An aircraft carrier costs several billions of dollars to design and construct.

They also easily cost at least $1 billion to maintain every year.

Aircraft carriers are virtually the most expensive military ships, and only the world’s most developed militaries build them.

The United States has the most aircraft carriers in the world -11 of the world’s 25 aircraft carriers.

Aircraft carrier costs are also compounded because of how they’re used in combat.

Aircraft carriers need other battleships to protect them during engagement while aircraft fly from the carriers.

As a result, aircraft carriers are extremely costly to design, build, and effectively use.

How Much an Aircraft Carrier Costs

Cost to Build

The average aircraft carrier costs between $5 billion to $10 billion to build.

The exact cost of building an aircraft carrier depends on the carrier’s intended role, size, type, and the country manufacturing it.

The manufacturing cost varies by each country, since countries that manufacture fewer aircraft carriers have higher research costs than those that manufacture more carriers. 

For example, a US Nimitz Class carrier costs up to $9.7 billion while a Russian aircraft carrier costs close to half a trillion rubles or $6.8 billion according to an interview from Vladimir Pospelov, who is a member of the Russian board of military industrial commission.

Cost to Operate

The average annual operating cost of an aircraft carrier is $1.18 billion.

This results in an average daily operational cost of between $6 million to $8 million, depending on the carrier’s configuration and number of military personnel. 

Cost to Maintain

The speculative maintenance costs of aircraft carriers are between $2 to $4 billion per 32 month maintenance cycle.

The maintenance cost of aircraft carriers is not publicly disclosed, but it likely varies depending on the carrier’s size and complexity.

Most Expensive Aircraft Carrier

The USS Gerald R.Ford, which is the first Ford-class aircraft carrier, is the most expensive aircraft carrier ever built.

The Congressional Research Service estimates the aircraft carrier costs $13.3 billion, which makes it the most expensive aircraft carrier to date, and likely the most expensive ship ever constructed.

The cost of the entire program for building this aircraft, including research and development costs, likely reached close to $37 billion. 

Cheapest Aircraft Carrier?

The world’s cheapest aircraft carrier is the HTMS Chakri Naruebet, which cost the Thai Navy approximately $336 million to build. 

Largest Aircraft Carrier

The USS Gerald Ford is the world’s largest aircraft carrier.

Once fully loaded, it has a total displacement of 100,000 tonnes.

Smallest Aircraft Carrier

The Italian Navy’s Giuseppe Garibaldi is the world’s smallest aircraft carrier.

It only weighs 27,000 tonnes.

25 Countries Have Aircraft Carriers

In 2023, there are 25 total active aircraft carriers in the world, used by 11 countries.

  • Brazil:  Brazil has 1 aircraft carrier – the Atlântico.
  • China: China has 2 aircraft carriers – Lioning and Shandong. 
  • France: France has 1 aircraft carrier: – The Charles de Gaulle .
  • India: India has 1 aircraft carrier – The INS Vikramaditya. 
  • Italy: Italy has 2 aircraft carriers – The Cavour and the Giuseppe Garibaldi.
  • Japan: Japan has 2 aircraft carriers – The JS Izumo and the JS Kaga .
  • Russia: Russia has 1 aircraft carrier – The Admiral Kuznestsov.
  • Spain: Spain has 1 aircraft carrier – The Juan Carlos I.
  • Thailand: Thailand has 1 aircraft carrier – The HTMS Chakri Naruebet. 
  • UK: The UK has 2 aircraft carriers – The HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. 
  • USA: The United States has 11 aircraft carriers, the largest of any country in the world. The US has 10 Nimitz class aircraft carriers and 1 Ford class carrier. 

Why There Are So Few Aircraft Carriers in the World

Aircraft carriers are extremely expensive to build and require additional naval ships to properly function in combat.

Aircraft carriers have very high costs, ranging from research and development to construction and maintenance costs, which add up to into the billions of dollars.

So, most countries would have to hugely increase military spending to build an aircraft carrier. 

Also, aircraft carriers require additional battleships, including cruisers, destroyers, and corvettes to function in combat.

Aircraft carriers are essentially mobile air bases used to attack remote targets and project power.

So as, aircraft carriers cannot defend themselves in naval military engagements, they need additional battleships to properly perform their role.

This results in aircraft carriers requiring even more investment to be properly used in combat.

Most countries in the world are unwilling to invest that much in their navies because of the high costs and lack of benefits.

So, only a few of the world’s largest militaries build and use aircraft carriers. 

Can Anyone Buy an Aircraft Carrier?

Only a nation’s military can buy or build an aircraft carrier.

Private citizens or corporations cannot build or buy aircraft carriers.

However, when aircraft carriers are decommissioned, they can be sold off, which was the case with Brazil’s Sao Paulo aircraft carrier that was put up for auction. 

When sold, decommissioned aircraft carriers are usually scrapped for parts.

It Takes Years to Build an Aircraft Carrier

Most aircraft carriers take between 5 and 6 years to build.

The exact time to design and build an aircraft carrier depends on its size, complexity, and the country building it.

For example, the French Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier was completed in only 3 years.

Aircraft Carriers Are Very Tall

Aircraft carriers are between 88-250 feet tall, with the USS Gerald R. Ford being the tallest aircraft carrier in the world at 250 feet.

In conclusion:

  • Aircraft carriers are extremely expensive to design, build, and maintain.
  • A single aircraft carrier can easily cost several billions of dollars to build and another billion per annum to maintain.
  • As a result, there are only 25 aircraft carriers in the world, with the United States alone having 11 of them.
  • Aircraft carriers are especially expensive because they need multiple other expensive battleships to protect them during military engagements.
  • Only the world’s most developed militaries can realistically afford building aircraft carriers from scratch and maintaining them.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.