In 1954 the US Navy built a test facility to test the feasibility of nuclear propulsion on warships. It would not be until 1958 when the first two reactors began to operate with acceptable results, which prompted the design of ships with this type of propulsion. The main concerns were regarding the cost of installing this very expensive equipment on a ship, because the elimination of the bulky conventional oil-fired machinery was an undoubted advantage for the ship design and for the operational flexibility.
During the approval of the USS Enterprise, the possibility of converting the Forrestal-class aircraft carriers to nuclear was being studied and it was decided to use the modifications necessary for this transformation in the design of the new Enterprise. The main difference, apart from the nuclear equipment, was the different location of the elevators and the special shape of the command tower. In addition, the new ship would have 380 m2 more of flight deck and could carry larger aircraft than the Forrestals proposed.
On February 4, 1958 the keel was laid on shipway No.11 at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company and on September 24, 1960, the ship was launched, arousing admiration for its impressive size and the occasional complaint about the costs that were being reached. Finally, the internal hull’s space would not be as spacious as was speculated, because the 8 nuclear reactors needed 32 heat exchangers and together they occupied more than the conventional machinery of the Forrestal class. Nevertheless, a good part of the oil bunkerage had to be maintained as part of the anti-torpedo protection.
The USS Enterprise was 335.28 meters long and its fully loaded displacement was more than 91,000 tons when it was launched. These figures made it the longest and heaviest warship ever built to date, and also the most expensive. In addition to the size of its powerplant, the reason for its extraordinary dimensions was the fact that it had to carry around 10,408,750 liters (2,750,000 US gallons) of aviation fuel, (about a 50% more than precedent carriers) and 2,500 tons of munitions for aircraft. Logically, having unlimited autonomy had an impact on a larger carrier air group and on a longer operating time at sea.
In terms of cost, the USS Enterprise vessel cost 451.3 million US dollars, about 130 million more than a conventional aircraft carrier of 1960. In addition, we must add the cost of aircrafts, electronics and weapons equipment, but this does not mean a difference between nuclear and conventional ships, because they need them either way. It is true that operational flexibility is greater in nuclear carriers, but they also need logistical support during operations. Their profitability continues to be questioned even today, after almost 60 years of operations with the CVNs, but there is no doubt that the operational cost is higher than the conventional ones. According to a study by the US Navy carried out in 1997, the “average annual cost of the life cycle” reaches 282 million dollars for conventional carriers and 444 million for nuclear carriers.
The USS Enterprise CVA(N)-65 entered service on November 25, 1961 and until April 1962 it was conducting tests to verify its real capabilities. It had installed 4 deck edge lifts and four “C13 Mod.0” steam catapults and a Mk.7 arrester system. Three lifts were located to starboard and one to port, two of them forward of the island and two aft. They were trapezoidal in shape to facilitate maneuvering with folding wing aircraft. In general, it was similar to the proposed “Improved Forrestal“, but the island was completely new and different from all the others carriers.
Despite not having a funnel, it was very large command tower, although its pedestal was narrower than the rest of the island. It had a cube shape due to the installation of the directional antennas of four AN/SPS-32 search radars and four AN/SPS-33 tracking radars. These antennas were placed in the form of large panels on each of the 4 sides of the tower. At the top of the tower were the bridges and above them a dome with different ECM and ESM antennas and electronic equipments. An AN/SPS-12 search radar was installed shortly after its commissioning in the starboard edge near the island.
The AN/SPS-32 & 33 radars were too expensive, too large, and too difficult to maintain. In the event of serious damage, they could not be disassembled for repairs and were only installed on another ship, the nuclear-powered cruiser USS Long Beach, which had an almost identical island. However, the AN/SPS-32 was a long range air search radar capable of detecting a large ship at 700 km away and a fighter aircraft at about 350 km. The AN/SPS-33 radar was used for 3D tracking and both were removed during the overhaul carried out between 1979 and 1982.
Of course, electronic equipment has been updated during its operational life and in its last years, the number of devices was huge. Among these were: one SPN-64(V)9 navigation radar, one SPS-49(V)5 search radar, one SPS-49E 3D radar, one TAS Mk.23, one SPS-67 surface radar, six Mk.95 fire control radars, three Mk.91 MFCS fire control radars, one SPN-41 radar, one SPN-43 radar, two SPN-46 CCA radars, one TACAN URN-25 system, one SLQ-36 NIXIE towed anti-torpedo decoy, one SLQ-32(V)4/SLY-2 electronic warfare system and four MK.36 SRBOC chaff and flare launchers.
USS Enterprise was delivered without any defensive weaponry despite being designed with two SAM Terrier Mk.10 twin missile launchers. However, in 1966 two SAM Sea Sparrow Mk.25 octuple missile launchers were installed which were replaced in the 80s by Sea Sparrow Mk.29, in addition to installing three Phalanx CIWS mounts. In 2005 two RAM short range SAM missile launchers replaced the three Phalanx CIWS, completing their defensive armament until they were decommissioned.
