On November 25, 2011, Big ‘E’ celebrated its 50th birthday, making the carrier the oldest active duty ship in the U.S. Naval fleet. After 25 deployments and 51 years of active service, ENTERPRISE was officially inactivated December 1, 2012 and is currently undergoing an extensive terminal offload program leading up to her eventual decommissioning. On 20 June 2013 Huntington Ingalls Industries' Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) division celebrated the return of USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during the ship's final homecoming to the shipyard for her inactivation. As the only super carrier powered by eight nuclear reactors, Enterprise would be the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier to undergo an inactivation. NNS would defuel the ship's eight reactors and prepare Enterprise for its transit to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PSNS&IMF). The ship is scheduled to depart NNS in 2016.
The carrier, minus a functioning propulsion system, headrf to Puget Sound, the long way, towed around Cape Horn to Puget Sound, Washington. Once it reached the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the long and difficult task of removing the eight reactors from Enterprise begins. Once the reactors were removed, CVN-65 would be formally decommissioned. But unlike the USS Intrepid in New York City or the USS Midway in San Diego, the Enterprise was not destined to become a floating museum. Removing the reactors essentially destroyed the ship. Once the reactors were removed, the cost to put the ship back in any shape to where it still resembles a ship would be prohibitive. So the ship will be cut up and the metal sold for scrap.
At the launch of ENTERPRISE on September 24, 1960, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was the mightiest warship to ever sail the seas. Enterprise is the longest carrier in the Navy at 1,123 feet. It is also the tallest (250 feet) and fastest (30+ nautical miles per hour) carrier in the fleet. She was built with a distinctive square island supporting phased-array radars and a complex EW system. Aviation facilities include four deck edge lifts, two forward and one each side abaft the island. There are four 295 foot C-13 Mod 1 catapults. Hangars cover 216,000 sq. ft with 25-ft deck head. The Enterprise carries 8,500 tons of aviation fuel (12 days flight operations).
Built to a modified Forrestal class design, Enterprise was the world's second nuclear-powered warship (the cruiser Long Beach (CGN-9) was completed a few months earlier). This new dispensation in propulsive machinery would give her a maximum speed of 35 knots and an estimated endurance of five years; by eliminating the need for oil storage and stacks it would provide twice the aviation fuel capacity of her largest predecessors and permit the installation, on the sides of the island structure, of fixed radar antennae of advanced design. This astounding vessel marked the culmination of the Navy's development of shipboard aviation, a development begun within the service lives of many still on active duty with the conversion, in 1922, of the old 15-knot collier Jupiter into the Langley as an experimental aircraft carrier.
A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was in the design stage by 1952. The AEC and the Navy decided that Westinghouse would build the reactor and that the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company would develop the shipboard features. Westinghouse already had a good technical base for the project from its work on the reactor prototype in Idaho. However, Rickover had to win over President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Congress, who were cutting budgets. The carrier was initially approved under President Truman in 1950, but was cut from the budget in 1953.
The skyrocketing costs of nuclear ships (in all, the Nautilus program cost $65 million) caused both the Department of Defense and Congress to question their cost-effectiveness. But the Korean conflict gave Rickover, by this time an admiral, the opportunity to defend his request for a nuclear carrier. He was victorious in 1954, when funds for the nuclear carrier were reinstated and the USS Enterprise resulted, the first nuclear-powered surface ship.
The original estimate for the Enterprise was $314 million; the latest projected cost was $472 million, an increase of a little over 1.5 times. The original cost of the nuclear propulsion plant equipment was $90 million; the latest projected cost was $133 million, also an increase of a little over 1.5 times.22 The blunt fact was that the cost of everything was going up, and judging by the example of the Long Beach and Enterprise, the rate of increase for nuclear propulsion was not out of line.
The first of the eight reactors installed achieved initial criticality on 2 December 1960, shortly after the carrier was launched. After three years of operation during which she steamed more than 207,000 miles, Enterprise was refueled from November 1964 to July 1965. Her second set of cores provided about 300,000 miles steaming. Refueled again in 1970 the third set of cores lasted for eight years until replaced in 1979-82 overhaul. There are two reactors for each of the ship's four shafts. The eight reactors feed 32 heat exchangers. She completed a fourth refueling in the mid-1990s.
Enterprise made its maiden voyage under the command of Capt. Vincent P. DePoix, Jan. 12, 1962. In August, Enterprise joined the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. Soon after its return to Norfolk, Va., in October, Enterprise was dispatched to its first international crisis. Enterprise and other ships in the Second Fleet set up a "strict quarantine of all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba." The blockade was put in place on Oct. 24, and the first Soviet ship was stopped the next day. On Oct. 28, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles and dismantle the missile bases in Cuba.
ENTERPRISE joined the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, and made her second and third deployments to the Mediterranean in 1963 and 1964. During the latter deployment, on May 13, the world's first nuclear-powered task force was formed when USS LONG BEACH and USS BAINBRIDGE joined ENTERPRISE. On July 31, the three ships were designated Task Force One and sent on "Operation Sea Orbit," a historic 30,565-mile voyage around the world, accomplished without a single refueling or replenishment. She was the first nuclear ship to enter combat when her aircraft struck targets in Vietnam, and she assisted in the evacuation of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam conflict.
In October 1964 ENTERPRISE returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company for her first refueling and overhaul. ENTERPRISE returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in 1970 for an overhaul and second refueling. Following the 1973 cease-fire in Vietnam, ENTERPRISE proceeded to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Wash., where "Big E" was altered and refitted to support the Navy's newest fighter aircraft -- the F-14A "Tomcat."
