Fastest Aircraft Carriers and Battleships in the World

Updated on August 19, 2018
Savio Dawson profile image

Savio is a resident of Mumbai, India. Cars, bikes and everything fast are his passion and he writes about them on numerous reputable sites.

Introduction

Aircraft carriers are like a piece of real-estate of a country at high seas. It is then obvious that every country would like to make theirs bigger than the biggest. The need for Aircraft Carriers, at least, during World War 1 and 2 was that it would be difficult to have aircraft moving to a point of military engagement from the mainland, especially with the limited speed of most aircraft in those days. It hence made sense to have such Aircraft Carriers which would give a country presence on international waters, away from their own international boundaries.

With size came two other problems – can the aircraft carriers keep themselves away from the enemy fire? And can they move fast if they are needed elsewhere? The former question arises from the fact that aircraft carriers because of their size are easy picking for enemy fire. But with technology, radar, sonar, destroyers and smaller ships acting as eyes, ears and in many cases counter-measures, the first question is taken care of. An enemy would find it easier to by-pass a carrier if it can than to even attempt to get closer. That leaves us with the second question; plain and simple answer – they are fast.

How fast? Let’s find out.

Before we get on to the list, readers may want to remember that this list will have a mix of Aircraft Carriers and Battleships, simply because of their size. Then what about other class of ships? We have separate articles for them and readers can take time out and read, if it interests them.

Fastest navy ships in the world can be read here

Some of the crafts mentioned in the above links are capable of doing 500+ kmph. Readers will be surprised at the speeds of some of the battleships on this list. So let's look at them without wasting any more time.

1. Caspian Sea Monster [Korabl Maket]

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Well, most of us would have expected to see some super gun-wielding battleship or a super long aircraft carrier at the top spot, right? Interestingly, it is neither but an even weirder and nasty looking Ekranoplan. What is an Ekranoplan? Those readers who would have read the article on the fastest navy ships in the world would have been introduced to the A-90 over there. However, for everyone’s benefit, an Ekranoplan is a ground-effect vehicle having classification closer to a ship than an aircraft. In short, this thing actually flies, not on the principles of how a traditional aircraft does but because of the air cushion between the vehicle and the ship’s wing (body). Interesting, isn’t it?

  • Name: Caspian Sea Monster [Korabl Maket]
  • Country: USSR
  • Top Speed: 351 knots [404 mph or 650 kmph] [Though estimated that it go till 740 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 232 knots [267 mph or 430 kmph]
  • Displacement: 494 tons maximum load
  • Commissioned: 1966 [first flight] – 1980 [sank in Caspian Sea after an accident]
  • Status: Sunk due to Pilot error

The actual imprint on the surface of this ship was Korabl Maket, abbreviated as KM, which in Russian meant “Ship Prototype”, however, the Allied forces which were spying on this new development couldn’t figure out what this mammoth vehicle was and more importantly what its purpose was. The KM then became 'Kaspian (for Caspian Sea where it was being tested) Monster' to 'Caspian Sea Monster'. What a history to the name!

The Caspian Sea Monster actually existed and was a military experiment vehicle trying to establish alternative ways of sea movement. The KM was one of the first of the Ground Effect Vehicles (GEVs) and led to the development of actual battleships like the MD-160 and strike vehicles like A-90 Orlyonok. Among the GEVs it was the fastest and because of its aircraft resemblance, it was also considered as the biggest aircraft of the time. Until the Antonov An-122 came into service in 1988, the KM was the largest.

2. MD – 160 [Lun – Class Ekranoplan]

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Well, the second battleship on the list is also an Ekranoplan and this one’s even nastier than the Caspian Sea Monster. This is a real battleship capable of firing missiles. See the video to get a sense of the vehicle. The MD-160 too was a fast mover and the speed details are quite impressive.

  • Name: MD -160 [Lun - Class Ekranoplan]
  • Country: USSR
  • Top Speed: 297 knots [342 mph or 550 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 243 knots [279.5 mph or 450 kmph]
  • Displacement: 286 tons unloaded
  • Commissioned: 1987 – late 90s
  • Status: Preserved at Kaspiysk Naval Station

At 0:29 see it matching speed with an aircraft

Now, how many of us knew that the MD-160 was flying around in the Black Sea in the early 90s when America was attacking Iraq? Honestly, not many I guess. But here it is – not a concept, not a prototype, not a test vehicle, but a full-fledged operational Ekranoplan. The Ekranoplan also provided many other advantages like carrying more cargo than a similarly sized aircraft but consuming lesser fuel and energy. That made it extremely economical yet a real workhorse. The military version, therefore, carried six missile launchers with P-270 missiles and in addition had 100 tons capacity for carrying military crew and attack vehicles.

The change in priorities and budget cuts saw that the Ekranoplan, both civilian and military, put in the cold storage by the late 90s. However, as of 2015, Russia is planning to build the A-050, a civilian Ekranoplan, to be ready by 2022. So, all is not over yet for such Ground Effect Vehicles. We will be meeting history in 2022. Stay tuned!!

3. USS New Jersey [BB-62]

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USS New Jersey was a battleship and the fastest conventional ship on this list, after the Ekranoplans. For those having a question on the difference between a Battleship and Aircraft Carrier, here is my simple answer. Technically, they are the same but Aircraft Carriers will have a landing strip and holding area for aircraft. Hence, they will be larger too. Battleships, like Wisconsin, will form the first line of offense and in cases where both Aircraft Carrier and Battleships are present, they will be protecting the Aircraft Carrier from the enemy line of fire.

Well, hoping readers have got a hang of it. let's move on to talking more about USS New Jersey. This battleship is the official Guinness World Record holder for doing a top speed of 35.2 knots sustained over six hours. That’s a massive strain on the engine considering the displacement that these ships are capable of. The USS New Jersey has been commissioned and decommissioned four times while having 19 battle stars to her name.

  • Name: USS New Jersey
  • Country: United States of America
  • Top Speed: 35.2 knots [40.5 mph or 65.2 kmph] [Guinness World Record holder]
  • Sustained Speed: 30 knots [34.52 mph or 55.57 kmph]
  • Displacement: 58,400 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 1943 [first time] – 1991 [decommissioned, last time]
  • Status: Museum ship at New Jersey

The USS New Jersey is one of the most decorated ships in U.S. Navy’s history. She saw the Korean War, Vietnam War, Lebanese War and served the Persian Gulf. That is a long list for a single ship, serving almost as much time as the Wisconsin (which is later on this list), and ending up doing more in that time. Phew, some record!

4. USS Enterprise

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This aircraft carrier bears a name that reminds most Star Trek fans of the first spaceship that Capt. James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock commandeered. Well, it may not be a flying vessel but this USS Enterprise was the longest Aircraft Carrier ever built and first nuclear-powered one. No other aircraft carrier in the past, present or planned in the future is as long as this one. At 1,123 feet it was not only the longest ship but also the largest, in terms of displacement, during its time. Only later was it succeeded by the larger Nimitz and Ford class of Aircraft Carriers; mind you, larger in terms of displacement and not in length. That record still stays with the Enterprise.

  • Name: USS Enterprise
  • Country: United States of America
  • Top Speed: 33.6 knots [38.66 mph or 62.24 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 30 knots [34.52 mph or 55.57 kmph]
  • Displacement: 94,781 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 1961 – 2012 [inactive]
  • Status: Retired in 2017

While we discussed the records in terms of dimensions that the Enterprise held, there was one more and that was the speed. At such gargantuan proportions, it was still fastest aircraft carrier of its time. Phew, so many records in one go!

It is indeed surprising that at its displacement, it was still faster than a battleship half its size; we are referring to the USS Wisconsin coming up next.

5. USS Wisconsin [BB-64]

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It comes as no surprise that USS Wisconsin was named after the U.S. state of Wisconsin and was a participant in World War 2, having six battle stars to her name. Considering the stage of her development, she was intended to be a fast mover to reach the spot of battle or to nullify enemy advances. And she did a good job! The official top speed is 33 knots, however, in many reported cases Wisconsin did reach a speed of 39 knots, under few favorable conditions. Even the speed of 33 knots, by 21st century standards, is a good one; and to think of it that the Wisconsin was built in the 20th century.

