Goodbye "Big John"
October 22, 2006 2:35 AM   Subscribe

When is an aircraft carrier no longer an aircraft carrier? When its flight decks have been decertified by the Navy for the unsafe condition of arresting gear and other equipment, and it can no longer conduct flight operations. One of the two remaining conventionally powered carriers on "active duty" in the U.S. Navy, "Big John" (CV-67) aka The John F. Kennedy sits ignobly at dock in Mayport, Florida, unfit for anything more than basic seamanship training, and waiting for decommissioning. August 2006 decommissioning recommendation to Congress. 24 page PDF file [more inside]
posted by paulsc (58 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Big John" has some history as a hard luck ship, and has long been shortchanged in terms of maintenance funding and planned overhauls, despite repeated studies over the last 12 years, while based in Florida. Originally projected for a 50 year operating life, Big John will be decommissioned after only 38 years in service, as a long term victim of poor Navy planning for a carrier no one seemed to want, and for which, the Navy never wanted to pay. Originally planned as a nuclear powered vessel, the JFK was actually built as the last conventional propulsion carrier, the change being made late in planning, for cost reasons. From commissioning, the JFK was regularly involved in operational cost and performance studies in which "Big John" inevitably came away as a more costly, less capable vessel than the later nuclear powered Nimitz class carriers to which the ship was continually compared.

Meanwhile, the only other conventionally powered U.S. carrier, the older Kitty Hawk CV-63, (which was once named Constellation, and traded names with her former ship class twin Kitty Hawk) remains in light duty service, as the only "forward based" American carrier, home porting in Yokosuka, Japan. There, the aging ship faces some of the same attitudinal and maintenance issues the JFK faced, and reports of crew morale, shore leave problems and training issues indicate that like her sister ship, Kitty Hawk seems headed for a long, slow demise until replaced in 2008 by the nuclear carrier George Washington (CVN-73). But perhaps by using operational savings from Big John, Kitty Hawk's maintenance needs may be better met, and the age of fossil fired steam powered flight decks in the U.S. Navy may not end for some additional years.
posted by paulsc at 2:36 AM on October 22, 2006


USS John F. Kennedy
posted by Tenuki at 3:02 AM on October 22, 2006


Depending on who wins the elections, I'm sure it will do excellent service as a reef and bird sanctuary or (renamed the USS Richard B. Cheney) an offshore prison and interrogation center.
posted by pracowity at 3:26 AM on October 22, 2006


You sound like you'll miss diesel-powered carriers, but that's not something I'd be particularly nostalgic about. The transition to full nuclear power can't come too soon as far as I'm concerned. Carefully handled, there is just no power that's cleaner, and the Navy has an absolutely spotless record.

The nuclear carriers still tank fuel for the planes, but because they don't need any fuel themselves for years at a time, they can carry a great deal more and maintain operations a lot longer. They're just thoroughly better, and as you imply in your writeup, Congress blew it badly by not spending a little more money up front and outfitting it with nuclear power.

It would appear our Congresscritters didn't spontaneously develop their lack of brains and foresight in the last decade, even though sometimes it seems that way. :)
posted by Malor at 3:46 AM on October 22, 2006


The proper and honorable way to end an US Navy ship's life, especially a capital ship like the JFK, would be a SINKEX, where the brownshoes get to bomb it or the bubbleheads torpedo it and undersea life gradually turns it into a giant and varied habitat. More usefully to us humans, though, frequently ships get recycled into razor blades, bicycles, refrigerators and even other ships.

paulsc, who gets to fly the "Don't Tread On Me" now -- Shitty Kitty, or one of the 'phibs, or ...?
posted by pax digita at 3:47 AM on October 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


"...Carefully handled, there is just no power that's cleaner, and the Navy has an absolutely spotless record. ..."
posted by Malor at 6:46 AM EST on October 22

Generally, for over-the-horizon standoff missions, I completely agree with you. But in situations where the blue water may not be so blue, nuclear powered carriers become attractive targets to hostiles, in ways older ships lacking large nuclear reactors, like the JFK and the Kitty Hawk, do not.

Naval doctrine for nuclear carriers is to keep them well back from shore threats, and away from harm as much as possible, and to surround them with defensive curtians that are dense, and overwhelming. Sound strategy, but there was something about seeing the JFK driving into port, its air wing launching for land bases, and the sky around it busy with survelliance helicopters, and the sea around controlled by Aegis destroyers, that made a person standing on shore understand, viscerally, the phrase "projection of power."

I, for one, will miss watching Big John come and go. And seeing the big ship sitting, neglected these last months at dock in Mayport, is just sad.
posted by paulsc at 4:35 AM on October 22, 2006


What I'd be curious to know is it's total cost divided by how many people it killed.

