Welcome to the third and final part in my series covering the ten Nimitz Class aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy. The following four ships are the newest in the class and have such not seen quite as much service as the previous six, but are no less capable. The most recent carriers are the most advanced warships of all time, at least until the Gerald R. Ford class carriers and the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth class carriers are in operation.
To get an idea of the true size and power of these carriers, it can be useful to compare them to other things. Each Nimitz class carrier is 332m long, longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall. They are not the longest warship ever built, however; that distinction goes to the now decommissioned USS Enterprise (CVN-65), and there are a number of cruise ships and other industrial vessels that are longer. At their widest point they are 77m across, and at their tallest point they are as tall as a 24 story building.
To move this 100,000 tonne mass across the water at up to 30 knots (56km/h), each carrier has two small nuclear reactors that only require refuelling ever 20 or so years. This gives the ships unparalleled endurance compared to conventionally powered ships, which typically have a range of 20,000 to 30,000km before requiring fuel. Each ship also has around 3200 sailors on average, this doesn’t include the 2480 or so air wing crew. To feed nearly 6000 people each day, more than 18,000 meals are cooked, and the steam-powered catapults on the decks can take a 21 tonne plane from 0 to 240 km/h in two seconds and throw it ceremoniously off the deck into the sky.
Carrier 7 - The USS John C. Stennis
Commissioned in 1995, the seventh carrier in the class is named after the Mississippi senator John Cornelius Stennis. Stennis was in office for more than forty one years, including extensive work with the Armed Services Committee, for which he is known has the ‘Father of America’s modern navy’. He retired in 1989 and died six years later at the age of 93, eight months later the carrier bearing his name was commissioned. The ships original homeport was in San Diego, California, where it moved to after being constructed in Newport News, Virginia.
Being first deployed in the Persian Gulf, the carrier participated in Operation Southern Watch in Iraq before returning to the United States. It then ran aground in San Diego, damaging some systems and causing $2,000,000 in damage. After returning to the Middle East, the Stennis also visited many countries including Malaysia and Australia, and after September 11 2001 the ship focused heavily on security missions closer to the United States, before once again moving to the Persian Gulf. Shortly after it received major upgrades to many systems and relocated to its new homeport in Bremerton, Washington.
Since then, the carrier joined the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Nimitz in the Persian Gulf as part of an increased military presence in the area, before spending time in the Pacific, specifically Singapore and Korea. The final combat mission of the Iraq War was launched from the flight deck of the Stennis in 2011, and was shortly after warned by an Iranian general not to return to the Persian Gulf – the warning was dismissed. It then aided in a highly-publicised and successful rescue of an Iranian fishing boat that was captured by pirates. This illustrious ship is expected to remain in service until 2045, when decommissioning is expected to cost about $900 million (in 2014 dollars).
Carrier 8 - The USS Harry S. Truman
The USS Harry S. Truman is the fifth carrier to be named after a former U.S. President, and the eighth in the Nimitz class. It was commissioned in July 1998 and based in Norfolk, Virginia. Harry Truman was the 33rd president, taking over from Franklin D. Roosevelt after his death in the dying stages of World War 2. He was prominent especially for the Truman Committee, a body whose objective was to expose fraud and corruption in wartime contracts. Truman was also instrumental in the Korean War and oversaw parts of the Cold War as a whole. The carrier is often known as the Lone Warrior.
Like the John C. Stennis, the Truman carrier was first deployed in the Middle East for Operation Southern Watch, and was involved in military strikes in Iraq prior to the Iraq War. The ship also visited France, Crete and Slovenia before being heavily involved in the opening stages of the Invasion of Iraq in 2003. Between this and 2005 the carrier visited the Mediterranean and provided further air support in the Persian Gulf area. After returning to the United States, it assisted significantly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A Hawkeye aircraft crashed during take-off 2 years later, killing three people.
Since then, various port visits in Europe and Asia preceded some extensive upgrades to weapons and other systems. It was also the first carrier in history to host test operations for an unmanned aircraft – the X-47B, which also later saw testing on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS George H.W. Bush. When the Lone Warrior is finally decommissioned in 2048, it will have seen fifty years of exceptional service.
Carrier 9 - The USS Ronald Reagan
The USS Ronald Reagan is the ninth in the Nimitz class and the first of two carriers under the Ronald Reagan subclass, the most advanced and modern subclass of Nimitz carriers. It was commissioned in 2003 after construction in Newport News, and its homeport is San Diego, along with the USS Carl Vinson and formally the USS Nimitz. It was also the first to be named after a living president, Ronald Reagan, the 40th president and the father of the Reaganomics economic doctrines. In the military arena, he took a stance against what he defined as the “evil Soviet Union”, spent heavily on weapons and supported many anti-communist movements, as well as overseeing a dramatic decrease in worldwide nuclear arsenals. He died eleven months after the carrier was commissioned.
After visiting South America on its way to its homeport, the carrier deployed to the Persian Gulf to assist with the Iraq War in 2006. Soon after, it assisted significantly in the aftermath of Typhoon Fengshen in the Philippines, delivering over half a million pounds of rice and water, among other supplies, entirely by helicopter. Afterwards, the ship flew over 1000 sorties in Afghanistan before returning home for extensive upgrading.
In 2011 the ship visited South Korea and helped extensively in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake, along with the USS George Washington. There was some evidence to suggest some crewmembers attributed contracting cancer to the carrier’s vicinity to Fukushima nuclear plant. Japan-U.S. relations were only strengthened by the presence and assistance provided by the carriers. As of 2014, there is a plan for the USS Ronald Reagan to replace the G.W. as the only carrier based out of Yokosuka, Japan. It is expected the ship will remain active until 2053, when it will be replaced by a new Gerald R. Ford class carrier.
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Carrier 10 - The USS George H.W. Bush
The Avenger, as it is affectionately known, is the tenth and final carrier in the class. The USS George H.W. Bush was commissioned in 2009, built in Newport News, and shares its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia with four other Nimitz class carriers. Named after the 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush, it is the fourth ship to be named after a living person. George H.W. Bush was the youngest aviator in the U.S. Navy when he enlisted at the age of 18, and as president he oversaw some important military events while in office, including the invasion of Panama, the Gulf War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The carrier is the most advanced and modern of all ten Nimitz class carriers, featuring more advanced radar, navigation, communication and armour. It has improved efficiency in its hull design, improved rudder design, much more automation and requires fewer crewmembers than its earlier siblings. Since commissioning, it has participated in multiple training exercises around Europe, before heading to the Middle East to assist with the war in Afghanistan, and also assisted with some of the X-47B unmanned test flights.
More recently the carrier has visited Greece and Turkey, and rumours suggested it would stay nearby during the crisis in Crimea, but this proved not to be the case, and has since returned to the Persian Gulf amid rising tensions in Iraq in mid-2014. As the youngest ship in the class, it has yet to see a lot of service, but this ship is expected to be active until around 2059, and will no doubt see a lot of action between now and then.
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