How the F-35B Stealth Fighter Will Transform the Navy's Aircraft Carriers

Sebastien Roblin

Key point: The F-35B will turn even small ships with a flattop into carriers.

Naval aviation has from the beginning been a challenging and expensive endeavor. Until recently, fewer and fewer countries found they had the resources to operate even a single aircraft carrier capable of operating fixed-wing aircraft.

In 2017, Brazil retired South America’s last aircraft carrier the Sao Paulo.

Thailand’s carrier Chakri Naruebet hasn’t carried any jets since 2006.

After disastrous deployment to Syria, Russia’s only carrier, Admiral Kuzntesov, is indefinitely out of service after the only floating drydock that could accommodate her sank in 2018.

For several years, the UK—the first country to use aircraft carriers in combat—had only one aircraft carrier, and no jets capable of flying off its deck.

But carriers may be on the verge of a global comeback. China’s ambitious aircraft carrier program is already well documented—but Beijing’s northeastern neighbors are set to deploy three new aircraft carriers between them. The United Kingdom will soon have two carriers of its own, as will Italy.

There’s a common factor behind these developments, and that is the F-35B stealth jet.

Matching the Plane to the Carrier

Until recently, the most capable modern carrier-based fighters like the Super Hornet, and Rafale-M required long flight deck with steam or electromagnetic catapults to send the heavily-laden warplanes hurtling into the sky. But besides the United States’ eleven supercarriers, the only other catapult-equipped carrier is France’s Charles de Gaulle, though China and India may join the club in the next decade.

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