Just a guess, but I bet aircraft carriers are a really expensive way to kill people.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:01 AM on October 22, 2006


I wonder what it's cost is divided by the number of people it's prevented from being killed? An aircraft carrier, like many weapons, can be a better deterrent than an offensive force sometimes. Of course we don't talk about things like that on MeFi where weapons are evil, nuclear is always bad and servicemen and women are all a bunch murderers.

(full disclosure, my father served aboard the JFK during it's shakedown cruise shortly after the birth of his first child (me). He wound up coming home with a broken arm, surely saving a lot of lives he'd have ended had he returned to Vietnam)
posted by acetonic at 5:18 AM on October 22, 2006


An aircraft carrier, like many weapons, can be a better deterrent than an offensive force sometimes. Of course we don't talk about things like that on MeFi where weapons are evil, nuclear is always bad and servicemen and women are all a bunch murderers.

And that incendiary napalm strike on the straw people of Wickerstan is truly a credit to your family's military history, acetonic. Feel better now?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:35 AM on October 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


I have to disagree with the "sits ignobably" part. A native of Jacksonville [Mayport is the fishing village cum Navy ghetto of Jacksonville at the mouth of the St. Johns], she looks might impressive when seen driving on the north side of the jetties along Heckscher Drive. I often pulled my car over just to stare for a few minutes. It's even more stunning at the beach of Huguenot Park. Useless, but certainly noble looking.

The city has a strange relationship with the Navy. We had three bases [NAS Jax, Mayport, and formerly NAS Cecil Feild]. It's rumored and almost confirmed that Mayport's SH-60's aren't allowed to fly over some of the richer neighborhoods in Jacksonville for "safety concerns," i.e. rotors 300 feet overhead at 3am. These rich neighborhoods are very religious-conservative.

We also tried to steal NAS Oceania away from Virginia Beach last year. The mayor backed down when the [poorer than average] citizens who've moved in around the decommissioned NAS Cecil Field played 100+ decibel noises outside his office to demonstrate what it would sound like for them if it opened back up.

For what it's worth, I wrote up a small op-ed piece for the local alt weekly^ arguing against legislation that Mel Martinez and Ander Crenshaw were drafting to make it illegal to have less than 12 carriers in the fleet.
posted by trinarian at 5:44 AM on October 22, 2006


acetonic, the anti-nuclear dogma broke down a long time ago. Not that I recall there ever being one on MeFi.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:46 AM on October 22, 2006


".... Useless, but certainly noble looking. ..."
posted by trinarian at 8:44 AM EST on October 22

I understand your sentiment, but whenever I take the ferry across the St. Johns River, and see her there, I think "A ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not why ships are built." And most especially, staying safe in the harbor is not why a ship like the JFK was ever built, and there is something wrong about seeing her end her days like this.
posted by paulsc at 6:02 AM on October 22, 2006


Just a guess, but I bet aircraft carriers are a really expensive way to kill people.

I had the same wtf reaction as acetonic to that acid and ignorant statement.

And that incendiary napalm strike on the straw people of Wickerstan is truly a credit to your family's military history, acetonic. Feel better now?

LOL as XQUZYPHR lays down small arms fire in defense of the his comrads.
posted by three blind mice at 6:07 AM on October 22, 2006


the his comrads.

*clears jam, ejects misformed cartridge*

his comrads.

*feels better*
posted by three blind mice at 6:09 AM on October 22, 2006


Oops, sorry, I meant "a really expensive way to defend freedom". What the fuck was I thinking?!?
posted by Meatbomb at 6:30 AM on October 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


You know, that is an intriguing question...
What is the most cost effective weapon for preventing war?

Kinda like...
What alcoholic beverage is best at preventing drunk driving?

I vote for some really crappy tequila... no way you could drive after a few shots of that.
posted by MonkeyAround at 6:51 AM on October 22, 2006


*dons flame-retardant suit and wades in*

I think you meant 'a really expensive way to deliver democracy' or whatever.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 6:53 AM on October 22, 2006


Special Delivery

I tried to go clean from protesting but I'm a recidivist
my government behaving with unlimited wickedness
in the interest of peace is how a liar wages war
then clamors for more.
I wish we had elections every day
wave the ballot in the air like a sign when I say
that democracy delivered by the bomb and the gun
is terror elsewhere on the world I'm from

do you cheer for the once-and-for-all of an enemy
whose hand our man don was on in '83 [click]
but who now exemplifies all evil
that's what you get for shaking hands with people
who represent the vast and sinister interests of industry
we protect the free trade world, so don't dare try to stop us
we deliver them bullets and sell them their coffins

and I wish that I could afford the ear of Bush the second
I'd ask is it your favorite philosopher who recommended
invading and exterminating all who defy us,
crying out justice but seeking out triumphs?
wasn't your christ unbeloved of empires?
one nailed his ass to a post; he expired!
a terrorist, as roman evidence showed
put down like a retard on the death row
in texas, I guess "tough luck," right George?
ain't that how every war gets scored?
big gun wins, winner gets a free turn
enemy after enemy burns
are you listening sir? or did your mind drift
to the next country in your axis
to all the cool bombs drops you get to call
delivery fresh from the 4th reich to y'all
posted by loquacious at 7:35 AM on October 22, 2006


Having spent more than a year of my life aboard non-nuke carriers (including the JFK), I can without hesitation say that nuke is the way to go.

