Fate of the Former USS Enterprise

Image released by LT K.R. Stephens, PAO CVN 65.

The ex-USS Enterprise will be towed, but not for now. Huntington Ingalls will be responsible to temporarily store and eventually tow the carrier under a $34 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification.

CVN 65 was the oldest carrier in the fleet when it was decommissioned in February 2017. She was the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the eighth United States naval vessel to bear the name. Like her predecessor of World War II fame, she is nicknamed “Big E.” At 1,123 ft, she is the world’s longest naval vessel ever built.

Her 93,284-long-ton displacement ranks her as the 12th-heaviest carrier, after the 10 carriers of the Nimitz class and the USS Gerald R. Ford.

Enterprise had a crew of some 4,600 service members.

Early in the ship’s career, it was part of a blockade during the Cuban missile crisis and then joined the first nuclear-powered naval task force. The ship saw combat in Vietnam and was the first responder after 9/11.

The only ship of her class, Enterprise was, at the time of inactivation, the third-oldest commissioned vessel in the United States Navy after the wooden-hulled USS Constitution and USS Pueblo. She was originally scheduled for decommissioning in 2014 or 2015, depending on the life of her reactors and completion of her replacement, USS Gerald R. Ford, but the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 slated the ship’s retirement for 2013, when she would have served for 51 consecutive years, longer than any other U.S. aircraft carrier.

Now, the US Navy uses the Enterprise as a case study to figure out the best answer to a big problem: How do we best dispose of a large nuclear-powered ship? When a nuclear-powered vessel is retiring, its shipboard nuclear reactors are defueled, the reactor vessels and their compartments are removed, encased and barged to the federal government’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southern Washington State, and the ships’ remains are cut up for scrap and recycling.

The Navy is currently looking into two options, the Naval shipyard option, and the full commercial option. A recent GAO report estimates that dismantling of CVN 65 will cost around $1 billion and won’t start before 2024 or 2034, depending on the option the Navy chooses. Either way, ex-USS Enterprise dismantlement and disposal will set precedents for processes and oversight that may inform future aircraft carrier dismantlement decisions.

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