A Comparison of the Chinese and American Aircraft Carrier Fleets

The Chinese military has confirmed that it has a new aircraft carrier. The yet unnamed vessel is actually an unfinished Soviet-era aircraft carrier originally named the Varyag, bought from the Ukraine about a year ago for $20 million, and now being refitted. It is widely believed that the Chinese are in the process of building two more aircraft carriers on their own.

Here then, is the Chinese aircraft carrier fleet, along with its specifications:

Chinese aircraft carrier

Unnamed Chinese aircraft carrier--Displacement: 66,400 tons; Length: 1000 feet; Diesel; Carries 50 aircraft


Here is the US aircraft carrier fleet, along with its specifications:

USS Enterprise

USS Enterprise--Displacement: 93,284 tons; Length: 1,123 feet; Nuclear; Carries 70 aircraft

USS Nimitz

USS Nimitz--Displacement: 100,000 tons; Length: 1,092 feet; Nuclear; Carries 90 aircraft

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower--Displacement: 101,600 tons; Length: 1,092 feet; Nuclear; Carries 90 aircraft

USS Carl Vinson

USS Carl Vinson--Displacement: 101,300 tons; Length: 1,092 feet; Nuclear; Carries 90 aircraft

USS Theodore Roosevelt

USS Theodore Roosevelt--Displacement: 104,600 tons; Length: 1,092 feet; Nuclear; Carries 90 aircraft

USS Abraham Lincoln

USS Abraham Lincoln--Displacement: 100,000 tons; Length: 1,092 feet; Nuclear; Carries 90 aircraft

USS George Washington

USS George Washington--Displacement: 104,200 tons; Length: 1,092 feet; Nuclear; Carries 90 aircraft

USS John C. Stennis

USS John C. Stennis--Displacement: 103,300 tons; Length: 1,092 feet ; Nuclear; Carries 90 aircraft

USS Harry S. Truman

USS Harry S. Truman--Displacement: 103,900 tons; Length: 1,092 feet; Nuclear; Carries 90 aircraft

USS Ronald Reagan

USS Ronald Reagan--Displacement: 101,400 tons; Length 1,092 feet; Nuclear; Carries 90 aircraft

USS George H. W. Bush

USS George H. W. Bush--Displacement: 102,000 tons; Length: 1,092 feet; Nuclear; Carries 90 aircraft

Ten of the eleven aircraft carriers in the US fleet are Nimitz-class carriers. Three more carriers of a new design (Gerald R. Ford class) are in the pike. These are expected to replace three of the ones currently in use, though this may change depending upon naval requirements.

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19 Responses to A Comparison of the Chinese and American Aircraft Carrier Fleets

  1. loopyloo305 says:

    Wonderful post John, Militarily it will be many years before China catches us. I wonder if they have plans to use theirs to retake Taiwan since they have been building up their forces in the area? If they are intending to do so, do you think the Mr. Obama would keep our promises to the people of Taiwan? We still have an aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan off the coast of Japan, don’t we? If China were to take advantage and try to retake Taiwan would Obama order them to protect Taiwan? Forgive me for changing the subject here, but one thing generally gets me thinking of other possibilities. I guess you could say that I am a “What if?” person!

    • John Scotus says:

      There are no doubt many people within the Chinese military and the Chinese Communist Party who are committed to retaking Taiwan by force if other means cannot be found. The general consensus of old China hands and most people in Taiwan is that this is pure bluff, and that China would never do this as the Taiwanese and mainland economy is so intertwined. The consensus of nearly every mainland Chinese is that this conflict is inevitable, and that this conflict will involve the US.
      I doubt that any move would be made within the next several years, as the Chinese military is not yet strong enough. Thus, this is likely something Obama would not face. As for future administrations, it may neither be militarily nor politically feasible for the US to uphold its commitments in Asia–at least with the kind of full-throttled response envisioned and war-gamed in the past.

    • CAPT Mike says:

      Though send two or three carriers would be a highly visible sign of public support for Taiwan, we don’t a single carrier present to prevent an invasion. The only way to ferry enough troops across the Staight is by ship . . . and no ship may pass w/o the express or implied consent of U.S. Submarines.
      > . . . and they know it . . . !

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  3. loopyloo305 says:

    I found this this morning John and I thought that you might find it interesting, too.
    “China sells its drones using videos of them destroying US aircraft carriers” It is from Libradex and here is the link:
    It’s a fascinating article!

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  6. David Feal says:


  7. CAPT Mike says:

    Great photos! Thanks.

  8. John Wheeler says:

    Thank you for your excellent article! There’s another important aspect of the comparison I would like to add: China’s new carrier is powered by oil-fueled gas turbines (they essentially burn jet fuel – notice the smoke coming out of the stack in the photo?) while all of the American carriers are nuclear powered. This difference gives our fleet substantial range and speed advantages.

    Our nuclear powered carriers have ranges that are limited only by other consumables like food for the crew and fuel for the aircraft. Because our ship are larger and nuclear power plants are more compact there is more far tank space in the ship for aircraft fuel and more storage space for other consumables. China’s on the other hand may have a about a 5000 mile range but their limited ability to replenish fuel cuts their effective range in half. Their maximum sustained speed is considerably lower too. That’s important for getting places in a hurry and for launching & retrieving aircraft in a broader range of weather conditions.

    We should not underestimate the importance of China’s investment, though. Their carrier will allow them to project a sea power presence in their own backyard, but not globally.

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  10. Ihl Leon says:

    There is no navy power like the American naval power around the globe. We can touch any place on the planet within hours in many different ways. Naval, Air and even from home in Kansas. There is no other country even the soviet union that has this capability. Russian TU-95 Bombers still have propellers.

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  12. frizztext says:

    thanks for this interesting gallery!

  13. Goran says:

    China is nowhere near matching US navy in the foreseeable future. But it does not have to be. They do not proclaim an interventionist foreign policy but an isolationist “don’t mingle in internal affairs” one besides the areas they have direct territorial interest in, an those are all along the borders. There would therefore be no sense in developing the military for projecting force and no one would even at this moment easily dare to attack them at home. They need more naval force even for potential confrontations along the border (Taiwan, Japan, India..), but all of that is short range, probably often reachable by plains from the mainland and it would be a waste of resources to focus on trying to match US naval strength, I don’t think it would be the case even with much more resources and technology available.

  14. Goran says:

    And if I might add:

    If by comparing naval forces we are considering a possible direct confrontation between US and China we have to take in account (following the last post) it will not be in a place far from the China’s border. Which makes thing a bit more complicated and we have to take into account regular naval forces besides carries, airports within reach, ballistic and counter potentials of both China and the US allays and bases in the region. This direct carrier comparison is moral boosting, but not sure how relevant just on it’s own?
    Besides knowing the usual Chinese political secrecy, patience and restraint in the post WWII period they will probably wait with any serious military move until they feel confident in the outcome due to either military strength or political relations and I’m not sure US will have an easy time deciding to go into that conflict if it ever happens.

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