Let's just say you haven't lived until you've been on a conventional carrier in the middile of the [insert isolated body of water here, surrounded by desert] during summer that can't meet it's own power demands. Rolling brownouts (computers and weapons and such get power before that overhead light does), water rationing (the catapults get fresh water before your shower does), and limited air conditioning (see brownouts) made an already festive atmosphere just THAT MUCH more exciting!!

Once I got to do the same drill on a Nuke - it was nice and bright, they had hot AND cold water, the a/c worked... it was like being in a palace!

Although looking back - it was a lot of fun...
posted by matty at 7:48 AM on October 22, 2006


You have a point about the higher target desirability of a nuke carrier, but ... geeze, those things have got to be seriously armored. And blowing one up would never result in a big 'boom', it would be at most a meltdown through the bottom of the ship. Big nasty problem for the sailors onboard, and probably any ships nearby, but most likely not a problem for non-Navy people.

I'd think ANY carrier would be a very high-priority target. Even if someone took out the JFK (were it still in active duty), the financial cost to the US would be just as high as losing a nuclear craft, because we'd build a nuclear carrier to replace it. And we'd still lose all the aircraft on board. It would be an immensely expensive loss no matter what. We'd lose less capability in losing a diesel, but not *that* much less.

That said, there's one scenario where a nuclear craft becomes a very interesting target... in shallow water near enemy countries. That could get...um... unpleasant.

I've never seen a carrier up close. I'd love to take a tour someday. Locomotives have always fascinated me, so I imagine I'd be in sheer awe for hours. :)

Oh, and to acetonic: I'm very much in favor of nuclear power. It has drawbacks, but they're drawbacks we understand very, very well, quite unlike fossil fuels. We *know* the cost of that energy. And, since humans are uniquely vulnerable to radiation (most other species are far, far tougher than are we), we'd pay the price for any mistakes. Fossil fuels damage everything.
posted by Malor at 8:07 AM on October 22, 2006


I can only hope that once it does get decommissioned, some eccentric billionaire buys it, lashes it side by side with an oil-tanker and creates the Raft from Snow Crash.

Our world is not nearly cyberpunk enough, and that would go a long way towards rectifying the situation.
posted by quin at 8:28 AM on October 22, 2006


Don't carriers carry nuclear weapons anyway? Maybe not now, but during the Cold War.

And isn't water a pretty good blocker for radiation? Sink a carrier, which isn't easy in the first place, and rupture it's reactor, and who does that hurt when it's at the bottom of the ocean?
posted by smackfu at 8:50 AM on October 22, 2006


Judging by the city blocks in the background of that image, the JFK appears to be about as big as my town's city core.

Oof.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:47 AM on October 22, 2006


And isn't water a pretty good blocker for radiation? Sink a carrier, which isn't easy in the first place, and rupture it's reactor, and who does that hurt when it's at the bottom of the ocean?

The deep ocean conveyor currents bring that water, together with a lot of its suspended particles, back up to the surface well within a time frame for it to be a radioactivity hazard.

Not to mention its bad for the poor creatures God dealt the benthic card.
posted by Rumple at 11:08 AM on October 22, 2006


Seems like as good a time as any to post this chopper crash on a carrier.
posted by delmoi at 11:35 AM on October 22, 2006


The deep ocean conveyor currents bring that water, together with a lot of its suspended particles, back up to the surface well within a time frame for it to be a radioactivity hazard.

Actually rumple, dispersion into the oceans is perhaps the best way to dispose of radioactive material. (Enriched uranium is nothing more than the unnatural concentration of naturally occurring element.)

The oceans are naturally radioactive. Potassium 12 (IIRC) is a radioactive isotope present in salt water. The addition of the contents of a reactor core dispersed by those "deep ocean conveyor" currents (which are actually the result of wind) wouldn't make a measurable difference.
posted by three blind mice at 12:28 PM on October 22, 2006


USS Enterprise, which was the first CVN and was launched earlier than USS JFK, is expected to continue in service for another 10 years. (She'll be replaced by CVN-78 in 2015.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:33 PM on October 22, 2006


"... That could get...um... unpleasant. ..."
posted by Malor at 11:07 AM EST on October 22

Exactly. And since Hezbollah surprised the Israeli corvette Hanit in the recent Israeli/Lebanese dust up, you can bet the USN will be keeping its aircraft carriers several hundreds of miles from any beach in the Middle East. Not so much because a single anti-ship missile, or even 2, could wreak immediate destruction on a nuclear carrier, but that there is just no way the USN is going to let itself be tagged that way, simply on propaganda grounds.

