After 50 years of service and the accolade of being the US Navy’s first nuclear carrier the USS Enterprise was retired in November 2012, leaving only ten carriers in service. It must be a matter of some considerable concern that, with the requirement for maintenance and training schedules, this will only allow the US to deploy five carriers at any one time to police the world’s oceans. As capable as these vessels are, they cannot be in more than one place at a time!
Meanwhile The Royal Navy will not have its new 65,000 ton carriers in service for another eight to ten years leaving only the French with a single full sized carrier, and Italy and Spain owning light carriers. In comparison, under its current expansionary plans, the Indian Navy will have deployed three carriers by the end of the decade.
The world's carriers
• US: 10 in service, with 3 under construction
• Russia: One, the Admiral Kuznetsov
• UK: One, HMS Illustrious which only carries helicopters - two of 65,000 tonnes under construction
• China: One, the Liaoning
• France: One, the Charles de Gaulle
• India: One, the Viraat, formerly known as HMS Hermes, but converting another, the Admiral Gorshkov, into the Vikramaditya. A third is under construction
• Italy: Two, the Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Cavour (both small)
• Spain: One, the Principe De Asturias (small)
The buildup of China's naval power, and the challenge this will represent to the above carrier strength in the west, will initially involve building up a force structure to extend its influence in the region around its coastlines to create a local superiority before extending beyond this. In contrast, the US is committed to policing the world oceans, in addition to neutralizing Chinese naval power. In November the People's Liberation Army Navy (the PLAN) performed its first deck landing on its new carrier, after many years of simulations on land. In addition, it is strongly rumoured that the PLAN is building an unspecified number of carriers in undercover facilities, using modern modular techniques similar to those being employed by British shipbuilders constructing the two Royal Navy carriers due for delivery in eight to ten years.