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Why the Carriers?
The United States has become increasingly entwined in the business and security issues with the rest of the world. The U.S. economy and security depends upon protecting overseas interests as well as encouraging peace and stability around the globe. Forward presence by U.S. Navy aircraft carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups helps us accomplish this.
The carrier battle group, operating in international waters, does not need the permission of host countries for landing or overflight rights. Nor does it need to build or maintain bases in countries where our presence may cause political or other strains. Aircraft carriers are sovereign U.S. territory that steam anywhere in international waters — and most of the surface of the globe is water. This characteristic is not lost on political decision-makers, who use Navy aircraft carriers as a powerful instrument of diplomacy, strengthening alliances or answering the fire bell of crisis. As former President Bill Clinton said during a visit to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, "When word of crisis breaks out in Washington, it's no accident the first question that comes to everyone's lips is; where is the nearest carrier?" 
On 26 December 2004 major portions of Southeast Asia were ravaged by a massive tsunami, causing a broad-ranging catastrophe that impacted thousands of communities and directly affected nine countries. Within days U.S. naval forces from around the globe were mobilized to provide aid. Twenty-two U.S. ships, including the aircraft carrier  ABRAHAM LINCOLN Carrier Strike Group, were diverted from their scheduled routes to render aid; which included subsistence, medical support, engineering support, port hydrographic surveys and extensive debris removal.
The Navy’s ability to establish maritime security and provide immediate disaster assistance have repeatedly proven effective at responding to major disasters. From 1970 through 2000, U.S. forces were involved in 366 humanitarian missions, a number made more significant when compared to the 22 combat-related missions during the same period.
In recent years, U.S. naval forces have responded to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster in March 2011, and the Haiti earthquake in December 2009. In each case, an aircraft carrier was the linchpin in providing fresh water and supplies to victims, until international efforts could be brought in to support the relief efforts.
Operating without reliance on ports and airfields ashore, and in possession of organic medical support, strategic and tactical lift, logistics support, robust communications capabilities and premier planning and coordination tools, both globally-distributed and regionally concentrated U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and naval forces are ideally suited to provide “humanitarian assistance and disaster response” (HA/DR) in the littorals where the preponderance of the world’s population resides.
 As example, on 11 September 2001, USS Enterprise (CVN 65) had just been relieved from being on station in support of Operation Southern Watch. She was heading south in the Indian Ocean, beginning her trip back to homeport in Norfolk, Va., when, on television, they saw the live coverage of attack on the World Trade Center, then on the Pentagon. Enterprise, without an order from the chain of command, put the rudder over, executed a 180-degree course change and headed back to the waters off Southwest Asia. Enterprise then remained on station in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, launching air attacks against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and Taliban military installations in Afghanistan. For the next three weeks, aircraft from Enterprise flew nearly 700 missions in Afghanistan, dropping hundreds of thousands of pounds of ordnance. As Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen stated: "If you don't have that forward deployed presence, you have less of a voice, less of an influence." The U.S. Navy is engaged. And engaged means being there. 
The carrier battle group can not only operate independently but it presents a unique range of options to the President, Congress and Secretary of Defense. By using the oceans — more than 70% of the earth's surface is ocean — both as a means of access and as a base, forward-deployed Navy and Marine forces are readily available to provide the United States with a rheostat of national response capabilities. These capabilities range from simply showing the flag — just a presence — to insertion of power ashore. The unique contribution of aircraft carriers to our national security was best expressed by Gen. John Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said during a visit to USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, "I know how relieved I am each time when I turn to my operations officer and say, 'Hey, where's the nearest carrier?' and he can say to me 'It's right there on the spot.' For United States' interests, that means everything."
Aircraft Carriers - CVN
Aircraft carriers are the centerpiece of America’s Naval forces. On any given day, aircraft carriers exercise the Navy core capabilities of power projection, forward presence, humanitarian assistance, deterrence, sea control and maritime security.
The aircraft carrier continues to be the centerpiece of the Navy's forward presence. Often the presence of an aircraft carrier has deterred potential adversaries from striking against U.S. interests. Aircraft 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 power projection operations in support of U.S. and coalition ground forces. The aircraft carrier and its battlegroup also engage in maritime security operations to interdict threats to merchant shipping and prevent the use of the seas as a highway for terrorist traffic. Aircraft also provide unique capabilities for disaster response and humanitarian assistance. The embarked carrier air wing provides helicopters for direct support and C4I assets to support them and ensure aid is routed quickly and safely.
Currently the 10 Nimitz class aircraft carriers are the largest warships in the world, each designed for 50 years of service life with one mid-life refueling. The USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) commissioned on Jan. 10, 2009, and is the final ship of the Nimitz class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. One thought to leave you with: CVN 77 is not scheduled to leave active military service until 2059. The as yet ‘unknown’ last commanding officer of the ship when it decommissions in 2059, is today, only in elementary school.
