Chinese Carriers

Chinese Carriers

There seems to be some buzz out there about Chinese aircraft carriers:

We usually don’t talk about seapower on this blog but doing a simple count of carriers in the world is useful:

  • Total Carriers (100,000+ tons): 10 (all U.S.)
  • Total Carriers (42,000 – 59,100 tons): 5 (China, Russia, India, U.S., France)
  • Total Carriers (40,000 – 41,649 tons): 8 (all U.S.)
  • Total Carriers (26,000 – 32,800 tons): 7 (Brazil, India, 2 Australian, Italy, Japan, Spain)
  • Total Carriers (11,486 – 21,500 tons): 10 (UK, 3 French, Egypt, 2 Japanese, South Korean, Italy, Thailand)

Summarizing the count (and there is a big difference between a 100,000+ Nimitz class carrier the Thailand’s 11,486 ton Charki Naruebet):

  • U.S. 19 carriers
  • U.S. Allies: 14 carriers
  • Neutrals: 5 carriers (India, Brazil, Egypt, Thailand)
  • Potentially hostile: 2 carriers (China, Russia)
  • Total: 40 carriers

China and Russian both have one carrier of over 55,000 tons. These Kuznetsov class carriers can carry around 36 – 41 aircraft. Each of our ten Nimitz class carriers carry around 80-90 aircraft. Our amphibious assault ships can carry 36 or more aircraft. In all reality, these carriers are their equivalent.

To be commissioned in the future:

  1. 2016    U.S.                 100,000 tons (CVN-78)
  2. 2016    Egypt                 21,300 tons
  3. 2017    Japan                27,000 tons
  4. 2017    UK                     70,600 tons !!!
  5. 2018    India                  40,000 tons
  6. 2018    U.S.                   45,000 tons
  7. 2019    Russian             14,000 tons
  8. 2019    South Korea      18,800 tons
  9. 2020    UK                     70,600 tons   !!!
  10. 2020    China                 65,000 tons   !!!
  11. 2020    U.S.                 100,000 tons (CVN-79)
  12. 2021    Turkey               26,000 tons
  13. 2022    Italy                 TBD
  14. 2025    India                  65,000 tons
  15. 2025    Russia             100,000 tons !!!
  16. 2025    U.S.                 100,000 tons (CVN-80)
  17. 2028    South Korea      30,000 tons
  18. 2029    Brazil               TBD
  19. 2036    South Korea      30,000 tons
  20. TBD    India                   4 carriers at 30,000 tons
  21. TBD    Singapore        TBD
  22. TBD    U.S.                   7 carriers at 100,000 tons  (CVN 81-87)
  23. TBD    U.S.                   9 carriers at 45,693 tons (LHA 8-16)


Now, the first article states that the Chinese plan to have six carriers deployed by 2025. There are only two shown in these listings, the active Liaoning (CV-16) and the newly build CV-001A to be commissioned in 2020. So maybe four more 65,000-ton carriers by 2025?

Needless to say, we are probably not looking at a “carrier gap” anytime in the near or mid-term future.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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  1. Excellent summary on global carrier power! A few points to consider in addition to the ship counts when looking at the balance of power on in the maritime domain.

    1) Geography – of the 10 USN carriers, and ~10 mini carriers, only half of that number is deployed at a time, and the areas of potential conflict are generally weeks away from homeports (with the exception of a single carrier based in Japan). The USN has had many decades of operating globally, while the Chinese navy realistically operates carriers in its own backyard seas, where it can receive support from all sorts of assets, including ground-based air power. The Russian navy is on display in Syria these days, but when they do deploy their carrier, they have done so with a tug, in case their machinery breaks down.

    So, any potential maritime conflict that pits CV task forces against each other would see one or two USN CVs vs one or two enemy CVs, at least in the first few days to a week, simply based upon geography.

    2) Submarines – in 2015 wargames off Florida between the USN’s Theodore Roosevelt and the French Navy’s SNA Saphir. “.. the second phase of the exercises found the French ship playing on the enemy side, charged with a mission to find and attack the Theodore Roosevelt. And so it did, sneaking deep into the defensive screen of the Strike Group, avoiding detection by the American anti-submarine warfare assets, and, on the last day of the drill, ‘sinking’ the Roosevelt and most of it’s escort.”

    World Navy’s have grown their submarine forces considerably in the past few decades, and the quality of the vessels has also improved. Russia is a key exporter of quiet submarines, but also Sweden, Germany, France, and potentially Japan. Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) is a key naval skill, and this event was a key reminder to the USN that surface ships are vulnerable to torpedo attack.

    3) Anti-ship Missiles – many of the submarines, but also many surface ships from small patrol craft, up to large cruisers and even land-based anti-ship missiles are making the seas a more dangerous place to operate, compared to the relative impunity with which the USN has operated for decades.

    These three points together form the basis for the “Anti-Access / Area Denial” concern of the USN.

    This illustrate that the days of sailing two CV groups into the Taiwan Strait (as was done in the late 1990’s) are likely over, as the balance of power between maritime offense and defense has shifted.

  2. Geoff,

    Thanks for the post. Good discussion.

    Submarines in naval exercises have often been able to get to the carrier, and this has been going on for decades. It is, shall we say, a point of much concern and discussion.

    I actually started my career working with submarine sonar systems.

  3. Hi Chris,

    Regarding subs, that’s great that you have the background in sonar. I’ve been studying up on ASW lately, and I enjoyed this article from Dr. Owen R. Cote of MIT:

    I have not been privy to all of the success and failure of ASW in exercises, but data on war game forces, missions and outcomes seems like good fodder for models, since data on the real thing is scarce after WW2. Given the number of subs deployed by world navies, the performance in war games that illustrate the skills of the player surface navies in ASW, I wonder if some good cliometric analysis could be done to come up with a good prediction of submarine vs surface group combat, given modern nuclear and Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technologies?

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