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 2017, 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.
In April 2016, USS Carl Vinson became the first CVN to be
modified with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) command
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 in 2017. 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
and weapons/material-handling systems.
The Ford class has been 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 elimi-
nate 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 offer
enhanced capability with reduced manning requirements. A
new Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar 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 with systems and configuration to 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. A
keel ceremony for John F. Kennedy was held 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 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 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS John C. Stennis, left, and USS Ronald Reagan conduct dual aircraft carrier strike group operations in the
Philippine Sea June 18, 2016, in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.