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An aircraft carrier is a warship that serves as a seagoing airbase, equipped with a full-length flight deck and facilities for carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft. Typically, it is the capital ship of a fleet, as it allows a naval force to project air power worldwide without depending on local bases for staging aircraft operations. Carriers have evolved since their inception in the early twentieth century from wooden vessels used to deploy balloons to nuclear-powered warships that carry numerous fighters, strike aircraft, helicopters, and other types of aircraft. While heavier aircraft such as fixed-wing gunships and bombers have been launched from aircraft carriers, it is currently not possible to land them. By its diplomatic and tactical power, its mobility, its autonomy and the variety of its means, the aircraft carrier is often the centerpiece of modern combat fleets. Tactically or even strategically, it replaced the battleship in the role of flagship of a fleet. One of its great advantages is that, by sailing in international waters, it does not interfere with any territorial sovereignty and thus obviates the need for overflight authorizations from third-party countries, reduces the times and transit distances of aircraft and therefore significantly increase the time of availability on the combat zone.

There is no single definition of an "aircraft carrier", and modern navies use several variants of the type. These variants are sometimes categorized as sub-types of aircraft carriers, and sometimes as distinct types of naval aviation-capable ships. Aircraft carriers may be classified according to the type of aircraft they carry and their operational assignments. Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, RN, former First Sea Lord (head) of the Royal Navy, has said, "To put it simply, countries that aspire to strategic international influence have aircraft carriers." Henry Kissinger, while United States Secretary of State, also said: "An aircraft carrier is 100,000 tons of diplomacy."

As of January 2021, there are 43 active aircraft carriers in the world operated by fourteen navies. The United States Navy has 11 large nuclear-powered fleet carriers—carrying around 80 fighter jets each—the largest carriers in the world; the total combined deck space is over twice that of all other nations combined. As well as the aircraft carrier fleet, the U.S. Navy has nine amphibious assault ships used primarily for helicopters, although these also carry up to 20 vertical or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) fighter jets and are similar in size to medium-sized fleet carriers. The United Kingdom and China each operate two aircraft carriers. France, India, and Russia each operate a single medium-size carrier with a capacity of 30 to 60 fighter jets. Italy operates two light fleet carriers and Spain operates one. Helicopter carriers are operated by Japan (4, two of which are being converted to operate V/STOL fighters), France (3), Australia (2), Egypt (2), South Korea (1), Thailand (1) and Brazil (1). Future aircraft carriers are under construction or in planning by Brazil, China, France, India, Russia, South Korea and the US.

Aircraft carrier Media

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CVL-24  Beeleau Wood

CVL-24 Beeleau Wood

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVE-118  Sicily

CVE-118 Sicily

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CVA 64  Constellation

CVA 64 Constellation

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CVE-120  Mindoro

CVE-120 Mindoro

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CVE-119  Point Cruz

CVE-119 Point Cruz

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CVA 64  Constellation

CVA 64 Constellation

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CVA 64  Constellation

CVA 64 Constellation

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CVA  65 Enterprise

CVA 65 Enterprise

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CVE-116  Badoeng Strait

CVE-116 Badoeng Strait

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CVE-116  Badoeng Strait

CVE-116 Badoeng Strait

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 64  Constellation

CVA 64 Constellation

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CVA  65 Enterprise

CVA 65 Enterprise

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CVA  65 Enterprise

CVA 65 Enterprise

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CVA  65 Enterprise

CVA 65 Enterprise

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CVA  65 Enterprise

CVA 65 Enterprise

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CVA  67 John F. Kennedy

CVA 67 John F. Kennedy

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CVA  67 John F. Kennedy

CVA 67 John F. Kennedy

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  66 America

CVA 66 America

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CVA  66 America

CVA 66 America

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  66 America

CVA 66 America

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  67 John F. Kennedy

CVA 67 John F. Kennedy

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  67 John F. Kennedy

CVA 67 John F. Kennedy

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  67 John F. Kennedy

CVA 67 John F. Kennedy

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  67 John F. Kennedy

CVA 67 John F. Kennedy

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  66 America

CVA 66 America

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  67 John F. Kennedy

CVA 67 John F. Kennedy

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  67 John F. Kennedy

CVA 67 John F. Kennedy

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  66 America

CVA 66 America

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  66 America

CVA 66 America

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  66 America

CVA 66 America

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA  67 John F. Kennedy

CVA 67 John F. Kennedy

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA(N) 68 Chester W. Nimitz

CVA(N) 68 Chester W. Nimitz

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 41  Midway

CVA 41 Midway

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 45  Valley Forge [19-NN-CVA 45  Valley Forge-142687]

CVA 45 Valley Forge [19-NN-CVA 45 Valley Forge-142687]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 41  Midway

CVA 41 Midway

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 14 Ticonderoga [19-NN-CVA 14 Ticonderoga-341A-1]

CVA 14 Ticonderoga [19-NN-CVA 14 Ticonderoga-341A-1]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 14 Ticonderoga [19-NN-CVA 14 Ticonderoga-165178]

CVA 14 Ticonderoga [19-NN-CVA 14 Ticonderoga-165178]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 33  Kearsarge [19-NN-CVA 33  Kearsarge-146691]

CVA 33 Kearsarge [19-NN-CVA 33 Kearsarge-146691]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 41  Midway

CVA 41 Midway

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CV 31  Bonne Homme Richard [19-NN-CV 31  Bonne Homme Richard-136765]

CV 31 Bonne Homme Richard [19-NN-CV 31 Bonne Homme Richard-136765]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 19  Hancock

