It got me thinking about the offensive capabilities of aircraft carriers, and how they are used to project strategic power and influence. In the excellent chart prepared by Stratfor below [click to enlarge], it notes the location of US aircraft carriers. Fine. To me what’s illuminating, and just as important as their location, is the number of US aircraft carriers. They have 11 with a further 2 under construction. The only other country with more than 1 aircraft carrier is Italy, with 2. Hence the ability of the US to exert its will worldwide.
The UK situation is currently not good. The Royal Navy has only one commissioned aircraft carrier – HMS Illustrious, albeit without any aircraft, just helicopters, and this is planned to be decommissioned in 2014 to be replaced by HMS Ocean. In time, around 2020, we will have 2 large Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
Ok, that’s us. Which other nations have aircraft carriers, and what are the plans they have for them? Here’s a table of the number of aircraft carriers in service in the world. Let’s look at the two emerging super-powers, India and China.
India has two aircraft carriers, the INS Virdaat and the INS Vikrant. Additionally they’ve bought a Russian aircraft carrier which is being re-fitted, and are also building two new carriers. An indication of India’s desire to be the dominant regional power.
China is late in getting an aircraft carrier capability. It bought a Russian carrier, which is being refitted. Already this display military force by China is causing concern to nearby countries in Asia
A few final thoughts. What’s the purpose of the UK’s future aircraft carriers? In my view, it’s to protect our trade and to a degree world-wide trade and shipping; and not to project military force, or exert our will over other nations. Only the US has that capability. Having aircraft carriers is expensive, very expensive, as can be concluded by the fact that there are so few of them. Not only do they cost a small fortune to build and maintain, they’re vulnerable and need a flotilla of smaller warships to protect them. But, as the Economic Times of India remarked in it’s article, they’re “symbols of a great nation”.