The aircraft carrier is the largest and most complex of all warships and in most cases the most expensive. In addition to the cost of the ship itself, that of the embarked air wing must be considered, not to mention the extensive logistics and training infrastructure needed to keep carriers operating and useful. A recent Naval Postgraduate School study has shown that approximately 46 percent of the Navy’s personnel—officer, enlisted, and civilian—are assigned to positions either on or supporting its carriers. For these and other reasons, there has been almost constant debate over the past ninety years within navies, between navies and air forces, and within governments over the advisability of investing in carriers.
China’s third aircraft carrier will probably be nuclear — a 100,000-ton warship, equal in size, and perhaps in capability, to the Nimitz and Ford-class nuclear aircraft carriers built by Huntington Ingalls.
The United States operates ten aircraft carriers, plus another nine ships that we would refer to as aircraft carriers if they served in any other navy. It is abject silliness to claim that a 45,000 ton flat-decked aircraft-carrying warship is not, in fact, an aircraft carrier.
In April, 2014, the US had the USS America delivered. It is the first of the America-class amphibious assault ships put into service. Unlike most recent amphibious assault ships, USS America and her sister USS Tripoli lack well-decks, instead focusing on aviation facilities. When fully operational, America and Tripoli will operate as many as 20 F-35Bs, potentially playing a critical role in what the Navy projects as the future of air superiority.
Currently, 12 countries around the world possess aircraft carriers. (The exact number depends on what exactly you think constitutes an “aircraft carrier.” For example, Japan’s helicopter destroyer class of warship is only capable of carrying helicopters — but China considers them aircraft carriers nonetheless). But so far, the only nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the world, are those built by Huntington Ingalls for America.
On an ordinary mission, an America-class LHA might be equipped with:
* A dozen MV-22B Osprey transports.
* Six F-35B Lightning IIs.
* Four CH-53K heavy transport helicopters.
* Seven AH-1Z attack helicopters.
* A pair of MH-60S Seahawks.
More than 30 aircraft, all packed aboard one boat. The mini-carriers “only cost” about $3.4 billion to build an 844-foot long, 106-foot-wide mini-aircraft carrier like the America. To put that number in context, $3.4 billion is $100 million cheaper than the cost of our newest guided-missile destroyer, the USS Zumwalt. This is instead of about $14 billion for the large aircraft carriers (not including carrier group).
The Navy estimates that each Ford-class carrier will cost $27 billion to build and then operate and maintain for 50 years.
The six doctrinal roles of aircraft carriers
* Eyes of the Fleet
* Capital Ship
* Nuclear Strike Platform
* Airfield at Sea
* Geopolitical Chess piece
One of the new Gerald Ford class aircraft carriers with 75 F35C fighter jets would be about $50 billion.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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