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An Introduction to U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers


An Introduction to U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers

USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) departs her homeport at the Naval Station, Mayport, Fla., to begin a scheduled six-month Mediterranean deployment.

Official Navy Photo
The U.S. Navy maintains 11 aircraft carriers that stand ready to address threats to U.S. security. The carriers’ mobility allows them to be deployed wherever needed to support ongoing or sudden conflicts. The ships are routinely sent to international waters, and the air wing teams that travel with each carrier are available to perform a variety of missions ranging from surveillance to strikes.

An air wing comprises more than 80 combat aircraft and 2,000 sailors organized by squadron. These squadrons are proficient in several different aircraft. A typical wing’s fighters include F/A-18 Hornets, and wings also operate SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, S-3B Viking anti-submarine jets, E-2C Hawkeye early warning aircraft and EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare planes.

A carrier is able to deliver more than 150 strikes per day using precision-guided bombs. These are typically directed against targets near an enemy’s coastline, but the hits can also be long-range. Carriers usually stock at least 4,000 bombs. The Navy plans to steadily upgrade the current tactical air wing, gradually progressing from F/A-18Cs to F/A-18E/Fs and a version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The 11 U.S. Navy aircraft carriers in active service are the USS Kitty Hawk, the USS Enterprise, the USS Nimitz, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the USS Carl Vinson, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Abraham Lincoln, the USS George Washington, the USS John C. Stennis, the USS Harry S. Truman and the USS Ronald Reagan.

The USS Kitty Hawk is typical of the carriers. Weighing in at 80,000 tons, the carrier is more than 1,000 feet in length and is 130 feet tall at its highest point. Its flight deck is 250 feet wide, and its top speed is 40 miles per hour.

The Kitty Hawk was commissioned in April 1961 under the command of Capt. William F. Bringle, and it saw combat for the first time in 1965 as part of a battle against Viet Cong insurgents in Vietnam.

Four decades later, the venerable carrier remains in service. It assumed a more public role after the Sept. 11 attacks when it traveled more than 6,000 miles in 12 days to the North Arabian Sea to serve as a base for U.S. joint forces.

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