TechUSS Nimitz returns: America's oldest aircraft carrier modernised

USS Nimitz returns: America's oldest aircraft carrier modernised

USS Nimitz
USS Nimitz
Images source: © Public domain
Karolina Modzelewska

25 June 2024 17:32

USS Nimitz, the oldest active aircraft carrier in the Navy and the first Nimitz-class ship in service with the USA for nearly 50 years has returned to sea after a seven-month modernisation. The symbol of the American military might be expected to remain in service until at least 2026, after which newer Gerald R. Ford-class carriers will replace it. However, before that happens, Americans must ensure its full operational capability and find a way to scrap such a large vessel.

The nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) spent over half a year at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where it underwent maintenance and system upgrades, as reported by Task&Purpose. The work included, among other things, modernising the crew cabin and enhancing combat systems. After the maintenance was completed, the aircraft carrier underwent several days of sea trials and returned to duty on 22 June.

"Both civilian contractors and the Nimitz crew tirelessly worked to ensure Nimitz was in the best possible condition. Thanks to their dedication, we are ready to set sail and maintain a strong, professional presence wherever our nation requires," emphasised Captain Douglas Graber, commander of USS Nimitz, in a statement.

USS Nimitz: the oldest active navy aircraft carrier

USS Nimitz has been in service in the Navy for nearly 50 years. Americans expect it to be retired in 2026 and replaced by newer Gerald R. Ford-class carriers, similar to the other ten Nimitz-class units. These are some of the largest ships ever built, so scrapping them will not be easy.

As previously reported by WP Tech journalist Łukasz Michalik, during this process, the United States will have to contend with securing nuclear fuel and removing various hazardous substances from the hull in a way that prevents contamination.

The USS Nimitz weighs over 99,790 metric tonnes, is 333 metres long, and 41 metres wide. It is powered by two Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors with 209 megawatts. The vessel can move at speeds over 55.5 km/hr, and its range is practically unlimited. The ship's crew includes about 6,000 people, with around 3,000 being aviation personnel.

The USS Nimitz can carry up to 90 aircraft and helicopters. Its armament includes RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missile launchers and Vulcan Phalanx 20 mm anti-missile systems. The ship is also equipped with numerous sensors and radars (surface surveillance, navigation, airspace monitoring, etc.), enhancing its situational awareness.

The American supercarrier will undoubtedly go down in US history. It is the second American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier after the USS Enterprise. It is also the oldest active aircraft carrier in the US Navy. Thirdly, it is the first American aircraft carrier to accommodate over 350,000 landings. Moreover, the vessel has participated in many missions critical to US interests.

Of note are the events of 1991 and the war in Iraq, as well as the failed Operation Eagle Claw of 1980, aimed at rescuing hostages from the US embassy in Tehran. This mission was undertaken by commandos from the elite Delta Force special unit. Their plan included establishing a makeshift airfield codenamed "Desert One" in the desolate desert southeast of Tehran. Helicopters RH-53D Sea Stallion and C-130 Hercules transport aircraft were to leave from USS Nimitz.

Eight helicopters left the carrier. Two experienced mechanical failures and couldn't continue the mission. The remaining six faced a sandstorm that drastically reduced visibility. Ultimately, six RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters landed in the desert 90 minutes later than planned. Another helicopter was deemed inoperable on-site, and the decision was made to abort the operation with only five functional machines. While leaving "Desert One," one of the helicopters collided with a C-130 transport plane and exploded. This led to the destruction of both aircraft. Nine American soldiers died in the incident.

The commanders coordinating the operation ordered the abandonment of the remaining helicopters, equipment, maps, weapons, and the fallen, evacuating one of the operational C-130s to the island of Masirah in the Arabian Sea. Operation Eagle Claw came to an end. It was later found that its weaknesses were due to a lack of coordination among different military branches. It was a hard lesson for the American military, eventually prompting the transformation of military operational procedures.

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