Welcome to part two of my three part series covering the ten Nimitz Class aircraft carriers. The following three ships have a prestigious history and fantastic records of safety and humanitarian efforts. But we must also remember that all ten of these carriers are built specifically to fight. They carry a huge array of weaponry on top of their main attack force – the fighter jets.
Most carriers have an identical load out for defensive operations. They all carry between 16 and 24 Rim-7 Sea Sparrow missiles, launched from the top of the ship, primarily designed to destroy other ships. The missiles are inexpensive, lightweight and ships can be easily retrofitted to hold them.
Furthermore, most carriers have at least three Phalanx CIWS (Close in Weapon Systems) batteries. These are primary for defence against missiles and other airborne targets approaching the ship. It consists of a swivelling Gatling gun with an attached radar system, and can operate entirely autonomously against multiple targets simultaneously. Some of the carriers also boast batteries of RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles specifically designed to destroy incoming anti-ship cruise missiles. With various other countermeasures and smaller weapons, a Nimitz class carrier is essentially impenetrable against all but the most massive attacks.
Carrier 4 - The USS Theodore Roosevelt
The fourth carrier in the class is the USS Theodore Roosevelt, nicknamed ‘the Big Stick’. Commissioned in 1986, the ships homeport is Norfolk, Virginia near to where it was built. The existence of this carrier was in doubt in the 1970s, with both Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter having a hand in its delay. Due in part to the Iranian Hostage Crisis and increased requirement for military presence, construction went ahead anyway. It was the first carrier built using modular construction – essentially pre-building all the parts separately and then bringing them together to form a whole. Because of this, more than sixteen months were shaved off of overall build time.
First deployed to the Mediterranean, the Big Stick moved to the Persian Gulf and participated in the first Iraq War and other conflicts in the area. It flew more sorties during Operation Desert Storm than any other carrier and after returning home, it was the first ship visited by Bill Clinton at the start of his first term as president. Afterwards, the carrier participated extensively in the no fly zone enforcement in Bosnia, and then similar operations in Iraq in the late 1990s. It then returned to Bosnia to perform deliberate airstrikes against military targets.
In the 21st century, the Roosevelt made the first the strikes of any carrier against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, before moving to the Mediterranean alongside the USS Harry S. Truman to participate in the Iraq War in 2003. It also performed the last flight of the F-14 Tomcat before that planes retirement from service. Since then, the ship has undergone major over halls, performed test flights of the amazing X-47B unmanned combat vehicle, and should be moving its homeport to San Diego in 2015. Expected retirement should be around 2036 after fifty years of work for this illustrious warship.
USS Theodore Roosevelt
Carrier 5 - The USS Abraham Lincoln
Named after the 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln, the fifth carrier in the class was commissioned in 1989, two days after the fall of the Berlin wall. It was built, like the others, in Newport News, Virginia, cost 4.7 billion USD (in 2010 dollars) and its homeport is Norfolk, Virginia. The ships active service life began in the Pacific with the Argentine Navy before swiftly being moved to the Middle East to assist with the first Iraq War.
The carrier then assisted in the aftermath of the Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines, and once again returned to the Persian Gulf to continue with the war. In 1993, Lincoln deployed to Somalia and assisted with humanitarian efforts, including flying air patrols around the capital Mogadishu. Throughout the late 1990s the ship spent more time in the Middle East, where it was hit by the combat support ship USS Sacramento, though no major damage to the carrier was reported. In the new century, like many of the other carriers, the ship participated heavily in the 2003 Iraqi Invasion and subsequent occupation.
The famous ‘Mission Accomplished’ visit by George W. Bush took place on the flight deck during 2003. After deploying to Hong Kong, it responded to the international relief effort for the 2004 Indian earthquake and tsunami, specifically off the coast of Sumatra, receiving multiple awards for its efforts in this crisis. Since then, the carrier spent much of its time on the west coast of the United States and received major over halls, before heading back to the Persian Gulf amid escalating tensions with Iran. The fantastic USS Abraham Lincoln will be in service until about 2039.
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USS Abraham Lincoln
Carrier 6 - The USS George Washington
The sixth carrier in the Nimitz class is the USS George Washington. Named after the first President of the United States, it was commissioned in 1992 and built, as usual, in Newport News, Virginia. Washington was a strong proponent of the Navy and is quoted as saying:
“Without a decisive naval force, we can do nothing decisive. And with it, everything honourable and decisive.”
The ‘GW’ is the only carrier in the class whose homeport is not in the continental United States, rather it is based out of Yokosuka Naval Base about one hour’s drive south of Tokyo.
The ships maiden deployment took it to Portsmouth, England for D-Day commemorations in 1994, before heading straight into the Mediterranean and assisting in the Bosnian no-fly zone enforcement. After visiting Israel and the Middle East, including Kuwait, it returned to the US for upgrading and over halls. GW spent time in France, United Arab Emirates, Spain, Greece and Italy in the coming years, mostly in training and peace-promotion exercises. In the late 1990s it participated further in security operations of Iraq.
In the 21st century, George Washington has spent a lot of time in the Caribbean and Latin America promoting unity and visiting ports. One thing to note is the carriers, including GW, are not able to fit through the Panama Canal and so are forced to go around South America or across the Atlantic and through the Suez Canal to access the Pacific. After visiting The Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam, the ship assisted significantly with the relief effort for the 2011 Japan earthquake. More recently it has docked in Brisbane, Busan and Hong Kong – all for peaceful purposes – and remains deployed in Japan. USS George Washington has so far had a more peaceful existence than its siblings, and is expected to stay in active service until 2042. Stay tuned for the third and final part!
USS George Washington in Japan
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