US Navy Aircraft Carriers are so fast they can outrun virtually every surface ship and submarine in most sea states

US Navy Aircraft Carriers are so fast they can outrun virtually every surface ship and submarine in most sea states

By Dario Leone
Jan 2 2022
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US Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carriers can outrun virtually every surface ship in most sea states. The rougher it is, the more they will be able to outdistance other watercraft.

US Navy aircraft carriers continue to be the centerpiece of the forces necessary for operating forward. In times of crisis, the first question leaders ask is: “Where are the carriers?”

Aircraft carriers are the most adaptable and survivable airfields in the world. On any given day, Sailors aboard an aircraft carrier and its air wing come to the fight trained and equipped across a full range of missions. They are ready to control the sea, conduct strikes, and maneuver across the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace. No other naval force fields a commensurate range and depth of combat capabilities.

US Navy aircraft carriers also move fast. According to Forbes ‘Fast enough, in fact, to outrun most submarines. Because they can sustain speeds of 35 miles per hour, the Nimitz-class carriers populating the current fleet can move to anywhere within a 700-square mile area within 30 minutes. After 90 minutes, that area grows to over 6,000 square miles. So, finding a carrier isn’t the same thing for enemies as successfully targeting it. By the time their weapons arrive, it will likely be gone.’

James O’Shea, BS Electrical Engineering & History, explains on Quora:

‘Due to their size and engine power American nuclear-powered aircraft carriers can outrun virtually every surface ship in most sea states. The rougher it is, the more they will be able to outdistance other watercraft. There are watercraft which can go faster than carriers, in good weather. In bad weather carriers will outrun almost everything afloat. An antisubmarine frigate can’t possibly keep up. A destroyer would have a better chance, but still would have problems. Since the old CALIFORNIA class nuclear cruisers were decommissioned, no American cruiser can keep up with a carrier. The Russian KIROV class battlecruisers might be able to stay with a carrier, maybe, but not for long, especially in bad weather.

‘Note that if you look up the official top speed of American carriers, you’ll see mealy-mouthed phrases like “in excess of 30 knots” as the Navy doesn’t want to say. USS KITTY HAWK once made a sprint in which she averaged 42 knots by simple math. USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) allegedly once hit 50 knots. Allegedly. The Navy refuses to say. CVN-65 is now decommissioned and will be replaced by a GERALD R. FORD class carrier, CVN-80, which is, allegedly, faster than CVN-65.’

O’Shea concludes;

‘The only surface warships which could sustain speeds close to or superior to those of an American nuclear-powered carrier would be the various fast minelayers of the WWII era, such as the British ABDIEL or MANXMAN, both of which could exceed 44 knots. Very large transatlantic liners such as QUEEN MARY could also go very fast, for much the same reasons as the carriers. QUEEN MARY once rammed and cut in two a cruiser without slowing down.’

Two weeks after Chinese Combat aircraft conducted a mock attack on USS Theodore Roosevelt, the flattop conducts dual carrier operations with USS Nimitz in the South China Sea

Photo credit: U.S. Navy


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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