  • Name: USS Wisconsin
  • Country: United States of America
  • Top Speed: 33 knots [37.95 mph or 61.1 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 30 knots [34.52 mph or 55.57 kmph]
  • Displacement: 58,400 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 1944 [first time] – 1991 [decommissioned, last time]
  • Status: Museum ship at Virginia

Wisconsin had seen, both, the war with Japan in World War 2 and Iraq in 1991. It’s one of the rare ships being decommissioned, recommissioned, decommissioned again and now is a museum ship operated by Nauticus in Virginia. By the way, Wisconsin was commissioned and decommissioned thrice, second only to the USS New Jersey, also mentioned on this list.

6. Russian Admiral Kuznetsov Aircraft Carrier

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This is the first Aircraft Carrier which has its roots in the USSR while currently serving Russia. Though an Aircraft Carrier, it has the same displacement as the Wisconsin and the New Jersey. There is a reason for that and for the way the Americans and Russians look at their Aircraft Carriers. This particular carrier was intended to lead her class, along with her sister ship, Varyag, but the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw that the program never really took off. The sister ship was never operationalized and the hull was later sold to China, where it rose from the ashes as Liaoning, the first Aircraft Carrier of China. Talk about history!!

  • Name: Admiral Kuznetsov
  • Country: Russia
  • Top Speed: 32 knots [36.81 mph or 59.28 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 29 knots [ 33.36 mph or 53.71 kmph]
  • Displacement: 58,600 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 1990
  • Status: In active service

While the American nomenclature would call this particular ship an Aircraft Carrier, the Russians call it a heavy aircraft carrying missile cruiser. How would you argue with that when the ship is moderately heavy (close to battleship weight), yet carry aircraft and cruise missiles. The cruise missiles are what make it a missile cruiser. That’s about the nomenclature.

7. Chinese Liaoning Aircraft Carrier

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The sister ship of Admiral Kuznetsov is next on the list for reasons easy to comprehend. After all, it would have had almost the same parameters as Kuznetsov itself. The Liaoning is the first Aircraft Carrier of China and joins the navy at a time when China intends to showcase its strength at sea. The movement of the ship from Ukraine (part of erstwhile USSR) to China had more of history and theatrics to it than the fully finished ship. The entire movement took 20 months and in the process pushed the company which provided the tugboats to bankruptcy. Told you there is some interesting read there. Anyway, looking at speed, the Liaoning can do around 32 knots as much as the Kuznetsov.

  • Name: Liaoning
  • Country: China
  • Top Speed: 32 knots [36.81 mph or 59.28 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 29 knots [ 33.36 mph or 53.71 kmph]
  • Displacement: 58,000 tons
  • Commissioned: 2012
  • Status: In active service

The Liaoning is much bigger than the Aircraft Carriers owned by India, however, India has more. That said, China and India, both would be increasing their own respective Aircraft Carriers in the near future and if they are fast, then they will be placed on this list. Let’s see how that pans out.

8. Sao Paulo Aircraft Carrier

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The Sao Paulo is an Aircraft Carrier in the Brazilian Navy’s service, purchased from France. Before Brazil, she served in the French Navy as Foch. Though she was bought by Brazil in 2000, the reliability of the Carrier was always in question. It could not be away from shore for more than two to three months at a stretch and that severely crippled the confidence on its operations. It was later retired in 2017.

  • Name: Sao Paulo
  • Country: Brazil
  • Top Speed: 32 knots [36.81 mph or 59.28 kmph] max
  • Sustained Speed: 18 knots [20.71 mph or 33.34 kmph]
  • Displacement: 32,800 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 2000 - 2017
  • Status: Demobilized

The operations of the Carrier under the French flag was more colorful and plenty to write about than under Brazil. It had participated in the Lebanese war, the liberation of Djibouti and many more critical nuclear experiments and defense of France’s interests near and far shore. It's the second stint that did not leave much of a memorable experience to the Aircraft Carrier’s otherwise decorated career under the French Navy.