One of the issues that caused tension in US-Japanese relations in 1964 was the berthing of a nuclear-powered ship for the first time in a Japanese port. As the only nation to be attacked by atomic weapons, the Japanese public and government were particularly concerned about potential nuclear weapons in Japanese waters. Such an overriding aversion to nuclear weapons placed the United States and Japan in difficult positions. The resulting policy of ambiguity caused problems for both countries. Prime Minister Sato, shortly after assuming office, privately concluded that Japan should join the ranks of the nuclear powers, particularly in light of the recent nuclear detonation by Communist China. Sato knew, however, that the Japanese public was unprepared to accept that view.
Japan's allergy to nuclear energy was revealed in heated student demonstrations sparked by the visit of the first nuclear-powered surface ship, the USS Enterprise, to Japan in January 1968. Although the nuclear issue remained contentious, the Japanese knew that their security depended on the United States, including its nuclear capabilities. With Communist China now a nuclear power and a menacing neighbor, and with instability in Korea, particularly in 1968, and the heightened conflict in Southeast Asia, Japan grappled with the realities of a nuclear world, even as it sought to maintain its pacifism.
When commissioned on 25 November 1961, ENTERPRISE was designated as a 'nuclear-powered attack aircraft carrier' and was assigned the hull number CVAN 65. To more accurately reflect ENTERPRISE's multi-mission capabilities, the "A" (for attack) was dropped on 1 July 1975, and the Big E became a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with the hull number CVN 65.
The years 1979 to 1982 were spent at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard receiving a reconstructed island and numerous improvements. When first completed the island of the Enterprise had a very unique shaped structure consisting of a dome shaped top resting on a box, supporting SPS-32 and 33 radars, plus many ECM antennas, which were located on all four sides and top dome of the ship. These were all removed during retrofit, and the island was completely altered to resemble the island of Kitty Hawk class carriers. And in October 1990 ENTERPRISE moved to Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company for refueling and the Navy's largest complex overhaul ever attempted, being updated for service through 2015. ENTERPRISE completed its overhaul, the most extensive in U.S. Naval history, on Sept. 27, 1994.
In mid-January 1995, "Big E" returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company for a five month Selected Restricted Availability. The yard period involved upgrades to all of the combat and communications systems, intelligence suites, command and control capabilities, ventilation systems, berthing and dining areas, and underway replenishment equipment. In January 1997 Big "E" returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company for a six month Selected Restricted Availability. The focus of the yard period was habitability upgrades and various combat systems. An extended overhaul for the Enterprise began at Newport News Shipbuilding in 1999 and continued through mid-year 2000.
USS Enterprise (CVN 65) (Big E) received an upgrade to her landing gear. The state-of-the-art cross check system was being installed during the ship's ongoing Extended Selected Restricted Availability at Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard to help improve the ship's ability to catch aircraft. Under the old method of catching planes, an observer in Primary Flight Control (Pri-Fly) identified the incoming aircraft and relayed that information to the engine operators in the arresting gear engine rooms. These operators would set the tension of the arresting cables to match the weight of the incoming aircraft, guaranteeing the plane would come to a complete stop within the length of the runway. With the cross-check system, the watch-stander in Pri-Fly would set the weight remotely from his station. With the new cross-check system, the deck edge operator can see the information from Pri-Fly displayed on a panel installed onto the flight deck itself. While that data goes directly to the landing area, the engine operators still remain the human element needed to ensure things run smoothly.
In September 2003, Northrop Grumman was awarded a $108 million contract to begin design of the CVN-21 class nuclear powered aircraft carrier. Construction should begin in 2007 and commissioning is expected to be in 2014. She will replace the Enterprise (CVN-65) which will at that time be fifty-three years old. Originally designed for 20 years, ENTERPRISE, upon retirement, will have served over 52 years, longer than any other Navy steel-hulled warship. The continued use of this ship and the other nuclear powered warships beyond original design life provides a distinct economic advantage while providing a force multiplier for the national defense.
Designed for a service life of 30 years, the ENTERPRISE by 2006 was 46 years old. She had been refueled three times, most recently in 1994. As the only ship of her class, she has unique maintenance and testing requirements and requires a long lead time for material and spare parts. The ENTERPRISE deployed in the summer of 2007 and, upon her return, entered her last scheduled, major depot maintenance period in March 2008. That availability will enable the ENTERPRISE to complete two more deployments (in 2010 and 2012). Any extension beyond that would require an additional major maintenance availability at considerable cost and with a significant impact on the maintenance schedule for other aircraft carriers.
On May 24, 2009 Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC) Shipbuilding, Inc., Newport News, Va., is being awarded a $21,000,000 modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-08-C-2100) for the accomplishment of the FY08 Extended Drydocking Selected Restricted Availability (EDSRA) of USS Enterprise (CVN 65). EDSRAs are similar to overhauls in that they restore the ship, including all subsystems that affect combat capability and safety, to established performance standards. Additionally, an EDSRA provides an opportunity to perform hull inspections and recoating and other maintenance related evolutions below the waterline that cannot be accomplished while the ship is waterborne. The EDSRA provides sufficient time to perform more extensive propulsion plant repairs and testing than is possible during an Extended Selected Restricted Availability. Work was performed in Newport News, Va., and is expected to be completed by August 2009.
On May 12, 2009 USS Kitty Hawk, which had been the Navy's oldest active warship since 1998, turned over the title to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65).
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list