The following article on the biggest aircraft carrier is an excerpt from Barrett Tillman's book On Wave and Wing: The 100 Year Quest to Perfect the Aircraft Carrier.
The biggest aircraft carrier in the world in terms of displacement is the United State's Nimitz-class nuclear carriers. It acquired ten Nimitz (CVN-68) class ships between 1975 and 2009. Typically they displace more than 100,000 tons with 5,600 personnel. Excepting the lead ship, all were named for presidents and politicians-to the lasting displeasure of naval purists.
It is 332.8 meters long and features a 4.5-acre flight deck that can carry over 60 aircraft. Between three thousand and 3,200 company reside on the ship. Each tower is over 20 stories tall.
While Enterprise employed eight nuclear reactors, Nimitz had two Westinghouse A4Ws with four shafts of 260,000 SHP. Therefore, the Big E's reactors averaged thirty-five thousand SHP and Nimitz's 130,000 each-more than three and a half times as much.
One widely appreciated aspect of nuclear power was the desire to eliminate oil-fired plants' need to “blow stacks.” In order to lessen the accumulation of excessive soot, engineers periodically have to force air through the smoke stack. The result is appalling-a malodorous sulfurous, toxic excretion that can cause vomiting. Aircrews in particular detested the process, which often occurred during recoveries. For decades air wing commanders feuded with engineers over timing of blowing stacks, usually without satisfaction.
The enormous Nimitz-class ships were the backbone of naval power in the post-Cold War America.
In the sandy wake of Desert Storm, Operation Southern Watch trolled Iraqi airspace from 1992 to 2003, often involving carrier aircraft. NATO's 1995 Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia was followed by Operation Allied Force in the spring of 1999, with Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) diverted there for two months before returning to Southern Watch.
Many operators as well as pundits chafed at the assignments. Few of the post-Desert Storm operations seemed directly tied to American national interests, and aircrews grew restive at the relative inactivity. Still, the deployments accumulated. In 1996 alone America, Nimitz, George Washington, Carl Vinson, Enterprise, and Kitty Hawk monitored the no-fly zone.
America's attempts to top its biggest aircraft carrier
The follow-on to the highly successful Nimitz class CVNs is the three-ship Ford (CVN-78) class, subject to repeated scrutiny due to high cost over-runs. The average price of the three ships has been calculated at more than twelve billion dollars (22 percent over budget), not counting the air wings, which are expected to include the enormously expensive, controversial F-35C stealth aircraft.
The Ford design has similarities to the Nimitz class hull but otherwise relies heavily on new technology. Its two new-generation reactors are expected to produce 250 percent more electrical power than the Nimitzes while embarking only three-fourths as many personnel.
The 110,000-ton CVN-78 was laid down in November 2009 and launched four years later. Advances include electro-magnetic catapults and arresting gear, which ease strain on aircraft and require fewer sailors. But the program lagged badly, mainly due to systems slippage. The new multi-function, dual-band radar was more than four years late, while the arresting gear and catapults were delayed between two and three years. However, program defenders note that the lead ship's high cost will be amortized in its two sisters.
As of this writing, Ford is expected to commission in 2017.
Meanwhile, carriers have a key role to play in protecting the vital sea lanes of commerce that benefit so many industrialized nations. Though the Persian Gulf frequently sees carriers, other potential choke points often go lacking. Trillions of dollars in commerce- including most of the oil to China, Korea, and Japan-come through the South China Sea. As a retired admiral and carrier captain noted, “We are currently not minding that store well.”
What would the U.S. Navy do if its biggest aircraft carrier were badly damaged-or even sunk?
Much would depend upon the circumstances-the strategic context. If it occurred during combat operations, the decision to retain carriers within reach of hostile forces likely would rely upon the riskbenefit equation. Does the presence of the onsite air wing offset the continuing threat to an irreplaceable asset? What are the national priorities-strategic, military, and diplomatic? Damage to a second CVN would almost certainly force withdrawal-especially in the absence of adequate land-based aerial tankers.
THE LONGEST-LIVED CARRIERS
The ten-ship Nimitz class likely will be the longest-lived carriers ever. They are listed by year of commissioning.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH (CVN-77) 2009
These ships-which are the biggest aircraft carrier yet-are designed to last 50 years.