What happens after the aircraft carrier is retired?

As we all know, aircraft carriers are the main force of modern navy. They can often carry dozens or even hundreds of high-performance carrier-based aircraft to perform various maritime missions. Together with multiple escort ships, they can form a powerful aircraft carrier battle group.

Of course, the aircraft carrier is so powerful and hard to use, and its cost is naturally high. Taking the USS Ford as an example, such an aircraft carrier with a displacement of more than 100,000 tons would cost more than 12.8 billion US dollars to construct. In general, the large aircraft carriers will be in service for about 50 years, so that the maintenance cost for these years will be about 26 billion US dollars, and the carrier-based aircraft is not static. If it is updated every 15 years, it will also be updated for almost three generations of the carrier. The cost of each generation is more than 20 billion U.S. dollars. If you consider the price of decades, then the carrier-based aircraft will also cost at least 80 billion U.S. dollars. This does not count the cost of other escort ships, such as the Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyers. It cost $2.7 billion, not to mention that the average US aircraft carrier formation has to be equipped with expensive Los Angeles-class nuclear submarines. It can be seen that the use and production costs of aircraft carriers are very high, but this is a new aircraft carrier but the retired aircraft carrier is not so valuable.

Retired USS John F Kennedy and USS Forrestal
Retired USS John F Kennedy and USS Forrestal


Recently, the U.S. Navy has transported the two retired 80,000-ton large aircraft carriers Kitty Hawk and Kennedy to a shipbreaking company in the United States. In the next few months, they will be integrated in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. the demolition work is reported that the US Navy for ship-breaking yards which the two carriers sold for just 1 cent. (1 U.S. dollar = 100 cents)

Both Kitty Hawk and Kennedy are large aircraft carriers of the Kitty Hawk class, with a displacement of more than 80,000 tons. The cost of construction in the 1960s was about 400 million U.S. dollars. It was very expensive at the time, but now it has been paid 1 cent. The result of selling it to a shipbreaking company is really shocking.


In fact, after the aircraft carrier is retired, it may not all be disassembled into scrap steel. There are still many ways out. Today, I will take everyone to talk about the way out after the retiring of the aircraft carrier.

1. Continue to serve in the navy of another country

Everyone knows that the role of aircraft carriers is great, and many navies want to have their own aircraft carriers. However, not all navies that want to own an aircraft carrier can build it themselves, so buying second-hand aircraft carriers retired from other countries has become a good choice.

The Indian Navy is a good example. As the first navy in Asia to have an aircraft carrier after World War II, the aircraft carriers it has served so far are all second-hand aircraft carriers retired from other countries.

As early as 1957, India bought a  Majestic-class aircraft carrier Hercules from Britain. Since the Majestic-class was designed in 1942 during World War II, it did not conform to the trend of naval development after World War II. Therefore, the British side The modification was carried out at the request of India, and it was officially completed in 1961 and joined the Indian Navy. It was named the Vikrant, which was India’s first aircraft carrier and the first in Asia after World War II. 

INS Vikramaditya and INS Viraat
INS Vikramaditya and INS Viraat



Later, the Indian Navy, which had tasted the sweetness of the aircraft carrier, took aim at another retired aircraft carrier of the British Navy. In 1984, the British Centaur-class aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, which had just participated in the Battle of Falkland Islands, was retired. India immediately began to contact it, and in 1986 The aircraft carrier was introduced at a friendly price of tens of millions of pounds, and it was named the “INS Virat” after joining the Indian Navy. This also made the Indian Navy have a rare dual aircraft carrier formation during the ten years from 1987 to 1997.

INS Virat has been in service until 2016 and was officially retired. If she joined the British Navy in 1959, she has served for 55 years. It is truly an evergreen tree at sea.

Then the Indian Navy spent 2.9 billion US dollars to introduce the Soviet-era Kiev-class aircraft carrier Gorshkov from the Russian Navy and went to service in 2013 as INS Vikramaditya. This story is familiar to everyone and has not much to say.


Of course, in addition to India, other countries are also keen to introduce second-hand aircraft carriers likes Brazilian Navy, Chinese Navy etc.

2. Dismantling and selling scrap iron

In fact, compared with the lucky ones who can continue to serve in the navy of other countries, it is generally a more common ending for an aircraft carrier to be dismantled into scrap after retiring.

USS Enterprise Dismantling
USS Enterprise Dismantling

For example, the Excellence, one of the three Invincible-class aircraft carriers once owned by the United Kingdom, was officially retired in 2014 by a Turkish shipbreaking plant that was bought and dismantled for 2.8 million pounds.

The same is true not only for the United Kingdom, but also for the U.S. Navy. For example, the well-known U.S. Navy Enterprise and Forster, which pioneered large aircraft carriers, entered the shipbreaking yard after retiring. Because the quality of the steel used for the aircraft carriers is very good, Therefore, it is very popular to enter the market after returning to the furnace.

Of course, dismantling aircraft carriers, especially nuclear-powered large aircraft carriers, is also a very difficult task. Nowadays, there are fewer and fewer shipyards willing to do this. According to outsiders estimates, the cost of dismantling a large aircraft carrier is about ten thousand US dollars, if it is a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the cost is even higher. Therefore, many shipyards are reluctant to take on this kind of work.

INS Viraat dismantling
INS Viraat dismantling

For example, the Spanish Navy’s Asturias aircraft carrier was originally priced at 4.8 million euros, but no one paid any attention to it. Later, it had to reduce the price to 2.4 million three times before being taken over by a Turkish shipbreaking plant.


The dismantling of the aircraft carrier is not only costly but also very time-consuming and laborious. It is said that the USS Coral Sea, which was built at the end of World War II, took up to seven years to be dismantled after it was retired.

3. Enter the tourism industry

If a warship wants to be preserved forever, there is only one way to be transformed into a museum by its host country, such as the famous British Victory Museum, and it is said that there are also two ironclad ships with preserved sails for tourists to visit in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Similarly, if the aircraft carrier can be preserved as a museum after retirement, it would be a good ending and destination.

As the country with the largest number of aircraft carriers in history, the United States is naturally the country with the most aircraft carrier museums. According to statistics, a total of five aircraft carriers in the United States were converted into museums.

USS Midway aircraft carrier Museum
USS Midway aircraft carrier Museum

Among them, the Midway is the most prestigious one. As an aircraft carrier in service in September 1945, the USS Midway just missed World War II, but it hardly left an armed operation before the 21st century after World War II. He participated in the Vietnam War in the 60s and 70s, and the Desert Storm in the 90s. When it retired in 1992, it was estimated that a total of approximately 230,000 US soldiers served on the USS Midway, which is also the aircraft carrier with the longest service life in the history of the US Navy. It was transformed into a museum in 2004.

Tickets for the USS Midway Museum are about US$20. There are many full-size models of the US Navy’s carrier aircraft parked on it. Visitors can sit in and experience them, including F4 and F18.



In addition to the United States, the Indian Navy has also converted the retired Vikrant into a museum. If you have time you can also visit it.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *