Aircraft Carrier, a naval vessel that uses airplanes and helicopters as its principal weapons. It is a ship used as a mobile base for the aircraft. The carrier is a floating air base that can go great distances to launch air attacks against enemy land or naval forces. It is the most powerful surface warship due to its aircraft striking force. It can be used for hit-and-run raids, sustained air offensives, antisubmarine warfare, and amphibious operations, and to provide aerial support for troops ashore. Oil tankers of the largest size are the only ships that are bigger than the carriers.
Carriers are the principal surface ships in the navies of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. Russia has several carriers designed for helicopters and STOL (short takeoff and landing) planes. Some naval experts believe that nuclear-powered submarines carrying nuclear missiles may make carriers unnecessary in a major war. Some question the wisdom of building such large ships when they have become increasingly vulnerable as nations have armed their navies and air forces with guided missiles. However, the carrier is still valued for limited wars and peacekeeping missions.