Designed over 100 years ago from the British HMS Hermes, the dedicated aircraft carrier is a feat of modern naval engineering. Build One is a massive technical and financial endeavor that tests the skills of a shipbuilding industry across multiple levels of expertise. But design and construction are only half the struggle; once built, these towering behemoths must be properly inhabited and maintained. Given the scale of the challenges ahead, the last century of aircraft carrier production has unsurprisingly produced its fair share of failures.
Here are five of the worst carriers to ever set sail:
The Russian Navy inherited its only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, in the early 90s from its Soviet predecessor. Arguably the worst carrier in service today, the decrepit Kuznestov has gone from disaster to disaster in recent decades. Spewing black fumes and crushing several fighters during his lackluster participation in the Syrian Russian campaign in 2016, Kuznetsov was taken out of service at the end of 2017 when a seventy-ton crane broke the ship’s hull and sank its dry dock. End of 2019, Admiral Kuznetsov caught fire during routine welding. The incident caused approximately $ 1 billion in damage, killing two people and injuring more than a dozen others. Despite these setbacks, Kuznetsov is expected to resume service in 2023.
Thailand’s first and only aircraft carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet was built by the Spanish Bazan Shipyards and commissioned by the Royal Thai Navy in March 1977. A light aircraft carrier designed to operate a mix of attack helicopters and Harrier vertical / short take-off and landing aircraft ( V / STOL), the Chakri Naruebet was deployed in a series of disaster relief operations in the 2000s. But the Naruebet languished amid constant budget deficits, to the point of becoming little more than an expensive placeholder in the Thai Navy. According to recent reports, the carrier only goes to sea for routine training missions once a month.
The first aircraft carrier specially designed by the US Navy, Tidy, suffered from a host of suboptimal building decisions. Relatively small, light in armament and unprotected, the Tidy was deemed inappropriate as an aircraft carrier for Pacific theater operations against the Imperial Japanese Navy. Instead, he was sent to the Atlantic on less intense warfare missions and, in 1944, relegated to training duties.
Chinese aircraft carrier Type 001 To lend is based on the carcass of an unfinished Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier that China purchased from Ukraine (under questionable circumstances involving deceptive promises that the ship would be used as a floating casino) in 1998. Boasting rapidly obsolete components and prone to power outages, the increasingly obsolete vessel To lend was largely relegated to training duties in the 2010s. The carrier has reportedly undergone an overhaul in recent years, but the extent of these alleged improvements and repairs remains uncertain.
Many of these early aircraft carriers were conversions of battleships and battle cruisers – the ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Shinano illustrates the dangers of this approach. The third of the Yamato-class battleships, Shinano fell prey to conflicting visions: a faction within the imperial senior leadership wanted the Shinano converted back into a dedicated aircraft carrier, while others envisioned its new role more as a heavily armored support ship that is also capable of carrying dozens of fighters. This last approach prevailed, condemning the Shinamo to a lifespan without operational relevance. The that of Shinano the tenure in the Japanese Navy ended before it began, as the aircraft carrier was sunk by the Balao-class submarine USS Archer fish on November 29, 1944, less than two weeks after the start of his sea trials.
Mark Episkopos is a National Security Journalist for the National Interest.