CVA 19 Hancock

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 16  Lexington [19-NN-CVA 16  Lexington-154482]

CVA 16 Lexington [19-NN-CVA 16 Lexington-154482]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 16  Lexington [19-NN-CVA 16  Lexington-154474]

CVA 16 Lexington [19-NN-CVA 16 Lexington-154474]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 14 Ticonderoga [19-NN-CVA 14 Ticonderoga-341A-2]

CVA 14 Ticonderoga [19-NN-CVA 14 Ticonderoga-341A-2]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 33  Kearsarge [19-NN-CVA 33  Kearsarge-150127]

CVA 33 Kearsarge [19-NN-CVA 33 Kearsarge-150127]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 34 Oriskany

CVA 34 Oriskany

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 34 Oriskany

CVA 34 Oriskany

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 59  Forrestal [19-NN-CVA 59  Forrestal-148060]

CVA 59 Forrestal [19-NN-CVA 59 Forrestal-148060]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 20  Bennington [19-NN-CVA 20  Bennington-158197]

CVA 20 Bennington [19-NN-CVA 20 Bennington-158197]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 60  Saratoga

CVA 60 Saratoga

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CVA 21  Boxer

CVA 21 Boxer

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 33  Kearsarge [19-NN-CVA 33  Kearsarge-146688]

CVA 33 Kearsarge [19-NN-CVA 33 Kearsarge-146688]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 21  Boxer

CVA 21 Boxer

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CVA 21  Boxer

CVA 21 Boxer

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CVA 31

CVA 31

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 33  Kearsarge [19-NN-CVA 33  Kearsarge-150126]

CVA 33 Kearsarge [19-NN-CVA 33 Kearsarge-150126]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CV 33  Keasarge

CV 33 Keasarge

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CV 33  Keasarge

CV 33 Keasarge

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 10  Yorktown

CVA 10 Yorktown

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CVA 10  Yorktown

CVA 10 Yorktown

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CVA 9  Essex

CVA 9 Essex

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CVA 10  Yorktown

CVA 10 Yorktown

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CV 9  Essex

CV 9 Essex

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CVA 34 Oriskany

CVA 34 Oriskany

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 34 Oriskany

CVA 34 Oriskany

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 34 Oriskany

CVA 34 Oriskany

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 34 Oriskany

CVA 34 Oriskany

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CVA 38  Shangri

CVA 38 Shangri

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CVA 34 Oriskany

CVA 34 Oriskany

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 19  Hancock

CVA 19 Hancock

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 39  Lake Champlain [19-NN-CVA 39  Lake Champlain-141463]

CVA 39 Lake Champlain [19-NN-CVA 39 Lake Champlain-141463]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 39  Lake Champlain [19-NN-CVA 39  Lake Champlain-141236]

CVA 39 Lake Champlain [19-NN-CVA 39 Lake Champlain-141236]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 39  Champion

CVA 39 Champion

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CVA 38  Shangri

CVA 38 Shangri

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CVA 19  Hancock

CVA 19 Hancock

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 39  Champion

CVA 39 Champion

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 19  Hancock

CVA 19 Hancock

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CVA 20  Bennington [19-NN-CVA 20  Bennington-158194]

CVA 20 Bennington [19-NN-CVA 20 Bennington-158194]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 39  Champion

CVA 39 Champion

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CVA 20  Bennington [19-NN-CVA 20  Bennington-152107]

CVA 20 Bennington [19-NN-CVA 20 Bennington-152107]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 38  Shangri

CVA 38 Shangri

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CVA 39  Lake Champlain [19-NN-CVA 39  Lake Champlain-141466]

CVA 39 Lake Champlain [19-NN-CVA 39 Lake Champlain-141466]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 19  Hancock

CVA 19 Hancock

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CVA 39  Champion

CVA 39 Champion

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CVA 39  Lake Champlain [19-NN-CVA 39  Lake Champlain-141235]

CVA 39 Lake Champlain [19-NN-CVA 39 Lake Champlain-141235]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 16  Lexington [19-NN-CVA 16  Lexington-154397]

CVA 16 Lexington [19-NN-CVA 16 Lexington-154397]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 43  Coral Sea [19-NN-CVA 43  Coral Sea-159601]

CVA 43 Coral Sea [19-NN-CVA 43 Coral Sea-159601]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CV 18

CV 18

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 41  Midway

CVA 41 Midway

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 43  Coral Sea [19-NN-CVA 43  Coral Sea-158497]

CVA 43 Coral Sea [19-NN-CVA 43 Coral Sea-158497]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 43  Coral Sea [19-NN-CVA 43  Coral Sea-161029]

CVA 43 Coral Sea [19-NN-CVA 43 Coral Sea-161029]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 12 Hornet

CVA 12 Hornet

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CVA 33  Kearsarge [19-NN-CVA 33  Kearsarge-146692]

CVA 33 Kearsarge [19-NN-CVA 33 Kearsarge-146692]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 41  Midway

CVA 41 Midway

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 41  Midway

CVA 41 Midway

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 41  Midway

CVA 41 Midway

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 41  Midway

CVA 41 Midway

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 43  Coral Sea [19-NN-CVA 43  Coral Sea-159602]

CVA 43 Coral Sea [19-NN-CVA 43 Coral Sea-159602]

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels

CVA 42  Franklin D. Roosevelt [19-NN-CVA 42  Franklin D. Roosevelt-155266]
CVA 41  Midway

CVA 41 Midway

Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Naval Vessels