The result of keeping carriers out of anti-ship missile range is that carrier based aircraft will do fewer daily sorties in any role they are called upon to play in the Mideast, and require more mid-air refueling support in doing so, but I guess that's why we're building those big bases in Iraq. But if some version of "peace with honor" is the future recommendation of some further round of end game strategy mandated by the Baker commission, don't look for choppers evacuating Americans from Baghdad to close by carriers, a la Saigon 1975...
posted by paulsc at 12:39 PM on October 22, 2006


Carriers = cool.

And yeah, to my knowledge, carriers are the most heavily-defended piece of naval (or combat, for that matter) machinery. Entire fleets are built around them, and everything is armed to the teeth in order to protect the crown jewel.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:28 PM on October 22, 2006


Entire fleets are built around them, and everything is armed to the teeth in order to protect the crown jewel.

well, battle groups at least :)

demoi: My main naval knowledge comes from playing Harpoon, but that ship looked more like an amphibious transport (LPD, etc) and was most definitely not a CV (CV's don't have helicopter spots on the stern).

While, being a war nerd I love USN history & hardware, I think ~$2T we've spent on all this stuff over the past 20 years has been a colossal waste of capital. . . alas, every year I cut a check to the IRS for ~$5000 to pay my share of the bill for this stuff.

DDGs and SSNs are all we need these days, navy-wise.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:29 PM on October 22, 2006


Seeing as how Iran has mobile, hypersonic Sunburn anti-ship missiles with a 75 mile range, any wartime USN operations in the Strait of Hormuz are going to be very sporting.
posted by mlis at 3:06 PM on October 22, 2006


Link that works.
posted by mlis at 3:07 PM on October 22, 2006


Three blind mice, the fact that winds partially "drive" the deep ocean conveyors is meaningful how? The fact is, deep ocean water comes back up eventually (and disproportionately along coastlines, such as California). Potassium-12 is hardly one of the more dangerous radioactive isotopes out there nor is it the only one likely to be coming out of blown-up nuclear carrier with its blown reactor and its blown up on-board nukes. The Ocean naturally contains, say, Carbon-14 as well and thats pretty harmless. of course there will be dispersal. it would disperse in the air as well, or Lake Michigan. The problem isn't Potassium-12, its more like, oh, Plutonium-239 and Uranium-238 plus all the other messy isotopes that might be the byproduct of a hot reactor sinking. Neither a nuclear reactor nor a nuclear warhead is the same as garden-variety "nuclear waste", which is bad enough in its own right.


While deep ocean disposal of waste has indeed been seriously looked at, this is in the context of creation of very durable casks that are then carefully placed into deep ocean clays. This might even be a good idea. But to seriously suggest that a hot reactor, nuclear armed, nuclear carrier sunk by explosive force somehow doesn't pose a risk is not realistic.
posted by Rumple at 3:14 PM on October 22, 2006


"... USN operations in the Strait of Hormuz are going to be very sporting. ..."

Or not, for selected missions.

Naval operations have always had a bigger defensive component than other military ventures, because of the high cost and long lead time of capital ships. Hiding some of them underwater most of the time has proven an effective defensive strategy for nearly half a century, but the kinds of air power we can project from submarines remains pretty limited. Sea to air interdiction from submarines isn't practical at all, nor is close air support of ground operations, and there remains a need for secure, mobile air wing basing that only carriers, at present, provide. But the stand off requirements for protection of carriers from anti-ship munitions will certianly limit the utility of carrier aircraft far into the future. And as others have said, at some point for the surface Navy, it does become a value for money proposition, as the sad end of the JFK illustrates. But I suspect that, for a long time, the U.S. will be able to create far more pressure on foriegn regimes with carrier groups than with long range B-2 sortie threats, from a limited fleet of specialist planes.

Not that the Air Force would agree.
posted by paulsc at 3:28 PM on October 22, 2006


Not that the Air Force would agree.

tactical air seems passeƩ to me. "Strategic" bombing, like what the USAF and USN tried in SE Asia 1964-1972 seems counter-productive (in solidifying the enemy's spirit of anger/resistance), unless you're taking on a first-world society like Nazi Germany (or coastal PRC). Making it personal, like what Reagan and Thatcher did to Qaddafi in 1986, seems the best policy.

Blowing up what the enemy leaders actually care about -- and no, they don't give a crap about the peasants out in the sticks, the power plant built with Russian aid twenty odd years ago, or that French-built bridge -- is my kind of warfighting, and for that, a facility in Missouri housing nintendo jockeys directing orbits of UAVs is the bees knees.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:28 PM on October 22, 2006


delmoi: My main naval knowledge comes from playing Harpoon, but that ship looked more like an amphibious transport (LPD, etc) and was most definitely not a CV (CV's don't have helicopter spots on the stern).

Definitely not a CV of any kind. The flight deck was much too small and much too close to the water, and CV flight decks aren't painted that way. I think Mr. Mogroot is right that it was an LPD. But it could have been an AGF.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:45 PM on October 22, 2006


MLIS, I think the Sunburn has a rep it doesn't deserve. Yeah, it's fast. But it uses active radar during final approach, and thus is vulnerable to ECM. A CBG has layers of defenses against anti-ship missiles.

That's a Soviet-era design, and the Soviets were never very good at electronics -- or at reliability.

And even if it hits, it's only carrying a 320 kg warhead. You do not sink an armored CVN with one 320 kg warhead. You won't sink one with ten of them.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:51 PM on October 22, 2006


"... a facility in Missouri housing nintendo jockeys directing orbits of UAVs is the bees knees."
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:28 PM EST on October 22

On a bang for the buck basis, I take your point. But dirt is a suprisingly effective defense, and the lessons of Tora Bora were different, for every "side" that fought there. What Al Qaeda learned was that putting a mountain over your head continues to be a fairly effective defense, both militarily and economically. What we learned is that you need a hell of a lot of air power to even put a dent in a mountain.

UAV's have a role. They are comparitively cheap, low risk, low profile, and can work against mobile targets in ways manned aircraft can't. There's a lot to be said for leaving a pilot out of the aircraft. But the bigger the bang you need to deliver, and the farther the range you need to do it at, the farther you move from UAV profiles, simply on present day refueling capabiities, which contractors are trying to quickly bring to UAV's. I hope they can, and do.

But for the next several years, if your target knows how to dig and has time to do so, you'll need big ugly planes flown by steely eyed aviators, with tons and kilotons of bang strapped to them, to make seriously impressive dents in dirt, and take away The. Stuff. That. Madmen. Care. About.
posted by paulsc at 4:55 PM on October 22, 2006


take away The. Stuff. That. Madmen. Care. About.

Er, what would that be, exactly? Oxygen? Structural stability? Escape?
posted by five fresh fish at 4:59 PM on October 22, 2006


Exactly. And since Hezbollah surprised the Israeli corvette Hanit in the recent Israeli/Lebanese dust up, you can bet the USN will be keeping its aircraft carriers several hundreds of miles from any beach in the Middle East

Which means we might as well just scrap them now.

See, we have this aircraft that is a fighter and an attack aircraft. Clever, huh? So clever that we got rid of the deidcated interceptor *and* the dedicated attack aircraft. To be fair, both were older designs, esp. the attack aircraft.

So now we're flaunting about with stacks of F/A 18s on the flattops, and they realize that Houston has a problem.

The 18's got no legs. Even the larger F-18E/F (named because there was no way they were getting money to buy a new bird, but if they claimed this was a "modification" and madeok like an F-18A, that might get through Congr it look like an F-18A, that might get through Congress.) have range that can be best described as Suck.

It can carry 17,000 pounds of ordinace? Great! She can barely fly 650 miles with 5,000. Uhh. Worse, that's a Hi-Hi-Hi profile. In real war, flying that is Hi-Hi Sam-Lo-Splash. When you go Hi-Lo-Hi, combat range drops to 400 miles -- round trip, so your strike range is less than 200. Well less if you want to actually form up and fly together. Worse if you're in the F-18A/C/Ds, which have even less legs than the F-18E/Fs -- 330 miles hi-lo-hi, which means if you put the deck 200 miles offshore, you can't attack anything directly with them.

So you need tanker support. Guess what planes are getting retired next? The new plan is tank pods on the F-18s. So, if you want to stay offshore, you launch two flights -- one carries bombs, one carries fuel. Halfway there, you tank up the strike A/C. The strike bird fly in, the fuel birds fly home, trap, refuel, and relaunch to meet the strike birds and get *more* fuel into the before they fall out of the sky, because it's likely some of them will have pushed right by bingo.

It's a lovely idea when it works, but it's hard as hell on the planes, esp. the gas birds, who take a double trap and launch, at MTOW, for each mission.

If you want to keep the flattops 400 miles away from shore, you've just made everyone stop worrying about them.

Damn shame. The A-6E could carry 10,000 pounds 650 miles Hi-Lo-Hi, and the A-6F design would have carried that almost 1000 miles, but we had to have new toys.
posted by eriko at 5:01 PM on October 22, 2006


"Er, what would that be, exactly? Oxygen? Structural stability? Escape?"
posted by five fresh fish at 7:59 PM EST on October 22

And centrifuges, and stuff to centrifuge. And shrines to venerated clerics of old.

