The USA Only Has 11 Active Aircraft Carriers

March 15, 2019 by Grant Suneson

Aircraft carriers are the pinnacle of modern naval achievement. The massive vessels serve as warships as well as nautical air bases that can deploy and recover airplanes. Large and expensive, only the wealthiest nations can afford to build and maintain aircraft carriers.

The majority of all the aircraft carriers in the world sail under the Stars and Stripes. There are 20 active aircraft carriers, 11 of which are American. Italy has two carriers, and Brazil, France, China, India, Russia, Thailand, and the UK have one each. Other countries have similar ships, like Japan’s “helicopter destroyers,” but there are only 20 vessels in the world that can launch fixed-wing aircraft from the ocean.

There have been more than 60 U.S. aircraft carriers assembled and commissioned over the years. Most of these ships were commissioned in the early 1940s, around the time the United States entered World War II.

Four were sunk by enemy action in World War II. Others have been sold for scrap, permanently docked for use as museums, or sunk intentionally — whether for weapons testing or to be used as an artificial reef in the ocean. The USS Wasp was sunk by Japanese torpedoes in the Coral Sea and just recently discovered.

It will likely be more difficult to decommission existing aircraft carriers, as they are all nuclear powered. The first nuclear-powered carrier, the USS Enterprise, was decommissioned in 2012, and the Navy is still struggling to figure out how to remove and dispose of its nuclear reactors.

These are the U.S. Navy’s 11 active aircraft carriers.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1. USS Nimitz
> Commissioned: 5/3/1975

The oldest aircraft carrier is still active in the U.S. Navy’s fleet. It was the first of the Nimitz class of carriers, which today includes 10 of the 11 active carriers. The ship is named in honor of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who commanded Allied forces in World War II. The ship’s homeport is Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state.

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Source: usnavy / Flickr

2. USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
> Commissioned: 10/18/1977

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was named in honor of the Allied commander and U.S. president and commissioned in 1977. Its homeport is in Norfolk, Virginia. Like its fellow Nimitz-class ships, the USS Eisenhower is 1,098 feet long and weighs more than 78,000 tons. The USS Eisenhower has been active in the Middle East, helping rescue U.S. embassy workers from Beirut during the 1982 Lebanese Civil War. It also kept watch over the Red Sea when Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Source: my_public_domain_photos / Flickr

3. USS Carl Vinson
> Commissioned: 3/13/1982

The USS Carl Vinson has been in the news frequently as of late for different reasons. Perhaps most notably, it served as the staging area for Osama bin Laden’s burial after he was killed by U.S. forces. As no country would take the terrorist leader’s remains, he was buried at sea, and slid off the vessel. The USS Carl Vinson also recently patrolled the South China Sea amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The ship, named for the Georgia congressman who chaired the Committee for Naval Affairs, recently had its homeport moved from San Diego to Bremerton, Washington.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

4. USS Theodore Roosevelt
> Commissioned: 10/25/1986

The USS Theodore Roosevelt was the first naval vessel to see combat in Operation Desert Shield in 1990. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the aircraft carrier was deployed to seas near Afghanistan, where it spent 159 consecutive days at sea. During that time, aircraft flew 11,459 missions off the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s flight deck.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

5. USS Abraham Lincoln
> Commissioned: 11/11/1989

Like many of the carriers in the U.S. fleet, the plans for the USS Abraham Lincoln drastically changed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S. Aircraft from the Lincoln’s deck dropped more than 1.8 million pounds of ordnance during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The Lincoln was the ship on which President George W. Bush famously stood in front of a banner reading “Mission Accomplished” in 2003, even though the war was nowhere near over.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

6. USS George Washington
> Commissioned: 7/4/1992

The USS George Washington is not currently seaworthy. It is docked in Newport News, Virginia, for a scheduled four-year Refueling and Complex Overhaul, which is due to be completed in 2021. The vessel has had an unfortunate history with several fires and crashes on the ship or its associated planes and boats.

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Source: usnavy / Flickr

7. USS John C. Stennis
> Commissioned: 12/9/1995

The USS John C. Stennis was named in honor of a Mississippi senator who served his state for more than 40 years. A staunch advocate of military spending and advancement, Stennis has been nicknamed the “father of America’s modern Navy.” The ship is 244 feet tall and has two 30-ton anchors. The USS Stennis was one of the first carriers to take part in post-Sept. 11 operations, launching strikes on Afghanistan as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom in December 2001.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

8. USS Harry S. Truman
> Commissioned: 7/25/1998

The USS Harry Truman was key in the rescue and recovery operations in the wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The carrier, along with numerous other ships, aircraft, and helicopters from the Coast Guard and Marines, helped rescue more than 12,500 people on 1,800 missions.

Source: usnavy / Flickr

9. USS Ronald Reagan
> Commissioned: 7/12/2003

The USS Ronald Reagan is the only American aircraft carrier that does not have a homeport on U.S. soil, instead calling Yokosuka, Japan, home. This means the USS Reagan was able to help in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and resulting tsunami in the country, sending out planes to search for survivors and deliver supplies.

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Source: usnavy / Flickr

10. USS George H.W. Bush
> Commissioned: 1/10/2009

Named for the 41st president and Navy veteran, the USS George H.W. Bush has the motto “Freedom at work.” The vessel and its crew helped keep Afghanistan’s democratic elections safe from those who would hope to disrupt them. The USS Bush more recently also provided humanitarian support to Iraqis fleeing violence from ISIS insurgents.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

11. USS Gerald R. Ford
> Commissioned: 7/22/2017

The USS Gerald R. Ford is the first in a brand new class of aircraft carriers known as the Gerald Ford class. These carriers will have increased technological capabilities, including stealth abilities and automation never before seen in a vessel this large. The USS Ford is the newest aircraft carrier — it was officially commissioned in 2017.