In times of crisis, especially in naval warfare, one of the first questions authorities ask is the whereabouts of the aircraft carriers, as it is arguably considered the most valuable sea-based asset. Why? It serves as a pillar of power, providing all necessary operational capabilities and tactical air power on a global scale. Simply put, deploying such assets as soon as conflict arises, or even before tensions break into an ugly skirmish, could significantly change the course of whatever brewing crisis.

Superpowers such as the British and American navies have maintained aircraft carriers as far back as the early 1900s. However, its significance in sea warfare was not highlighted until Imperial Japan pulled off its elaborate surprise attack on Pearl Harbor midway through World War II. Its success in the grim offensive demonstrated the vessel’s potential and has become an important centerpiece in fleet formations.

Today, the US Navy has 11 CATOBAR (Catapulted Assisted Taken Off Barrier Arrested Recovery) aircraft carriers deployed across the globe to protect against any threats that jeopardize the free use of the sea, as well as to immediately respond to crises faced by its allies located, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. Its primary roles include multi-mission attack and Anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Ten of the 11 vessels are under the venerable Nimitz-class aircraft carriers that have been serving the Navy since its lead ship was first commissioned in 1975. It preceded now-decommissioned supercarrier classes Kitty Hawk (CV-63 to 67) and Enterprise (CVN-65).

These ten nuclear-powered vessels under the Nimitz class were the largest warships ever built in the world until the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN-78) commissioning in 2017, and each ship has a service lifespan of up to 50 years with one mid-life refueling.

An artist’s rendition of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) in 1968. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Built by Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding (now Northrop Grumman Ship Systems), the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier was developed to supplement and simultaneously replace its predecessor as the backbone of the US Navy’s naval strength. With notes taken from the shortcomings and lessons from the aircraft carriers before her, Nimitz had several improvements and upgrades, including size, design, armor, combat systems, countermeasures, sensor technologies, and propulsion, among many others. The class’s lead ship bears the name of WWII US Pacific Fleet Commander Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the last living US Navy officer to hold the rank.

General Specifications

The gigantic carrier has a displacement of 102,000 tons when fully loaded, a flight deck length of approximately 332.9 meters, and a beam height of about 76.8 m, with over 6,000 personnel (crew and aircrew) and typically accommodates up to 60 aircraft on deck. Normally it would accommodate at least 12 F/A-18E/F Hornets, 36 F/A-18 Hornets, four E-2C Hawkeyes, and four EA-6B Prowlers on its flight deck, as well as helicopters composed of four SH-60F and two HH-60H Seahawks.

E-2C Hawkeye
An E-2C Hawkeye lands on the flight deck aboard USS Nimitz on December 24, 2022. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

As mentioned, the carrier is nuclear-powered, outfitted with two General Electric pressurized water reactors generating four turbines of 260,000 horsepower and four shafts, allowing each ship to reach a maximum speed of over 30 knots. Meanwhile, it keeps four backup diesel with 10,720 hp in case of emergency.

Each Nimitz class’s armaments and countermeasure weapons vary but are typically mounted with Multiple NATO Sea Sparrow, Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS), and Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM). For their combat system, most are equipped with advanced combat direction systems (ACDS), with some fitted with a ship self-defense system capable of automated self-defense against anti-ship cruise missiles. The same goes for sensors. Aircraft carriers under the class have ITT SPS-48E 3-D, operating at E/F-band, Raytheon SPS49(V)5, C/D-band and Raytheon mk23 TAS, D-band for its air search radars, while it uses Northrop Grumman Norden Systems SPS-67V, operating at G-band as its surface search radar.