"... It's a lovely idea when it works, but it's hard as hell on the planes, esp. the gas birds, who take a double trap and launch, at MTOW, for each mission. ..."
posted by eriko at 8:01 PM EST on October 22

Good point. Fighter/interceptors do not make good gas stations. Isn't that why the Navy tolerates the Air Force? Because when it comes to haulin' gas 8 miles high, @ $40/pound delivered, the USAF has carved out the mission.
posted by paulsc at 5:22 PM on October 22, 2006


You won't sink one with ten of them.

Well, both Yamato-class BBs went down thanks to 10-odd aerial torpedo hits in the bows.

As far as war goes, a CV down by the bows is a mission kill, and more than sufficient. Hell, much like a punji stake casualty is a bigger PITA than a KIA, putting a ship in the crippled column is a bigger win for the enemy than an outright sinking, unless the war goes on for more than a year or three.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:26 PM on October 22, 2006


pracowity writes "Depending on who wins the elections, I'm sure it will do excellent service as a reef and bird sanctuary or (renamed the USS Richard B. Cheney) an offshore prison and interrogation center."

Or renamed the USS Richard B. Cheney, and immediately scuttled.
posted by clevershark at 6:12 PM on October 22, 2006


Mr. Mogroot, it took a lot more than ten torpedo hits to put Yamato down. She was also hit by 8 divebombs. The ten torpedo hits were below the water line. All 18 warheads that hit Yamato were considerably larger than the warhead of the Sunburn.

And a Nimitz-class CVN displaces about 60% more than Yamato did. It also was designed later, and lessons from WWII were taken into account in her design. And her defenses are better; Yamato's defenses were pitiful.

Three times in the last 40 years American CV's had catastrophic fires, where their own ordnance went off. In all three cases it was a lot worse than the equivalent of 10 Sunburn hits. And all three carriers survived.

But actually hitting a well-defended ship with the Sunburn isn't all that easy; that missile is 25 years old, and we've had time to prepare things like ECM to defend against it. If ECM louses up the radar on such a missle (and that's certainly the goal) then it's unlikely to hit anything except the surface of the ocean.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:35 PM on October 22, 2006


The three were USS Forrestal, USS Oriskany, and USS Enterprise, all in the 1960's. All three fires were horrible and a lot of men died in them; but all three carriers were repaired and returned to service.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:40 PM on October 22, 2006


Fighter/interceptors do not make good gas stations. Isn't that why the Navy tolerates the Air Force?

Except the Navy and AF fueling systems are incompatible.

The Navy has bascially always used modified a/c as tankers, but they were heavily modified -- the KA-6D was the mainstay for many years.

A small tanker is important to the Navy, because there often isn't a divert field, so you have to land on the carrier. So, a couple of tankers is mandatory in general operations, just in case someone's having a bad day and bolters five times in a row1. Suddenly, he's out of gas, and even an F-18F with buddy tanks is the difference between the nylon letdown and another shot.


1] I 've seen film of five consecutive "OK" rated three-wire bolters -- same plane, same day. Note that "OK" is the highest rating an approach gets. Five perfect landing attempts, and the hook bounced over the 3 and 4 wires -- which meant he dropped the hook right between the 2 and 3 wires. Perfect approaches, five times in a row, and each time, he flew right off the deck. There's a reason the carrier approach rule is "gun the engine when you hit the deck."

#6 was the ugliest landing ever -- drove right into the deck, caught the first wire, and blew the tires. But hey, the plane stuck that time. I'm sure he got bitched out about that last approach, but I'm thinking he was thinking that he was landing this time if he had to ram the A-6 into the island.

Carrier landings are fucking insane.
posted by eriko at 7:29 PM on October 22, 2006


Though I should give props to the longest ranged aircraft in the world, the KC-10 Extender. How to build one. Find an overly strong, over engined passenger widebody. Say, like the DC-10. Take out the seats, replace with gas tanks -- lots of tanks. Add a refueling boom. Now, fill with a bizzare amount of Jet-A/JP4.

Empty weight? 240,000 pounds. MTOW? 590,000, given a takerage fraction well over 50% -- 350,000 pounds of fuel. Maximum ferry range over 11,500 miles -- basically, a full KC-10 has every airport on the planet*as a theoretical divert destination. The longest ranged passenger plane is the brand new 777-200LR, which can only fly 9500 miles.

The DC-10 always was too much plane, not enough seats, which is why it didn't last in the passenger realm, and why cargo operators love the things. Just keep stacking stuff in 'em, they'll cope.
posted by eriko at 7:40 PM on October 22, 2006


Don't carriers carry nuclear weapons anyway? Maybe not now, but during the Cold War.
r
They certainly have in the past. (And JFK was involved in two collisions with ships that themselves likely carried nukes.) Before the ICBM age, carriers were used for forward strike forces, and nukes were definitely in the arsenal for ASW duty in the event of a truly "hot" war.

the older Kitty Hawk CV-63, (which was once named Constellation, and traded names with her former ship class twin Kitty Hawk)

Tenuki, what are you on about here? Both were built simultaneously and commissioned the same year, and "Connie" is definitely decommissioned today while "Hawk" is still the same hull she always was.

