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An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a sea-going airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power great distances without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations. They have evolved from wooden vessels used to deploy a balloon into nuclear powered warships that carry dozens of fixed and rotary wing aircraft.
Following the war, the scope of carrier operations continued to increase in size and importance. Supercarriers, typically displacing 75,000 tonnes or greater, have become the pinnacle of carrier development. Most are powered by nuclear reactors and form the core of a fleet designed to operate far from home. Amphibious assault ships, such as USS Tarawa or HMS Ocean, serve the purpose of carrying and landing Marines and operate a large contingent of helicopters for that purpose. Also known as "commando carriers" or "helicopter carriers", they have a secondary capability to operate VSTOL aircraft.
Lacking the firepower of other warships, carriers by themselves are considered vulnerable to attack by other ships, aircraft, submarines or missiles and therefore travel as part of a carrier battle group (CVBG) for their protection. Unlike other types of capital ships in the 20th century, aircraft carrier designs since World War II have been effectively unlimited by any consideration save budgetary, and the ships have increased in size to handle the larger aircraft: The large, modern Nimitz class of United States Navy carriers has a displacement nearly four times that of the World War II-era USS Enterprise yet its complement of aircraft is roughly the same, a consequence of the steadily increasing size of military aircraft over the years.
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