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.
Gerald R. Ford, first ship in the CVN 21 next-generation carrier
class, was christened on Nov. 9, 2013, and is expected to be delivered by mid-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 sys-
tems are expected to reduce watchstanding and maintenance work
for the crew. Ford is the first carrier designed with all-electric utili-
ties 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 — on Ford only — dual-band radar
(DBR) offer enhanced capability with reduced manning require-
ments. A new, Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) is being
developed for John F. Kennedy and later ships in the class.
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. The
keel for John F. Kennedy was laid on Aug. 22, 2015.
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. Ronald Reagan
replaced George Washington in Japan in 2015 as the nation’s only
forward-deployed carrier. A new homeport for Lincoln has yet to
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 Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group sails in formation with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships during Annual
Exercise 16 Nov. 23, 2015, in waters south of Japan. The exercise was aimed at increasing interoperability between
Japanese and American forces through training in air and sea operations.