The early decommissioning does throw a wrench into the long-term carrier calendar. She wasn't supposed to be fully replaced until CVX-79 (when we haven't even laid keel for CVX-78 yet).

Regarding the nuclear-vs.-conventional issue, it's interesting that France and Britain (and maybe Canada) are going the classic route with the CVF programme. Then again, none of those nations foresees the kind of global operations that the USN considers its fief.

And that incendiary napalm strike on the straw people of Wickerstan

This is funny, but he has a point. (Or rather, Meatbomb -- eponysterically -- didn't have much of one to begin with.) Carriers aren't built for the express purpose of, you know, maximizing (world targets in) megadeaths. They are mainly useful for force projection as extremely portable floating airbases. That is, their chief advantage is their mobility, not their efficiency per se. (Although it's an easy bet that it's more efficient to hit targets with repeated sorties from a CV than a fleet of F-111s flying around Spain or whatnot.) Even if we had a peaceful, interdependent defense posture we'd almost certainly still have carriers.

Besides, all this concern about a nuclear accident is misplaced. One, I'm pretty sure that USN reactors are built with passive systems so they can shutdown automatically in the event of whatever even under loss of power. Two, the USN has a very strong interest in keeping its nuclear-powered ships safe to begin with, as they're not much use when sunk. Three, it's conventional wisdom that it would take a nuke to sink a carrier, so whoever's got that firepower in the first place is a bigger worry than the end result of their using it.

Tenuki: Where is that photo from? Looks like North Africa, or maybe Sicily.
posted by dhartung at 10:10 PM on October 22, 2006


Tenuki, what are you on about here?

Heh, that was paulsc not me.

Where is that photo from? Looks like North Africa, or maybe Sicily.


Close; Valletta, Malta. There was a title tag on the link that explained that but it didn't work very well.
posted by Tenuki at 10:24 PM on October 22, 2006


Damn shame. The A-6E could carry 10,000 pounds 650 miles Hi-Lo-Hi, and the A-6F design would have carried that almost 1000 miles, but we had to have new toys.
posted by eriko


Always loved that plane.
posted by Max Power at 11:28 PM on October 22, 2006


"...Tenuki, what are you on about here? Both were built simultaneously and commissioned the same year, and "Connie" is definitely decommissioned today while "Hawk" is still the same hull she always was. ..."

Wikipedia's article for the Kitty Hawk puts it thusly:
"...On 19 December 1960, fire swept through the Kitty Hawk later named Constellation while she was under construction at a Brooklyn Navy Yard pier, injuring 150, killing 50, and doing $75 million worth of damage. The names were exchanged to preserve commissioning sequence of hull numbers and names. Keel name plates in the bilges of the two ships confirm the names being exchanged. This kept the Kitty Hawk first and the name of the class (the other ships of that class being USS Constellation (CV-64) and USS America (CV-66)). A large brass memorial plack was cast, installed in the hanger bay, between the elevators, starboard side, onboard the then Kitty Hawk. You can see and read this plack if you visit the Constellation. ..."
The Wikipedia article for Constellation CV-64 also has a statement about this.
"...On 19 December 1960, fire swept through the Kitty Hawk later named Constellation while she was under construction at a Brooklyn Navy Yard pier, injuring 150, killing 50, and doing $75 million worth of damage. The names were exchanged to preserve commissioning sequence of hull numbers and names. Keel name plates in the bilges of the two ships confirm the names being exchanged. ..."

Wikipedia citations do not history make.

But there is "testimony" on forums.military.com from posters who supposedly served on Constellation, and saw Kitty Hawk hull identification plaques.
"Having served on the Connie from 2/84 thru 11/86
I can tell you that below decks in the engine room there is (was) the ships seal of the Kitty Hawk embedded in the deck.
Again, as I said earlier, some of the salts can confirm this."
A post from September 2003 on SignOnSanDiego.com says:
"Did you know the the Connie is actually the Kitty Hawk (CV-63). The Hawk and Connie were being built at the same time, and as a result of this fire...setting back the commisioning time, it was decided to renumber/commision the real Connie first giving her hull number CV-63 USS Kitty Hawk....and the Hawk was renamed the Connie with hull number CV-64."
The story is disputed by others at forums.military.com, but it keeps popping up. If it's a hoax, it's a consistent and persistent one.
posted by paulsc at 11:29 PM on October 22, 2006


A few more pics. "Big John," passing through Suez.
posted by Tenuki at 11:49 PM on October 22, 2006


Three times in the last 40 years American CV's had catastrophic fires, where their own ordnance went off.

Anything above the waterline is immaterial as far as sinking the ship (unless it produces a catastrophic secondary explosion (eg. USS Arizona), though any mission kill would be a total tactical and strategic victory for the enemy nonetheless.

