This is why keeping the Enterprise in service through at least 2015 is a good idea. In 1990, the deployment of aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf gave Saddam Hussein pause — and bought time for additional forces to deploy. In 2001, aircraft carriers, including USS Enterprise, responded in the wake of 9/11, and provided a lot of air support for the initial attacks of Operation Enduring Freedom. Since 2007, the Enterprise has been supporting major operations, even as she has become the oldest ship in active service in the U.S. Navy. In 2007, she supported the surge in Iraq. Her aircraft flew over 1,600 combat missions. The carrier is on her 25th deployment at the time of this article. Not bad for a 51-year-old ship.
Her age is an issue, and she does take a lot of maintenance to keep going. “The captain is justly proud of his machine shop, which has to make some spare parts since 65 is the only ship of her class,” author Barrett Tillman told me in an e-mail.
That said, even today, Enterprise can deliver four squadrons of strike fighters to a crisis — all flown by highly trained naval aviators — and operate them for a few weeks. Given China’s recent push in the South China Sea, and the continued expansion of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, we may need extra carriers in that theater. Even though she’d be nearly 55 years old when Gerald R. Ford is commissioned in 2015, the Enterprise would still be very valuable in standing with the Philippines. And just this year, USS Enterprise saw her deployment to the Persian Gulf extended when tensions with Iran increased.
There is one other reason to keep the Enterprise in service — at least for the near term — and perhaps to give her a second refueling and complex overhaul. The Obama administration has indicated its plans are to send this carrier to the scrapyard (the sanitized term used is the “Ship–Submarine Recycling Program”), despite her distinguished history — a fate that her World War II predecessor met in 1958. If the Enterprise is no longer to be in active service, she deserves better than to be turned into razor blades. At the very least, this ship deserves to become a museum when her service life ends.
— Harold Hutchison is the author of the novel Strike Group Reagan.