the flattop quickly multiplied. Two days after the first cases were announced, Navy leadership revealed plans to test all of the sailors aboard the carrier. "We found several more cases on board the ship," then-acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said. "We are in the process now of testing 100% of the crew of that ship to ensure that we're able to contain whatever spread might have occurred there." On March 30, Capt. Brett Crozier, the ship's commanding officer, wrote a letter warning that the situation aboard the carrier was worsening and urging the Navy to quickly evacuate the crew. "Sailors do not need to die," he wrote. Crozier, who pushed for the evacuation of roughly 90% of the crew, was relieved of his command after his letter leaked to the media. Modly, who resigned less than a week after Crozier was relieved, said earlier this month that "we cannot and will not remove all the sailors from the ship," explaining that the plan with regard to the carrier was to "remove as much of the crew as we can while maintaining for the ship's safety." The majority of the crew has since gone ashore in Guam, where most are in isolation in hotels and other facilities. The sailors still on board the carrier have been working to thoroughly disinfect the ship as well as maintain important systems. The Navy has reported a total of 1,366 cases of coronavirus among its personnel, with the majority of those among sailors assigned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt. A Navy official told Insider that there is currently no clear timetable for when the carrier will be ready to set sail.SEE ALSO: US Air Force rushes to build medical facility to treat sick sailors from coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: This incredible time-lapse shows what a day is like on an aircraft carrier