My naval knowledge is concentrated on WW2-era factoids, so I do not know much about the survivability of the supercarriers, but in a war should the enemy cripple a carrier such that its catapults were inoperable that ship would become a $5B cruise ship (and I would suspect any missile hit to the forward half of the carrier would take out the catapults).

I brought up the Yamato comparison since this class was in fact designed to survive a great deal of punishment but they proved vulnerable at the bows (gravity bombs produced a lot of topside casualties, not to mention critical hits to the ship's chain of command, but were a mere nuisance compared to the continued flooding caused by aerial torpedoes [1]).

Perhaps the supercarriers would be more survivable, but any amount of flooding would be a total mission kill for the carrier. Big as they are, AFAIK they can't much punishment at the waterline.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:54 PM on October 22, 2006


As far as war goes, a CV down by the bows is a mission kill, and more than sufficient.

Yeah, I remember playing SSI's North Atlantic '86, back when '86 was still a ways off.

9 x Fencer attack CV-67...
BOMB HITS CV-67...
BOMB HITS CV-67...

..24 x Tomcat ditch in ocean!
..24 x Tomcat ditch in ocean!
..12 x Harrier ditch in ocean!

Then you'd have to restore from save and start over, because you were screwed.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:47 AM on October 23, 2006


Heywood Mogroot writes "My main naval knowledge comes from playing Harpoon"

Oh god I love Harpoon, were is the long promised new version ?
posted by elpapacito at 5:12 AM on October 23, 2006


Tenuki, whoops, and thanks -- that middle one looks almost exactly like the ones my brother took (on board the Big E).

As for the nameplate switch, I find it difficult to believe that the official history of both ships would omit it. All of Kitty Hawk's dates -- keel laid, launched, commissioned -- are before Constellation's. If there were a switch for schedule reasons that wouldn't be the case. The fire came after both were supposedly launched. (I've tagged the articles, that should be properly cited if true.)
posted by dhartung at 10:08 AM on October 23, 2006


My father was on the U.S.S. America back in the sixties, I eventually went aboard the Constellation, a sister ship to it some years back before the whole terrorism thing.
I followed the rest of the 'tourists' on board and over the loudspeaker I heard a recording telling about how this is your ship as the taxpayer, blah, blah, blah so instead of just following along with everyone else I went to the opposite end of the hanger deck, went in through a hatch, went down the stairs, down, down, down all the way to the bottom, figured out where the engine room was and went there, checked out these *huge* cylinder heads, then turned around and went back. At this time no one on board had challenged me 'cause I had short hair and I suppose looked like anybody else on board ship in their 'civies', which a lot of the sailors were wearing that day. I went past the marine's quarters to the other end of the ship and found the PX and picked up a souvenior coffee mug, then started climbing back up through the ship again. On the way up I found a small hatchway that said something like 'authorized personnel only' and of course, went inside. It was the engineering space for the catapults and so I walked along there for a bit until I found someplace to exit, moved on to 'Officer's Country' and walked around there for a bit including some of the 'Ready Rooms', then opened up the door to one of the pilot's quarters and took a look inside. After that I stopped by the cafeteria, where it smelled like they were cooking up steamed cabbage or something, then continued on to explore some other spaces. At some point I found a door that indicated communications and because my father was a communications technician (I think they've changed that designation since then) I opened the door to take a look inside. This time there were some guys in there who *did* challenge me and after a quick discussion one of them decided he was going to be my personnel tour guide for the rest of my visit. So we went up to the bridge and he showed me some of the spaces where my father probably worked when he was on board the America. All in all a nice visit, but very unlikely in this day and age. I wish everyone could see the things I saw on that carrier that day, really makes you feel good to be able to do that, but now that it's all gone really makes one aware of how powerless we are as taxpayers and citizens.
Oh and big thumbs up on the A-6, tough old bird and one of my faves too, they are just as old as I am. . . A real shame they were retired. That and the Tomcat. . .
And big tip o' the hat too Harpoon too.
posted by mk1gti at 3:08 PM on October 23, 2006


Further on the hull name change issue, I emailed a 7th fleet saillor who was recently stationed on the Kitty Hawk, and has recently transferred to another ship, and here is his comment about the question of the plaque:
"Yes, it is quite true. This is a story we tell on a regular basis to visitors to the ship on tours, and I have heard it from high-ranking civilian contractors (including a retired Chief Engineer from the Constellation who is now a planning supervisor for Northrupp Grumman's overseas contract with Sumitomo relating to carrier maintenance) as well. I would guess (can't give a certain answer but I will send the request onto friends on the ship, as I have moved on to another ship for my last year in the Navy as of this month) the plague is down in Damage Control Central or somewhere where it would be noticed if the carrier was in dry dock."
So, I await further confirmation, and maybe a picture, from some one on board the Kitty Hawk now.
posted by paulsc at 4:36 PM on October 23, 2006


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