Gerald R. Ford class:
The Gerald R. Ford class is the future aircraft carrier replacement class for the Nimitz class aircraft carriers. Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) was ordered from Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding Newport News on Sept. 10, 2008, and is scheduled to be delivered in 2017. The Gerald R. Ford Class will be the premier forward asset for crisis response and early decisive striking power in a major combat operation. Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carriers and carrier strike groups will provide the core capabilities of forward presence, deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security and humanitarian assistance. The class brings improved warfighting capability, quality of life improvements for Sailors and reduced acquisition and life cycle costs.
Each ship in the new class will save more than $5 billion in total ownership costs during its 50-year service life, compared to the Nimitz-class. For comparison, the total ownership cost for a Nimitz-class ship is $32.1 billion in FY 04 constant year dollars, and the total ownership cost for CVN 78 is expected to be $26.8 billion. Half of the total ownership cost for an aircraft carrier is allocated to the direct and indirect costs of manpower for operations and maintenance of the ship. CVN 78 is being designed to operate effectively with fewer crew members than a CVN 68-class ship. Improvements in the ships design will allow the embarked air wing to operate with fewer personnel. Technologies and design initiatives that replace maintenance-intensive systems with low maintenance systems are expected to reduce watch standing and maintenance workload for the crew. Gerald R. Ford is the first aircraft carrier designed with all electric utilities, eliminating steam service lines from the ship, reducing maintenance requirements and improving corrosion control efforts. The new A1B reactor, Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) and Dual Band Radar (DBR) all offer enhanced capability with reduced manning requirements. The Gerald R. Ford class is designed to maximize the striking power of the embarked carrier air wing. The ship’s systems and configuration are optimized to maximize the sortie generation rate (SGR) of attached strike aircraft, resulting in a 25 percent increase in SGR over the Nimitz class. The ship’s configuration and electrical generating plant are designed to accommodate any foreseeable requirements during its 50-year service life.  
General Characteristics, Nimitz class
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding Co., Newport News, Va.
Date Deployed: May 3, 1975 (USS Nimitz).
Unit Cost: About $4.5 billion each.
Propulsion: Two nuclear reactors, four shafts.
Length: 1,092 feet (332.85 meters).
Beam: 134 feet (40.84 meters); Flight Deck Width: 252 feet (76.8 meters).
Displacement: Approximately 97,000 tons (87,996.9 metric tons) full load.
Speed: 30+ knots (34.5+ miles per hour).
Crew: Ship's Company: 3,200 - Air Wing: 2,480.
Armament: Multiple NATO Sea Sparrow, Phalanx/CIWS, and Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) mounts.
Aircraft: Approximately 65+.
USS Nimitz (CVN 68), Bremerton, WA      
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), Norfolk, VA
USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), San Diego, CA          
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), San Diego, CA
USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), Norfolk, VA
USS George Washington (CVN 73), Norfolk, VA
USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), Bremerton, WA 
USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), Norfolk, VA
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), Yokosuka, Japan 
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), Norfolk, VA 
General Characteristics, Gerald R. Ford class
Builder: Northrop Grumman Newport News, Newport News, Va.
Propulsion: Two nuclear reactors, four shafts.
Length: 1,092 feet
Beam: 134 feet, Flight Deck Width: 256 feet.
Displacement: approximately 100,000 long tons full load.
Speed: 30+ knots (34.5 miles per hour)
Crew: 4,660 (ship, air wing and staff).
Armament: Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, Rolling Airframe Missile, CIWS.
Aircraft: 75+.
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), Newport News, VA
USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), (Under Construction)
TBD (CVN 80), (Planned)
Importance of the Carrier Strike Group:
As demonstrated throughout history and ongoing today, the autonomy, maneuverability, survivability and capability of a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) make it one of the most effective diplomatic tool in the National Command Authority's toolbox. The CSG provides the national command authority with options, access, and forward presence allowing for rapid response to threats or natural disasters. 
Even when faced with contested international waters and air domains the composition of a CSG ensures survivability of its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and their embarked carrier air wings (CVW) enabling the United States to act as a key guarantor of peace and stability around the world.
Navy aircraft carriers are four and a half sovereign acres of U.S. territory and with embarked carrier air wings are vital to U.S. national security and free navigation of international waters because it provides the speed, endurance, flexibility, range, reach and lethality without the requirement of diplomatic clearance to deploy aircraft to foreign soils.
CSGs, with the carriers’ organic command and control, communications, and intelligence capabilities, and  supported by carrier air wings’ (CVW) squadrons of strike fighters, early airborne warning, surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare packages of maritime strike (HSM) helicopters, electronic attack/ electronic jamming warfare and carrier onboard delivery provides organic re-supply and transport services, as well as the flexibility to support other missions as required, result in a fully-functional globally-deployable center of capability.
Carrier Strike Group Presence Matters
Carrier Strike Groups (CSG), typically comprised of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier (CVN) and its embarked air wing, one guided-missile cruiser, a couple of guided-missile destroyers, and a supply ship, train and deploy as a team with well-established integrated tactics, techniques, and procedures that allow for freedom of maneuver in the global commons.  As a complex, joint force multiplier, with a command and control and organic logistical capabilities, there exists no comparable way to quickly generate the effects crucial to American diplomatic and economic interests that carrier aviation offers.
