Cold War & Beyond

Angled Decks

With the increase of awareness of the importance of national defense, the United States and other allied powers developed newer aircraft carriers implementing newer technologies. The Royal Australian Navy’s HMS Triumph include an angled flight deck for safer landing and takeoff exercises.1 Similarly, the USS Antietam was fitted with an angled deck in 1952, and concurrently served in the Korean War.2 Angled decks were also fitted to several ships of the Essex and Midway classes, some of which served in WWII and others of which were commissioned following the war’s conclusion in 1945.3

Rapid Succession

The U.S. Navy’s Midway class was quickly superseded by the Forrestal class just ten years later. Forrestal-class carriers were capable of significantly higher displacement (at roughly 75,000 long tons) and thus gained the unofficial status of “super carrier.”4 5 Improvements in stability, ventilation, and weapons capacity allowed the Forrestal to be a natural progression of aircraft carrier standards of the time. However, design flaws such as elevators being on landing paths and poor gun range resulted in the accelerated development of the Kitty Hawk-class of carriers, of which USS Kitty Hawk (CVN-63) was completed in 1961.6 Kitty Hawk‘s elevator placement was more ideal, and improved weapons systems and upgrade potential allowed for nearly 50 years of continuous operation between the four that were built.

Nuclear Power

Spurred by the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, the U.S. government commissioned the establishment of the Enterprise-class of aircraft carrier. Just three years after the completion of the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the biggest distinction between USS Enterprise and previous crafts was the adoption of nuclear reactors to complement the steam turbines that had been used in carriers for decades prior.7 This allowed for a relatively self-sustaining power source allowing for greater mobility and increased efficiency in power output.8 Enterprise contained 8 nuclear reactors, more than any other aircraft carrier to the present day, and remained physically the longest carrier in service until its decommissioning in 2012, as well as the longest-running carrier ever, at exactly 50 years.9


Enterprise, Kitty Hawk, and Midway participated in significant combat operations during the Vietnam War.10 Enterprise’s longevity allowed for its participation in the Gulf War of the early 1990s as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in the 2000s.11 The USS Enterprise has sailed along WWII-era carriers as well as later Nimitz-class carriers that would succeed Enterprise in capability. To this day, the use of nuclear power remains largely relegated to U.S. Navy Nimitz-class and Enterprise-class fleets, with the exception of France’s Charles de Gaulle (R91) ship, which uses a catapult system and reactor setup similar to that of Nimitz-class carriers, despite being significantly smaller in size.12

While the USS Enterprise proved itself capable for half a century, most of the U.S. Navy’s military capability lies with the 10 ships of the Nimitz-class. Starting with the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) commissioned in 1975, these carriers have allowed the United States to display unprecedented military and diplomatic might over the last 4 decades.13


1 Australian Royal Navy, “The Angled Flight Deck,” Australian Royal Navy, (accessed March 26, 2013).

2 Naval Historical Center, “USS Antietam (CV-36, later CVA-36 & CVS-36), 1945-1974,” Naval Historical Center, (accessed March 26, 2013).

3 United States Navy, “USS Midway (CVB-41),” United States Navy, (accessed March 26, 2013).

4 United States Navy, “USS Forrestal (CVA-59),” United States Navy, (accessed March 26, 2013).

5 Paul Yarnall, “USS Forrestal (CVA-59),” NavSource Online: Aircraft Carrier Photo Archive, February 16, 2013, (accessed March 26, 2013).

6 Federation of American Scientists, “CV 63 Kitty Hawk,”, (accessed March 26, 2013).

7 United States Navy, “The Legend of ENTERPRISE,” United States Navy, (accessed April 5, 2013).

8 U.S. Library of Congress, CRS, Navy Nuclear-Powered Surface Ships: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke, CRS Report RL33946 (Washington, DC: Office of Congressional Information and Publishing, September 29, 2010), 1-5.

9 Andrew Scutro, “CNO wants faster decommissioning for Enterprise,” NavyTimes, News Section, August 5, 2009, (accessed March 26, 2013).

10 United States Navy, “USS Midway (CVB-41),” United States Navy, (accessed March 26, 2013).

11 Richard Sisk, “Enterprise, Nimitz-Class Carriers Won’t Be Museums,”, November 5, 2012, (accessed March 26, 2013).

12 Jonathan Beale, “On board the pride of the French navy,” BBC News, May 26, 2011, Europe section, (accessed April 5, 2013).

13 Michael W. Shapiro, “Enterprise, Nimitz-Class Carriers Won’t Be Museums,”, October 22, 2012, (accessed March 26, 2013).

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