USS Enterprise entered service with a Carrier Air Group (CVG) consisting of 7 squadrons and 4 detachments with about 96 aircrafts. These units were formed by F-4H-1 (later F-4B) Phantom II fighter bombers, AD-6 Skyraider (later A-1H) attack aircrafts, WF-1 Tracer (later E-1B) AWACS aircrafts, C-2 Trader transport utility aircrafts, A-3J-1 (later A-5A) Vigilante heavy bombers, A-3 Skywarrior bombers, A-4D-2N Skyhawk attack aircrafts, F8U-1 (later F-8E) Crusader fighters, F-8U-1P (later RF-8A) Crusader reconnaissance aircrafts, EA-1F “Electric Spad” Skyrider EW aircrafts and some diferent types of helicopters. Usually each Squadron had between 8 and 12 aircrafts assigned and the detachments had a variable number of aircrafts or helicopters, normally between 2 and 4.
Altogether the Carrier Air Group (CVG) consisted of a maximum of 90 aircraft. Since December 1963 the CVG was re-designated as Carrier Air Wing (CVW), a name that still remains. During its 51 years of service, it carried out 29 deployments and operational cruises with the following embarked air units operated on it: -CVG-1 (from January 1962 to April 1962) -CVG-6 (from October 1962 to October 1964) -CVW-9 (from October 1965 to July 1969) -CVW-14 (from June 1971 to October 1978) -CVW-11 (from September 1982 to March 1990) -CVW-17 (from June 1996 to December 1996) -CVW-3 (from November 1998 to May 1999) -CVW-8 (from April 2001 to November 2001) -CVW-1 (from October 2003 to November 2012).
The last CVW to operate from the deck of the USS Enterprise was CVW-1, whose motto was “Primus et Principes” (In First Place). Each CVW is made up of a variable number of Squadrons that can rotate through different CVWs. For example in 2005 the CVW-1 was made up of the following air units: -VF-211 “Fighting Checkmates” with 10 F-14A Tomcat (interception/attack) -VMFA 312 “Checkerboards” with 12 F/A-18A+ (interception/attack) -VFA-82 “Marauders” with 12 F/A-18C (interception/attack) -VFA-86 “Sidewinders” with 12 F/A-18C (interception/attack) -VAW-123 “Screwtops” with 4 E-2C Hawkeye (AEW/AWACS) -VAQ-137 “Rooks” with 4 EA-6B Prowler (SEAD/EW) -VS-32 “Maulers” with 8 S-3B Viking (anti-ship/tanker) -VRC-40 “Rawhides” (Detachment 2) with 4 C-2A Greyhound  (transport) -HS-11 “Dragonslayers” with 2 HH-60H and 4 SH-60F Seahawk helicopters (ASW/logistic/SAR).
The composition of a CVW can vary depending on the type of deployment and can carry out up to 120 daily combat sorties, in a cycle of 14 hours, with 80% of them being attack missions. In cases of extreme need and for short periods, a maximum of 180 combat sorties could be carried out in a 24-hour cycle. However, they must always take into account the weather and the state of the sea in order to operate at these rates.
All nuclear vessels need to go through the so-called Refueling and Overhaul (ROH) every few years, during which the nuclear fuel is changed and in-depth maintenance and modernization work is carried out. The USS Enterprise made its first ROH between October 1964 and June 1965, after having sailed 207,000 miles (382,950 km). The second ROH was between October 1969 and January 1971 after 300,000 miles (555,000 km) traveled. The third ROH took place between January 1979 and February 1982, and the fourth and last took place between March 1991 and September 1994.
The first deployment of “Big E” was in June 1961 together with the 2nd Fleet, carrying out training missions and maneuvers simulating a nuclear strike. Like most US Navy carriers, the Enterprise used to carry nuclear weapons for its aircraft. These were usually 10 to 900 kiloton free-fall bombs, 100 kt Walleye air-to-surface missiles, and 10 kt B57 depth charges. If necessary, it could also have carried 1.2 or 1.4 Megaton strategic nuclear bombs.
The first “serious matter” consisted in carrying out an air blockade of Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. On July 31, 1964, Operation Orbit began together with the USS Long Beach and USS Bainbridge nuclear cruisers. The three ships formed the “Task Force One” and set out to go around the world powered only by nuclear energy. This mission took them 65 days, with 57 days at sea during which they traveled 30,216 miles (55,899 km) without replenishment.
The USS Enterprise participated in the Vietnam War, arriving at the Gulf of Tonkin for the first time in December 1965, and remaining there until June 1967. During that period, its aircraft made some 13,400 combat sorties in 132 days of operations and the ship sailed 67,630 miles. (125,115 km). In February 1968 she returned to Vietnam where she stayed until July, performing in this period more than 12,000 sorties, of which more than 9,000 were combat sorties.