The carrier strike group remains the fastest way to deploy American Forces – whether in a show of force or a real fight – that America has or is likely to develop. Carriers have provided sustained peacetime presence and have been first-on-scene for nearly every crisis over the past 75 years; where and when needed without the fiscal political investment required for shore basing.  The power-projection ability of a carrier and its air wing provides a decisive advantage for U.S. forces and continues to be the key guarantor of peace and stability around the world.
Nuclear powered aircraft carrier can sail to any theater of operations to support crisis or contingency operations. The embarked carrier air wing addresses the implementation of complex and nuanced rules of engagement that are scenario dependent.  Cruise missiles from surface ships and submarines are part of the strike warfare equation and when they are combined with carrier air wing ordnance that provides alternative capability and capacity not provided by cruise missiles, the CSG provides unmatched capability and sustained operations at sea across a full range of military operations.
Technological Air Advantage
Our Carrier Air Wing continues to evolve, keeping pace with technological advances and incorporating future capabilities as they come on line. The combination of advanced strike-fighters, airborne electronic attack aircraft, airborne early-warning aircraft, and antisubmarine-warfare helicopters, all with netted sensors and weapons, provides a shipboard integrated-capability package that is responsive and relevant in any operational scenario in any theater.
Advancements in sensors and radar technology enable the fifth-generation Navy variant stealth fighter F-35C Lightning II to identify, target and engage threats faster and with greater reach than any other aircraft in existence.  The reach, the ability to engage the target before adversary sensors detect the presence of Lightning II, is the greatest benefit and the F-35C and will integrate and share data with upgraded F/A-18 Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers.
The F-35C brings the ability to fuse information, collect the signals and things that are out in the environment and fuse it all together and deliver that picture to the rest of the carrier strike group, and has an ability to carry more ordnance to the carrier.
F/A-18 Super Hornets, with the ability to carry large payloads of advanced weapons will continue to provide lethality and flexibility, and complement the F-35C to provide a very capable high/low mix of strike-fighters that can deliver responsiveness and firepower across the range of military operations.
The EA-18G Growler provides electromagnetic spectrum dominance, providing the ability to protect the carrier strike group and support joint forces on the ground and disrupt enemy communications.  The Growler will receive an electromagnetic weapon called the Next-Generation Jammer that will greatly expand the electronic attack capability of the aircraft and, among other things, allow it to jam multiple frequencies at the same time.
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) will provide the CSG with persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capacity plus time critical targeting and precision strike capability and additional mission fueling capability to the carrier air wing. After the RQ-25 UAS achieves IOC and is welcomed into the fleet it will provide the CSG with organic on-demand ISR assets without requirements of authorization, travel or relocating fleet ISR assets off of mission.
The range of our aircraft along with the range of our weapons gives us a longer reach than ever before, combined with the technology today allows for positive control identification and extreme precision. Long range weapons enable our aircrew to conduct precision strikes without having to go as deep into harm’s way.  These weapons greatly increase the reach of our CVWs without increasing risk to our personnel. 
Navy is working a number of next-generation ship defenses such as Naval Integrated Fire Control Counter Air (NIFCCA), a system which uses Aegis radar along with an SM-6 interceptor missile and airborne relay sensor to detect and destroy approaching enemy missiles from distances beyond the horizon.
Carriers of the Future
The new Ford-class aircraft carriers are reengineered with next-generation technologies to improve safety, increase efficiencies in manpower, decrease maintenance costs, and create greater sortie rates, which translate into greater striking power while reducing strain on the carrier air wing.  The first-in-class Ford supercarrier is the pre-commissioned unit (PCU) Gerald R. Ford (PCU-78), and is expected to join the fleet this year.
The Ford has a larger flight deck, introduces the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) which replaces the steam-driven catapults, new Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) replaces hydraulic-operated arresting gears, two new systems which will reduce infrastructure, increase sorties by 33 percent and reduces maintenance.  Ford is powered by four 26-megawatt generators creating 104 megawatts to support EMALS, AAG, dual-band radar, and power for future technological advancements in weapons and combat systems such as the rail-gun and lasers.  Lasers could replace some existing missile systems and will provide an overall higher rate of annihilation.
Next-generation technologies and increased automation on board the Ford-class carriers are also designed to decrease man-power needs or crew-size of the ship, resulting in significant savings over the life of the ships.

Interesting Reading:
The Carriers – U.S. Navy Website
Aircraft Carriers: The Unique Value of America’s Most Famous Combat System – Lexington Inst., Nov. 2016
Five Reasons The Navy's Aircraft Carriers Are Becoming More Vital To U.S. Security – Forbes, Sept. 2016
U.S. Overseas Bases Are Much More Vulnerable Than Aircraft Carriers (From National Interest) – Lexington Inst., Sept., 2016
Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carriers: The Nation’s Number One Asymmetric Military Advantage – Lexington Inst., March 2016
Aircraft Carriers Provide Best Value To The Nation In Uncertain Times – Lexington Inst., Dec. 2015
Navy Releases Definitive History of Naval Aviation Online  - Nov. 2015




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