9. Gerald R. Ford - Class Aircraft Carrier

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At the beginning of this article, I had mentioned that every country tries to make its own Carrier as big as possible. This is as big as it gets in the Aircraft Carrier space. As of today, there is simply no Carrier bigger than the Ford. The Gerald R. Ford has a displacement of 100,000 tons giving a new meaning to massive and yet is capable of floating. More interestingly, it can go fast – 30 knots to be precise.

  • Name: Gerald R. Ford-Class
  • Country: United States of America
  • Top Speed: 30 knots [34.52 mph or 55.57 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: Same as top speed
  • Displacement: 100,000 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 2017
  • Status: In active service

The Ford class of Carriers is planned as a replacement to the Nimitz class, which itself is 97,000 tons, but fairly outdated. Incorporation of new technologies of the 21st century coupled with the latest weapons system makes the Ford class Carriers more lethal than the Nimitz class. Lethal or otherwise, its size is something which will capture someone’s imagination way before any other aspect of the Carrier!

10. INS Vikramaditya

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Vikramaditya is an Indian Aircraft Carrier, coming up next on the list and can do a top speed of 30 knots plus.

  • Name: INS Vikramaditya
  • Country: India
  • Top Speed: 30+ knots [34.52 mph or 55.57 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 28 knots [32.22 mph or 51.87 kmph]
  • Displacement: 45,400 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 2013 by India
  • Status: In active service

11. Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier

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  • Name: Nimitz Class of Aircraft Carriers
  • Country: United States of America
  • Top Speed: 30+ knots [34.52 mph or 55.57 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 25 knots [28.77 mph or 46.31 kmph]
  • Displacement: 97,000 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 1975 [Staggered as and when they were ready. A total of 10 ships are in service]
  • Status: In active service [will be replaced by the Ford Class, eventually]

12. Italian Cavour Aircraft Carrier

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  • Name: Cavour
  • Country: Italy
  • Top Speed: 29+ knots [33.37 mph or 53.72 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 24.65 knots [28.36 mph or 45.67 kmph] [85% of top speed]
  • Displacement:30,000 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 2008
  • Status: In active service

13. INS Viraat

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  • Name: Viraat
  • Country: India
  • Top Speed: 28 knots [32.22 mph or 51.87 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 20 knots [23 mph or 37.18 kmph]
  • Displacement: 28,700 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 1987 to 2017
  • Status: Decommissioned

14. Charles de Gaulle Aircraft Carrier

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  • Name: Charles de Gaulle
  • Country: France
  • Top Speed: 27 knots [31 mph or 50 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 20 knots [23 mph or 37.18 kmph]
  • Displacement: 42,500 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 2001
  • Status: In refit and overhaul

15. Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carrier

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  • Name: HMS Queen Elizabeth
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Top Speed: 25 knots [29 mph or 46 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 20 knots [23 mph or 37.18 kmph]
  • Displacement: 65,000 tons at full load
  • Commissioned: 2017
  • Status: In active service

Back to Port

Barring the Ekranoplans, what’s so great about these speeds? I am sure many would have that question but here’s some perspective. If we were to get on the street and using a mechanical cutter (somehow) are able to cut the street in 1000 feet in length by 250 feet in breadth and have 10-15 buildings of 25 storeys each on that patch, we would have arrived at the rough dimensions of the biggest Aircraft Carrier – the Gerald R Ford. Now, make this cut out structure move at 50 kmph. See the challenge? Can you imagine the power that would be required? That’s what it is to make such a mammoth structure do the speeds of 50 kmph and above. We are not even considering wind speed, wave speed, etc. while talking about the speeds here. What I mean is that in the absence of such parameters, the Carriers can go even faster.

So, with a deep sense of respect for these structures and their speed, I take the readers’ permission to go and find more interesting man-made structures and their speeds. In the meantime, I hope readers enjoyed the article!!

Which Aircraft Carrier or Battleship did you find Interesting?

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Disclaimer: The videos added in the article belong to the users who have posted them on youtube. The Author does not own them nor validates that they belong to the ones who posted them on youtube. The videos are included to give some additional information about the subject being discussed.

© 2018 Savio Koman

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