America has long relied on its fleet of Nimitz (and soon Ford) class super carriers to offer the nation’s defense apparatus its most potent form of force projection. With more than 60 aircraft and as many as 6,000 sailors on board, each carrier in the U.S. Navy’s stable is a force unto itself — but the massive size of these carriers can also make them vulnerable. Further, despite having more battle-ready carriers than any nation on the planet, America still only has 10 in-service carriers, with around half of that currently capable of deploying.
With interests in need of security all around the globe, five carriers just won’t cut it… fortunately for the United States, we actually have far more “aircraft carriers” than we let on — and that’s the very premise behind the Marine Corps’ “Lightning Carrier” concept. If the U.S. were to count its aircraft carriers in the same way other nations do, our tally would actually be closer to 20.
When counting aircraft carriers, the United States uses exacting parameters regarding what can be considered a “true” carrier — and for good reason. Maintaining a fleet of 11 operational aircraft carriers is actually the law, as stated in 10 U.S. Code § 5062:
The naval combat forces of the Navy shall include not less than 11 operational aircraft carriers. For purposes of this subsection, an operational aircraft carrier includes an aircraft carrier that is temporarily unavailable for worldwide deployment due to routine or scheduled maintenance or repair.