In January 1968 the ship faced a crisis with North Korea, after the Koreans seized an American spy ship, the USS Pueblo. Again in April 1969 North Korea shot down an EC-121 Warning Star reconnaissance aircraft killing all 31 crew members. This time “Big E” joined three more aircraft carriers to form Task Force 71, which carried out a show of force in the area, but did not carry out attacks on North Korea.
In January 1971 she returned to Yankee Station (Vietnam), but in December she traveled to the Bay of Bengal to carry out a show of force against the Indian naval blockade during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. She would retire shortly after to avoid a confrontation with the Soviets, returning again to Southeast Asia to continue the attacks on North Vietnam. Finally, in January 1973 a ceasefire is signed and the attacks on Vietnam are ended. However, it remains in the area and in February they carry out some limited attacks on Laos at the request of its Government, unrelated to operations on Vietnam.
In March 1974 the Big E began operations with the new F-14 Tomcat fighter, being the first US Navy aircraft carrier to operate with it. In April 1975 she returned to Southeast Asia to help repatriate American and South Vietnamese personnel after the North Vietnamese invasion. After this mission, the Enterprise spent 10 years without carrying out combat operations, carrying out different exercises and visits to friendly countries. It is worth mentioning the accident suffered in November 1985 when it collided with Bishop Rock on the Cortes Bank, south-southwest of San Diego. In this incident, the ship suffered a gash in the hull of more than 30 meters long and the damage of a screw. The repairs cost 17 million dollars and its Captain was relieved of command.
In April 1986 she left for the Mediterranean to relieve the USS Coral Sea after the air attacks against Libya carried out on April 15 during Operation El Dorado Canyon. In April 1988 she was deployed to the Arabian Gulf to escort Kuwaities tankers and provide air cover for a mission against Iranian positions after the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) collided with a mine placed by Iran in international waters. At the beginning of December 1988 she was deployed in Manila Bay at the request of the Philippine President to provide air support during an attempted coup by rebel forces.
In September 1996 she participated for the first time in Operation Southern Watch, monitoring the airspace in southern and south-central Iraq to avoid illegal flights of Iraqi aircraft. In mid-December 1998, the ship and its combat group set sail for the Persian Gulf to participate in Operation Desert Fox. During this four days operation, 415 Tomahawk missiles and 600 bombs were launched against 100 government, military and industrial targets in Iraq. CVW-3’s aircraft aboard USS Enterprise performed almost 300 combat sorties and dropped 200 guided bombs and more than 80 anti-radiation missiles.
On September 11, 2001, after the attacks in the US, Big E heads at full speed to Southwest Asia and is the first ship to arrive in the area and is located 100 miles south of Pakistan. In the following weeks, within Operation Enduring Freedom, the aircrafts of her CVW-8 carried out 660 combat sorties during which some 380 tons of bombs and missiles were dropped. In August 2003 the Enterprise battle group trains and in October it was sent to the North Arabian Gulf. From there, it participates in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in the 3 months of deployment its CVW-1 aircraft carry out some 3,500 sorties.
In June 2006 she is sent back to the Persian Gulf to continue with Operation Iraqi Freedom/Enduring Freedom. In a month, its aircrafts carry out more than 1,000 sorties accumulating more than 4,200 flight hours, ending their deployment in July. During September and October its aircrafts support ISAF troops in Afghanistan attacking Taliban positions and carry out 450 sorties launching more than 100 precision bombs. In November 2006 she finished her deployment having sailed more than 60,000 miles (111,000 km), made 8,300 sorties (2,186 combat missions) and making 6,916 day and night arrested landings. From August to December 2007 she remained in the Persian Gulf participating again in Operation Iraqi Freedom/Enduring Freedom. In this period, its aircrafts carry out more than 7,500 missions (1,676 combat sorties) and totaling more than 20,000 flight hours.
In March 2011 he returned to the Arabian Sea for operations within Operation Enduring Freedom. On May 24 an F/A-18F Super Hornet makes the 400,000th landing on its flight deck. In June 2011 she finished her cycle in the Gulf having made 1,450 sorties. On March 11, 2012 she began her last deployment and in May she made several combat sorties over Afghanistan. Finally, on October 12, 2012, she left the area after having made 2,241 combat sorties, dropped more than 50 bombs and almost 6,000 rounds in missions related to Operation Enduring Freedom.
On December 1, 2012 US Navy’s the first nuclear aircraft carrier was deactivated after 51 years of service. Then, the dismantling work begins on certain parts of the ship to proceed with the defueling. The dispose of its 8 nuclear reactors was completed during 2016 and on February 3, 2017 the USS Enterprise is officially decommissioned and stricken from the U.S. Naval Vessel Register. Although some proposals were made to turn the ship into a museum, both the cost and the problems with the removing of its nuclear equipment advised against it. However, the “Enterprise family” does not end here, as the future CVN-80 Ford class carrier will be named again as USS Enterprise.

Entradas relacionadas