BRIEFING: Aircraft carriers play a vital role in protecting U.S.
security interests overseas and establishing stability in the world’s
trouble spots. The U.S. Navy continues to regularly deploy carrier strike groups to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, where they conduct maritime security operations and support
U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
By law, the Navy maintains a force of 11 carriers. With the retirement in December 2012 of Enterprise, a temporary “gap” is taking
place until Gerald R. Ford enters service in 2016, and special permission — granted in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act
— was needed from Congress to temporarily drop to 10 carriers.
All carriers now in service belong to the 10-ship Nimitz class
and, since the retirement in January 2009 of the conventionally
powered Kitty Hawk, the Navy fields an all-nuclear carrier force.
The 10th and final Nimitz-class carrier, George H. W. Bush, was commissioned Jan. 10, 2009. George Washington replaced Kitty Hawk in
Japan in 2008 as the nation’s only forward-deployed carrier.
The CVN 21 next-generation carrier program is well under
way. Gerald R. Ford, first ship in the class, was christened on Nov.
9, 2013, and is expected to be delivered in early 2016. The major
goals of this design are to increase the sortie generation rate and
electrical generating capacity, reduce manpower, improve survivability, and increase life allowances for displacement and stability
to allow for future improvements. Key features include new
nuclear propulsion and electrical plant designs, electromagnetic
catapults, advanced arresting gear, and new integrated warfare systems and weapons/material-handling systems.
The Ford class is being designed to operate with nearly 800
fewer crew members than a Nimitz-class carrier, and improvements
in the ship design will allow the embarked air wing to operate with
400 fewer personnel. Technologies and ship design initiatives that
replace maintenance-intensive systems with low-maintenance systems are expected to reduce watchstanding and maintenance work
for the crew. Ford is the first carrier designed with all-electric utilities that will eliminate steam service lines from the ship, reduce
maintenance requirements and improve corrosion control efforts.
The new A1B reactor, Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System,
advanced arresting gear and dual-band radar (DBR) all offer
enhanced capability with reduced manning requirements.
The Ford class is designed to maximize the striking power of
the embarked carrier air wing. The ship’s systems and configuration will generate a 25 percent boost in the sortie rate over the
Nimitz class. The ship’s configuration and electrical generating
plant are designed to accommodate any foreseeable requirements during its 50-year service life.
CVN 79 was named John F. Kennedy on May 28, 2011, and on
Dec. 1, 2012, the name Enterprise was announced for CVN 80.
To achieve the full 50-year service life of the Nimitz class, the
ships undergo a midlife Refueling Complex Overhaul (RCOH).
The overhaul, which generally lasts three to four years, is the
most comprehensive maintenance and modernization period
the ships will undergo. Both reactors are refueled and most systems are upgraded and rebuilt.
Abraham Lincoln began RCOH in 2012. George Washington
will follow Lincoln in the RCOH schedule and be replaced in the
Western Pacific in 2015 by Ronald Reagan. A new homeport for
Lincoln has yet to be announced.
Enterprise was the first nuclear-powered carrier to be retired.
Although the ship was formally inactivated March 31, 2013, work
to fully recycle the ship is not expected to be completed before 2019.
The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, bottom, relieves USS George H. W. Bush in the Arabian Gulf Oct. 18, 2014. George
H.W. Bush was to depart the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of responsibility (AOR) for its homeport at Norfolk, Va., with Carl
Vinson taking over support of maritime security operations, strike operations in Iraq and Syria as directed, and theater
security cooperation efforts in the Fifth Fleet AOR.