Evolving Legacy & Military Role
The Nimitz class of super carriers has helped facilitate America’s political dominance in the world by means of military and diplomatic service at various points in the three decades of its existence. From the very beginning it was clear that military exercise would not be the Nimitz class’s sole purpose, as among the first tasks carried out was Operation EAGLE CLAW, in which the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), idling in the Indian Ocean, deployed eight helicopters on a rescue mission during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1980.1 Covert operations and non-belligerent assertions of dominance of this nature were not uncommon in American strategy during the Cold War.
Operations in the Greater Middle East
The first prominent military exercise was during the Gulf of Sidra, incident, in which Nimitz was engaged in an operation involving a dogfight, wherein two Libyan jets were shot down.2 During the outbreak of military conflict during the Gulf War, USS Roosevelt (CVN-71), a Nimitz carrier, was prominent in providing air support for Operation Desert Storm.3 A decade later, the USS Roosevelt and USSVinson (CVN-70) were made useful to U.S. counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which various fighter jets carried out strategic bombing runs over the course of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.4
Security and Aid
The aforementioned demonstrations of intervention in the Middle Eastern theatre of American diplomacy and warfare are only one part of Nimitz’s records. Nimitz carriers have been engaged in diplomatic security missions throughout their service records. The United States has provided security for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul using the USS Nimitz,5 as well as air-based patrol over Somalia to ensure the safety of U.N. peacekeepers using the USS Lincoln (CVN-72). The USS Lincoln also conducted an operation evacuating islands in the Philippines during the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.6 In the same region, but to a far larger scale, the USS Lincoln provided aid to various nations of Southeast Asia following the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.7
The Nimitz class has provided a means of allowing the U.S. to establish a humanitarian presence worldwide and assert its power as an international police force. The sheer size of the aforementioned carriers (at 100,000 long tons of displacement) allows the United States government to deploy a tremendous amount of resources to virtually anywhere in the world, to a greater degree than any other class of carrier worldwide.8 Only a fraction of the Nimitz class’s activity has been the delivery of weapons, and the aid that Nimitz carriers have provided internationally acts as a physical olive branch between the United States and allied or neutral nations in need, solidifying diplomacy in various regions.
With the Nimitz class having such a prominent role in American military efforts, it has naturally played a part in controversial endeavors made by the U.S. Government. Military undertakings such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq (condemned by the United Nations)9 10 have extensively involved Nimitz-class carriers.11 Closely associated with controversies involving the War on Terror, the infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech given by former U.S. President George W. Bush was aboard the USS Lincoln.12 The Nimitz’s reputation abroad has come under fire due to protest against the USS Nimitz‘s docking in India’s Tamil Nadu region over concerns of radiation exposure.13
The tremendous size of Nimitz-class carriers have given rise to government scrutiny over the costs of maintenance and repair of certain carriers, including the USS George Washington, which the Navy has considered decommissioning due to financial strains on the Congressional budgets of 2012 and 2013.14 Medical sources have even considered the noisy operations on Nimitz-class carriers a significant health risk to personnel.15
Despite these criticisms, the Nimitz class of carriers maintains an extremely vital position as a vehicle to carry out various military and diplomatic operations by the United States government to this day. It is set to be replaced by the Gerald R. Ford-class of carriers in the coming decades. The first ship of the Ford class will be CVN-78, or the USS Gerald Ford, which will incorporate significantly higher automation in its mechanisms.16 USS Gerald Ford will be completed in 2015.17