Although capable of carrying a large number of aircraft, Ranger was lightly constructed. Problems with storage space meant that Ranger would carry no torpedo bombers, limiting her effectiveness in anti-ship roles. Poor sea keeping meant that she couldn’t launch aircraft in even a moderate sea. Cramped space limited the speed with which she could launch aircraft, a deficiency that could have proven fatal in carrier battles against the Imperial Japanese Navy. Experience with Ranger effectively killed the idea of small, purpose-built carriers to be used for fleet purposes, although the later Independence-class conversions would accomplish much on roughly the same size hull.
Accordingly, the USN kept Ranger as far away from the Japanese as possible. She served with honor in the Atlantic, however, supporting Operation Torch and undertaking strikes against German positions in Norway. Even as the naval war in Europe wound down, U.S. commanders did not strongly consider subjecting Ranger to the rigors of the Pacific. She could not keep up with the latest USN carrier battle groups, and her light construction would have made her extremely vulnerable to kamikaze attacks. By 1944 she was relegated to training duties, despite the availability of a large number of escort carriers for such service. Placed in reserve after the war, she was scrapped in 1947.
Originally designed and built by the Soviet Union, Admiral Kuznetsov (as she was eventually called) was intended as a part of an evolutionary step to a modern fleet carrier. Her predecessors (the Kiev class) could only operate VSTOL (vertical and/or short take-off and landing ) aircraft, but Kuznetsov possesses a ski-jump which enables her to launch conventional fighters. Intended primarily as a defensive carrier, Kuzentsov was supposed to give Soviet shipbuilders experience with modern carriers, while serving as a test-bed for the development of a conventional naval aviation wing.
The collapse of the Soviet Union also meant the collapse of funding for the carrier project. Laid down in 1983, she was not finally commissioned until 1995. Displacing 58,000 tons, she can theoretically make twenty-nine knots, and carry about forty aircraft. In 1996 she suffered a major breakdown, and was in repairs until 1998. Assigned to the Northern Fleet, she has periodically deployed to the Mediterranean, usually with great fanfare. In November 2016 she conducted her first active military operations, launching strikes against Syrian rebels. During the operation she lost two aircraft (one MiG-29K, and one Su-33) to accidents.
Whether because of poor construction or shoddy maintenance, Kuznetsov has struggled to remain in service, and has yet to make a meaningful military contribution to Russia’s security. Bringing her up to the standards of her half-sisters Liaoning and CVA-001 would likely require more investment than Russia is currently prepared to make to its carrier fleet.
Many of the carriers here were early efforts, although even these compared unfavorably to their competitors. Some ( Kaga, Eagle) were sunk; others ( Ranger, Bearn) were kept away from the main areas of fighting because of their obvious deficiencies. The navies that operated these ships, in most cases, learned a great deal and made an effort not to repeat the mistakes of their construction. The exception to this is the case of Admiral Kuzetsov , which remains in a kind of service, but has yet to produce offspring (in the Russian navy, at least).
Robert Farley , a frequent contributor to TNI, is author of The Battleship Book . He serves as a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination and The Diplomat .