Aircraft carriers provide a wide range of possible response for the National Command Authority. They provide a credible, sustainable, independent forward presence and conventional deterrence in peacetime, operate as the cornerstone of joint/allied maritime expeditionary forces in times of crisis, and operate and support aircraft attacks on enemies, protect friendly forces and engage in sustained independent operations in war.
The aircraft carrier continues to be the centerpiece of the forces necessary for forward presence. Whenever there has been a crisis, the first question has been: "Where are the carriers?" Carriers support and operate aircraft that engage in attacks on airborne, afloat, and ashore targets that threaten free use of the sea; and engage in sustained operations in support of other forces.
Aircraft carriers are deployed worldwide in support of U.S. interests and commitments. They can respond to global crises in ways ranging from peacetime presence to full-scale war. Together with their on-board air wings, the carriers have vital roles across the full spectrum of conflict.
The Nimitz-class carriers, eight operational and two under construction, are the largest warships in the world. USS Nimitz (CVN 68) was the first to undergo its initial refueling during a 33-month Refueling Complex Overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., in 1998. The next generation of carrier, CVN 21, the hull number will be CVN 78, is programmed to start construction in 2007 and is slated to be placed in commission in 2014 to replace USS Enterprise (CVN 65 which will be over its 50-year mark. CVN 79 is programmed to begin construction in 2012 and to be placed in commission in 2018, replacing USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) in her 50th year.
Built in 1959, the Forrestal class carriers were the first of the "super" carriers, built specifically to accommodate modern jet aircraft. In addition to her many other special features, the Forrestal class sported an angled flight deck deck which permitted continual flight operations and multiple steam driven catapults for launching aircraft. Four ships of the Forrestal class were built; Forrestal (CV-59), Saratoga (CV-60), Ranger (CV-61), and Independence (CV-62.) All of the Forrestal carriers supported combat operations in Vietnam. On July 29th, 1967, while operating off the coast of Vietnam a weapons malfunction caused a combination fire and explosion chain reaction that would cause the greatest loss of life since the Franklin (CV-13) was bombed by the Japanese during World War II.