Carriers Command Respect
By JOHN MAZACH
On Jan. 15, 1991, the aircraft carrier USS America was in the Mediterranean Sea as part of the U.S.
Navy’s Sixth Fleet. Two days later, it had transited the
Suez Canal and, along with USS Saratoga and USS John F.
Kennedy, was launching aircraft in the Red Sea in support
of Operation Desert Storm.
As the ship’s commanding officer, I could not have
been more proud of my crew and our ability to respond
to our nation’s call in times of crisis. America proved
then — as it did for more than three decades of service
— the old adage that our aircraft carriers are “four and
a half acres of sovereign territory.”
America has since been decommissioned and was
scuttled in 2005 off the coast of North Carolina after
providing Navy and shipyard engineers with much-needed technical hull strength data. Her name has
been reassigned to LHA 6, a new amphibious assault
ship that will join the fleet next year. Two more carriers
— USS Enterprise and the aforementioned Kennedy —
have also left the fleet, temporarily leaving the Navy
with only 10, one less than required by U.S. law.
Fortunately, a new ship, Gerald R. Ford, is under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport
News Shipbuilding (NNS) division and will replace
Enterprise in 2016. A new John F. Kennedy and new
Enterprise will follow, replacing the first two ships in the
Nimitz class as they reach the end of their 50-year service lives in the 2020s and 2030s.
For the U.S. to remain forward-deployed and be able
to respond to crises — whether they be in the Middle
East, Asia or anywhere else — building new ships to
replace those reaching the end of their service lives must
Yes, I am biased. I retired after 32 years in the Navy —
most of them aboard carriers — and later worked at NNS,
the nation’s sole builder of carriers. I was in the right place
at the right time and was able to bring Navy and shipyard
leadership together to secure funding for Ford. And I was
honored to be invited to the shipyard May 7 to watch as
the last structural section of the ship was lifted into place.
In Ford, the Navy is getting a superb warship. When
we designed her, we did it with this guidance from the
Secretary of Defense: “If we’re going to build something
new, make it really new. Make it transformational.”
From the standpoint of the Sailor who takes the ship
to sea, the advancements in Ford are a huge improve-
ment over the Nimitz class. Yes, some have added one-
time costs up front, but the operational and mainte-
nance costs (total ownership costs) will be significantly
reduced over the life of the ship.
Ironically, throughout my entire Navy career, I never
thought about how much aircraft carriers cost. When I
went to work for NNS, I was made aware of the cost on
a daily basis. Having worked on both sides, I can tell
you carriers cost what they cost not because the shipyard doesn’t care about cost or schedule, or because it
is the only builder of carriers. It is because carriers are
really, really hard to build. And the cost of not having
them would alter our nation’s military strategy.
“Four and a half acres of sovereign territory” is uniquely descriptive, and we ought not forget it, but President
Ford himself said it much more eloquently at the commissioning of USS Nimitz nearly 40 years ago: “She is a
movable part and parcel of our country, a self-contained
city at sea plying the international waters of the world in
defense of our national interests. Whether her mission is
one of defense, diplomacy or humanity, the Nimitz will
command awe and admiration from some, caution and
circumspection from others, and respect from all.”
Ford, Kennedy and Enterprise will command that
same respect. ■
Vice Adm. John Mazach (U.S. Navy, Ret.) graduated from
Vanderbilt University in 1966 and served on active duty as a
naval aviator until 1998. He lives in Virginia Beach, Va.
“A Point of View” is a Seapower forum wherein experts and analysts express their views on a variety of thought-provoking topics.
The views expressed here are the author’s and not necessarily
those of the Navy League of the United States.
“For the U.S. to remain forward-deployed and be able to respond to crises —
whether they be in the Middle East, Asia or anywhere else — building new ships
to replace those reaching the end of their service lives must be continued.”