Sea Sparrow Missile
An Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) launches from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) during a live-fire missile exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, April 21, 2016. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

The lead ship Nimitz (CVN-68) was commissioned in May 1975, while the last vessel, George H.W. Bush (CVN-77), entered service in January 2009. Other ships under the class include Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69), Carl Vinson (CVN-70), Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), George Washington (CVN-73), John C Stennis (CVN-74), Harry S Truman (CVN-75), and Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). Since entering service, most aircraft carriers have participated in major conflicts such as Operation Eagle Claw in Iran and Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As tension rises in the Indo-Pacific in recent months, some Nimitz-class warships have been deployed for monitoring and deterrence in the region, including CVN-68, CVN-70, CVN-72, and CVN-76.

Nimitz Subclass

Ships under the Nimitz subclass had their keel laying, launching, and commissioning into service in the 70s, except for USS Carl Vinson, who joined the Navy fleet in 1982. They all underwent refueling and overhaul (ROH) already between 1998 to 2009 and received upgrades to the later carriers’ standards, like fitting with more advanced radar and sonar systems.

USS Nimitz (CVN-68)

Teamwork, A Tradition

USS Nimitz (CVN 68) underway conducting routine operations on December 8, 2022. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: May 1975 (currently, the oldest serving aircraft carrier in the world)

Homeport: Bremerton, Washington

Status: In active service

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69)

CVN 69
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) en route to the Atlantic Ocean on September 28, 2019. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: October 1977

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Homeport: Norfolk, Virginia

Status: In active service

USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70)

Vis Per Mare (“Strength From The Sea”)

USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) at Sea
USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in transit to the Pacific Ocean, 2021. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: March 1982

Homeport: San Diego, California

Status: In active service

Theodore Roosevelt Subclass

Beginning CVN-71 to the last ship in the Nimitz class had a modification in structural design, radar technology, and ballistic protection, to which a subclass was created instead of having a separate category. USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Abraham Lincoln have already completed their ROH, while USS George Washington and USS John C. Stennis have been in the process since 2017 and 2021, respectively. USS Harry S. Truman, on the other hand, is reported to be scheduled for ROH sometime in 2024.

USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)

Qui Plantavit Curabit (“He Who Has Planted Will Preserve”)

USS Theodore Roosevelt
USS Theodore Roosevelt steams alongside USNS John Lenthall, 2008. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: October 1986

Homeport: San Diego, California

Status: In active service

USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72)

Shall Not Perish

USS Abraham Lincoln
USS Abraham Lincoln steers over the Arabian Sea to conduct maritime security operations, 2010. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: November 1989
Homeport: San Diego, California
Status: In active service

USS George Washington (CVN-73)

Spirit Of Freedom

USS George Washington
USS George Washington during its 2010 summer patrol. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: July 1992

Homeport: Norfolk, Virginia

Status: In active service (ongoing ROH)

USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74)

Look Ahead

USS John C. Stennis
USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) transits the Arabian Sea, 2019. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: December 1995
Homeport: Norfolk, Virginia
Status: In active service (ongoing ROH)

USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75)

The Buck Stops Here

USS Harry S. Truman
USS Harry S. Truman departs for a scheduled deployment, 2010. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: July 1998

Homeport: Norfolk, Virginia

Status: In active service

Ronald Reagan Subclass

Subclass Ronald Reagan was established after the ship incorporated new technologies and redesigned its flight deck to reduce costs compared to its sister ships. Meanwhile, USS George H.W. Bush featured a modernized island equipped with a new radar tower, transparent armor windows, and upgraded navigation and communication systems. It also featured a new aircraft launch and recovery system, as well as a JP-5 fuel system that enhances storage and aircraft fuel handling. Features incorporated into the tenth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier is the first transition that allowed ease entry of the new class USS Gerald R Ford.

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76)

Peace Through Strength

USS Ronald Reagan
USS Ronald Reagan passes the memorials of USS Missouri and USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor during its scheduled port visit, 2010. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: July 2003

Homeport: Yokosuka, Japan

Status: In active service

USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77)

Freedom At Work

USS George H.W. Bush
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) patrols the Arabian Gulf, 2014. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: January 2009

Homeport: Norfolk, Virginia

Status: In active service