The Nimitz is the lead ship of the current production class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers built and operated by the United States Navy. Designated CVN-68, the Nimitz was first deployed to active duty in 1975.

Some interesting facts courtesy of the US Navy:

General Characteristics, Nimitz Class

  • Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding Co., Newport News, Va.
  • Power Plant: Two nuclear reactors, four shafts
  • Length, overall: 1,092 feet (332.85 meters)
  • Flight Deck Width: 252 feet (76.8 meters)
  • Beam: 134 feet (40.84 meters)
  • Displacement: Approx. 97,000 tons (98,556.67 metric tons) full load
  • Speed: 30+ knots (34.5+ miles per hour)
  • Aircraft: 85
  • Cost: about US $4.5 billion each
  • Ships:
    • USS Nimitz (CVN 68), San Diego, CA.
    • USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), Norfolk, Va.
    • USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), Bremerton, Wash.
    • USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Norfolk, Va.
    • USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), Everett, Wash.
    • USS George Washington (CVN 73), Norfolk, Va.
    • USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), San Diego, Calif.
    • USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), Norfolk, Va.
    • USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) San Diego, CA.
    • George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) (under construction at Newport News, expected to commission in 2008)
  • Crew: Ship's Company: 3,200 - Air Wing: 2,480
  • Armament: Two or three (depending on modification) NATO Sea Sparrow launchers, 20mm Phalanx CIWS mounts: (3 on Nimitz and Dwight D. Eisenhower and 4 on Carl Vinson and later ships of the class.)
(Source: U.S. Navy Fact File at

The nuclear aircraft carrier is an enormous object. The facts given above do not do it justice. They are in my opinion one of the most visible icons of the military and economic power of the U.S. Sure, they may represent other, less positive things to some people; however, just their existence alone makes quite a statement.

Although the 'official word' is that we have 'ten plus one' carriers - ten active and one as a training carrier - in reality we have more than that. Let's see, we have:

  • Nine Nimitz class carriers, of which one is coming back online (As of mid-2006, the Eisenhower was finishing a refuel/overhaul, a 33-month process).
  • One Enterprise class carrier, the Enterprise herself, number CVN-65.
  • One Kennedy class carrier, the Kennedy herself. This is a conventionally-fueled carrier.
  • one Kitty Hawk class carrier, the Kitty Hawk herself, which is also conventionally-fueled.

Gee, that makes 12. Okay, in reality, subtracting the one offline carrier, we get eleven. However, this carefully ignores an entire group of ships known as Amphibious assault vessels which are operated by the Navy and Marine corps. Several of these ships operate AV-8B Harrier jump-jets as well as helicopter gunships. These ships are in fact as large or larger than any ship the rest of the world might call an aircraft carrier. The British Royal Navy, and the Russian Navy (née Soviet Navy) both operated ships of equivalent or lesser capability, and the U.S. navy was quite happy to call them 'carriers' for purposes of threat evaluation.

These things (US CVNs) take approximately 5 years to build. The list above notes that they cost approximately $4.5 billion US. However, that leaves off the cost of the air wing which the ship is designed to carry and deploy. The air wing itself consists of numerous types of aircraft and itself costs around $5 billion. Plus, you can expect to replace the air wing in its entirety at least once over 30 years. The carriers at present are expected to last 50 years each!

The Air wing contains the following types of aircraft:

  • Fighters such as the F-18 Hornet/Super Hornet or F-14 Tomcat
  • Attack Aircraft such as the F-18 or F-14D 'Bombcat'
  • Jamming Aircraft such as the EA-6B Prowler
  • Tanker Aircraft such as other models of the A-6
  • ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) aircraft such as the S-3B Viking
  • AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft such as the E-2C Hawkeye

...not to mention trainers, supply and logistics aircraft (known somewhat affectionately as the COD for 'Carrier Onboard Delivery'), rescue helicopters, and more depending on the mission.

In other words, whenever one of these behemoths makes a 'port visit,' any foreign nationals in that port look up and see that the U.S. has enough resources to just 'drop in' with a $10 billion ship. Add to that the fact that carriers rarely travel outside of a Carrier Battle Group, which consists of one or more carriers plus assorted escort ships to protect said carrier(s) from submarine, surface and airborne threats. The escorts usually rack up the tab another $5 billion.

The implication here is that not only does the U.S. have such resources, but it has enough of them that it can scatter them around the world just to remind you that these things could come knocking on your three mile limit with little or no warning.

The Navy calls this 'Forward Presence'.

I call it an 'unsubtle reminder.'

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