The United States has eleven aircraft carriers. There is one surviving Enterprise class ships, the ten Nimitz class ships are the backbone of the fleet, and the first of the three planned Gerald R. Ford class ships is under construction. The surviving Enterprise class vessel is the Enterprise herself – the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier ever launched.
Are you shaking your head at my ancient example photo? The two planes parked crosswise near the front appear to me to be A6 Intruders while the delta shaped one standing alone near the fantail is an F-14 Tomcat. The Intruder is a decade into retirement while the mighty Tomcat held out until 2006. This shot is from the late 1970s.
Carriers never travel alone, despite the photo. A typical configuration for a carrier strike group involves one or two of our twenty two Ticonderoga class Aegis cruisers, two or three of our fifty one Arleigh Burke class Aegis destroyers, one or two of our thirty Oliver Hazard Perry frigates, and one or two of our forty five Los Angeles class attack submarines.
The Ticonderoga class cruiser packs the heaviest punch of any surface vessel we have. The original five ships of this class were limited to 88 missiles and could not fire the Tomahawk so they’ve been retired. The twenty two remaining ships all have vertical launch systems and can carry 122 missiles. The Tomahawk cruise missile is just one tool, with antiaircraft and antisubmarine missiles rounding out the magazine contents. The Ticonderoga class are AEGIS ships, with AEGIS being the networked combatant system. They readily share information with other AEGIS ships, carriers, aircraft, and so forth, making their coordination unparalleled.
The Ticonderoga class each pack a pair of five inch guns. This is a dramatic change from the cruisers of World War II, which typically had nine eight inch guns. The seventy pound five inch round has much less range and utility in terms of shore bombardment than the two hundred sixty pound eight inch shell.
The Arleigh Burke class destroyer is a giant as far as destroyers go, displacing almost as much as a Ticonderoga class. These ships have 90 missiles or about three quarters of the capacity of the Ticonderoga and the use the same mix of cruise, antiaircraft, and antisubmarine missiles. They have a different role than the Ticonderoga, as they’re fitted with much more gear used for antiaircraft and antisubmarine duty. Later models have become more cruiser like with the fitting of the facilities needed to support the Seahawk antisubmarine helicopters found on the Ticonderoga.
The smallest surface combat ships in operation are the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates, with fifty one total ships in service today. These are 40% of the weight of the AEGIS vessels, they formerly had an older style of missile launcher but these were decommissioned in 2003, and they pack a lot of antisubmarine gear as well as a curious 76mm automatic cannon capable of firing 120 rounds per minute.
The Los Angeles class attack boats are the last piece of the carrier strike group’s combat vessels. A ship is a ship, but a submarine is a boat. Remember that and you’ll sound like you have half a clue if you’re talking to a submariner.
This is an older Los Angeles class. You can tell that by the diving planes attached to the sail. The newer ships have them on the bow and the sail is heavily reinforced, permitting them to surface through ice in the Arctic.