The first three Nimitz class carriers were originally designed as replacements for the elderly Midway class. The largest and most powerful warships ever built, they differ from the earlier nuclear-powered USS Enterprise in having two reactors rather than eight, with ordnance magazines between and forward of them. This increases the internal space available to allow some 2 570 tons of aviation weapons and 10.6 million litres (2.8 million US gal) of aircraft fuel to be carried. These totals are sufficient for 16 days of continuous flight operations before stocks have to be replenished. The class is also fitted with the same torpedo protection arrangement as carried by the USS John F. Kennedy, and is laid out with the same general arrangement and electronic fit as the JFK.
Four deck-edge aircraft elevators are available: two forward and one aft of the island on the starboard side and one aft on the port side. The hangar is 7.80 m (25 ft 7 in) high, and like those of other US carriers can accommodate, at most, only half of the aircraft embarked at any one time; the remainder is spotted on the flight deck in aircraft parks. The flight deck measures 333 x 77 m (1 093 x 253 ft), the angled section being 237.70 m (780 ft) long. It is fitted with four arrester wires and an arrester net for recovering aircraft. Four steam catapults are carried, two on the bow launch position and two on the angled flightdeck. With four catapults the carrier can launch one aircraft every 20 seconds.
The standard US Navy air wing at the beginning of the 21st Century includes 20 F-14D Bomcats (Tomcats with a strike role), 36 F/A-18 Hornets, eight S-3A/B Vikings, four E-2C Hawkeyes, four EA-6B Prowlers, four SH-60F and two HH-60H Seahawks. Air wings can be varied according to the nature of the operation: for example, in 1994, 50 army helicopters replaced the usual air wing on the Eisenhower during peacekeeping operations off Haiti. There are also facilities for a Grumman C-2A Greyhound carrier on-board delivery aircraft.
The core life of the A4W reactors fitted is, under normal usage, expected to provide a cruising distance of some 1 287 440 to 1 609 300 km (800 000 to 1 000 000 miles) and last for 13 or so years before the cores have to be replaced. Although the class is relatively new, it is planned for the Nimitz-class to undergo Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) refits by 2010 in order to extend their service life by 15 years.
As the primary means of American power projection, the ships of the Nimitz class have seen a considerable amount of use around the hotspots of the world. The USS Nimitz (CVN-68), commissioned in May 1975, was the base for the abortive Iranian hostage rescue mission in 1980. In 1981 her fighters were in action against Libya. Transferring from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1987, Nimitz deployed to the Persian Gulf and Asian waters on numerous occasions over the next decade. In 1998 the carrier returned to Norfolk for a two-year refuelling refit.
Commissioned in October 1977, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) serves with the Atlantic Fleet. The carrier has made eight Mediterranean deployments, and was the first US carrier to respond to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In 1994, 'Ike' supported peacekeeping operations off Haiti, and in succeeding deployments supported US policy in the Persian Gulf.
Assigned to the Pacific fleet in 1982, the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) has conducted numerous deployments in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Arabian Sea. Most recently, the Vinson has played a major part in the war in Afghanistan.