They are the most powerful warships ever, and until their replacements, the Gerald R. Ford class carriers are completed, they are also the largest ever constructed. These are the Nimitz Class nuclear powered supercarriers of the United States Navy. Not content with one or two, the Navy commissioned a total of ten nearly identical carriers beginning in 1975, with the last being launched in 2006. Each Nimitz class has a designated hull number, these being the consecutive numbers between CVN-68 and CVN-77.
At 1092ft (333m) in length and each powered by two pressurized nuclear reactors, each carrier is capable of reaching 30 knots (56km/h) in open water and operating for more than 20 years without refuelling. Each ship displaces around 101,000 tonnes of water. The flight decks are capable of carrying an air wing of 90 fighter aircraft, giving these carriers the most formidable force projection of any warship ever, carrier or otherwise. As well as the capability of the aircraft launched from the deck, most carriers have missiles to defend themselves against any threat, and four CIWS defence cannons, among other measures. This article evaluates each carrier and its service history, and seeks to explain why these ships are one of mankind’s greatest efforts of engineering.
Carrier 1 - The USS Nimitz
The lead ship of the Nimitz class was commissioned by Gerald Ford in 1975 after being constructed at Newport News Shipbuilding yard in Newport News, Virginia. It is named after Chester Nimitz, the third of four fleet admirals from World War Two. Nimitz commanded forces of the Pacific Fleet during the war and was a leading authority on submarines and navigation. The ship has had 17 over halls during its lifetime, most recently the addition of two close in weapon systems (CIWS). It commands a battle group of four destroyers and a single cruiser – Destroyer Squadron 23.
During the 1970s, USS Nimitz operated in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, being involved in the Iranian Hostage Crisis, with the failed rescue attempt during the crisis being launched from the ship. In the 1980s the Nimitz was involved in a controversial crash of a plane that killed 14 sailors, and was once again deployed in the Mediterranean as well as the Caribbean. It was anchored off the coast of Lebanon during the Flight 847 hijacking, and also provided security at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. Nimitz also saw some involvement in Desert Storm in Kuwait/Iraq, and spent much of the 1990s in the Middle East and Asia.
The ship participated significantly in the Iraq War in 2003-onwards, and was also featured extensively in a documentary on the carrier class during this deployment. There have since been some light altercations with Russian aircraft, and the home port has been changed to Everett, Washington. This ship should be in service until around 2025, and has already shown to be an extremely formidable and useful asset to the Navy.
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Carrier 2 - The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
The second ship in the class was commissioned two years after the Nimitz, in 1977, after being constructed (as with all ten carriers) in Newport News, Virginia, and its homeport is nearby in Norfolk. Nicknamed ‘Ike’, it was originally called the USS Eisenhower, but was lengthened to USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, after the famous five-star general and former President of the United States. Eisenhower was the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War Two, most notably the invasion of France on D-Day and the subsequent invasion of Nazi Germany alongside the Red Army. He then went on to succeed Truman as the President for two terms.
Initially deployed in the Mediterranean, like the Nimitz the ship was involved in the Iran hostage crisis, and was also critical in the evacuation of U.S. embassy personnel as Lebanon began its civil war in the 1980s. It was heavily involved in American conflicts with Libya, but saw little actual combat during this time. Ike spent the majority of this decade as well as parts of the 1990s in the Mediterranean, but did spend time in the Red Sea during its participation in the Gulf War/Desert Storm.
Further operations include assisting in restoring the elected government in Haiti as well as enforcing a no-fly zone in Bosnia in 1993-1995. During the 2000s, the ship spent time in Italy and Cyprus, before being involved intensively in the conflicts around the Persian Gulf (Iraq, Afghanistan etc) and Somalia where it has remained into the 2010s. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is expected to be in service until about 2027.
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
Carrier 3 - The USS Carl Vinson
The third and one of the lesser known ships in the class is the USS Carl Vinson. Commissioned in 1982, it makes its home in San Diego, California. Carl Vinson was a congressman from Georgia who died in 1965. His services to the U.S. Navy were primarily political, especially with regard to pre-World War Two naval preparations, and he promoted strongly the idea of having the Navy cover both the Atlantic and the Pacific adequately for the war. Vinson was one of only three people that were still alive when a Nimitz class carrier was named after them (the others being John C. Stennis, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan).
The ship began its first real deployment in the Western Pacific in the early 1980s, then moved to the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Japan. It was the first carrier to operate in the Bearing Sea between Alaska and Russia, before spending time protecting tankers in the Persian Gulf, and assisting with the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco in 1989. During the early 1990s the ship received a major over hall before participating further in the Persian Gulf conflicts, and like the USS Nimitz was featured in a documentary about life on the carriers.
During the 2000s, USS Carl Vinson was the first to launch airstrikes as part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by coalition forces, launching 4000 sorties in all during this conflict. After more significant retrofitting and refuelling, the ship assisted heavily in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, and was the carrier from which Osama Bin Ladens body was buried at sea. There has also been a major university basketball game played on the deck, with a full stadium setup built for this purpose. Expected to be in operation until at least 2032, Carl Vinson will see a lot of action yet. Stay tuned for Part 2.
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USS Carl Vinson