Country: United States
The US Navy’s Nimitz Class aircraft carriers are, by displacement, the largest commissioned warships in the world. The first of the Class, USS Nimitz (CVN-68) was ordered in 1967 as a development of the ten year old USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier. Although dimensionally smaller than the Enterprise, the Nimitz Class use fewer but more powerful nuclear reactors, have a higher displacement, and operate roughly the same number of aircraft. Like the Enterprise, the use of nuclear reactors allowed the carriers’ superstructure to be much smaller, with no need for large funnels, allowing greater space on the flight deck. USS Nimitz was launched in May 1972 and, after extensive trials, commissioned in May 1975. USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) both followed within five years. Originally they were classified as attack carriers, but with the commission of the Carl Vinson this changed to a combined attack and anti-submarine role. Carl Vinson was built with this capacity, and its predecessors were refitted shortly afterwards with appropriate radar and facilities for submarine hunting operations.
The fourth aircraft carrier in the Class, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), was ordered in 1980 and commissioned in 1984. Because of the length of time between this carrier and the previous one, USS Theodore Roosevelt and its successors are sometimes, erroneously, known as the Theodore Roosevelt Class. By the end of the Cold War, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN072) had also entered service, and USS George Washington (CVN-73) had been launched but was still undergoing pre-commission tests. As of 2006, nine Nimitz Class carriers have been launched and one, the USS George W. H. Bush (CVN-77), is under construction. The USS George H. W. Bush will be the last in the Nimitz Class, and will have various updated systems allowing it to act as a transitional ship for the next, as yet unnamed, class of aircraft carriers.
Theoretically, carriers of the Nimitz Class have an unlimited range. By utilizing replenishment at sea, these carriers can run for up to 13 years before needing refueling. In that time food, aviation fuel, munitions and other stocks can be transferred from supply ships while at sea. In 1980 the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower set the Cold War record by spending 152 days at sea (over five months) without calling into a port.
Carriers in the Nimitz Class have seen active service across the world, including NATO and UN operations in the eastern Mediteranean, and during both Gulf Wars. USS Nimitz also saw operational service in 1980, when it served as the launch pad for Operation EVENING LIGHT. Also known as Operation EAGLE CLAW, this was an ultimately failed attempt by the US to rescue 53 hostages taken from their embassy in Tehran, Iran. The Nimitz saw more direct action the next year off the coast of Libya. In what was to become known as the Gulf of Sidra Incident, two Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 fired at two of Nimitz’s Grumman F-14 Tomcats. The F-14s returned fire and shot down both Libyan aircraft.
Unusually, USS Carl Vinson, USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and (once commissioned) USS George W. H. Bush have all been named after persons who were alive at the date of commissioning, while the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was believed to be the only US Navy ship to that date that had been named after a US Army officer.