The United States Navy operates all over the world, in land, air and sea – and in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. Whether it’s harrowing heat or arctic cold, the Navy finds a way to get there and get the job done. Often, achieving that requires specialized equipment and vessels, built using the most cutting-edge technology available.
Today, aircraft carriers, supply ships, and submarines can feel like they’ve been lifted straight out of a Star Trek episode; their sheer scale, as well as their astounding engineering and tech are almost within the realm of science fiction.
So, what do the U.S. Navy’s most advanced ships look like, and what are they used for?
Launched on May 13, 1972, the USS Nimitz was the first of its class, and ushered in a new era of warships, the likes of which were never before seen.
One of the largest warships in the world, the Nimitz only needed to be refueled once during its nearly 50-year service. How? it’s powered by an advanced nuclear core. Nicknamed “Old Salt,” the Nimitz and its 6,000 crew members have been major players in the United States’ military operation over the years.
The USS Somerset is one of eleven San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks – ships built to transport Marines, as well as their armored vehicles and aircraft, wherever they need to go, in both war and peace time.
The Somerset was named after Somerset County, Pennsylvania, in honor of the passengers who died on United Airlines Flight 93, hijacked during the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The passengers of the flight managed to prevent the plane from reaching its intended target, and instead forced it to crash on Stonycreek Township in Somerset County.
Approximately 22 tons of steel from a crane that stood near Flight 93’s crash site were used in construction of the ship.
The USS Freedom LCS-1, launched on September 23, 2006, is the class leader of the Freedom series. It is a littoral combat ship, deployed close to shore as part of a defensive force.
Built to compete with Independence-class ships, Freedom-class ships may have a more conservative design, but they’re just as futuristic and capable as their trimaran counterparts.
This particular ship conducts several kinds of missions close to shore including humanitarian relief and minesweeping.
USS Harpers Ferry
“First in Freedom” is the motto of the USS Harpers Ferry, the lead ship of the dock landing Harpers Ferry-class ships. This warship is named after the town of Harpers Ferry in West Virginia because of its strategic location during the Civil War.
The Harpers Ferry carries two 20-millimeter Phalanx CIWS mounts, two 25-millimeter Mk 38 rapid-fire cannons, two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers, and six 0.5 inch (12.7 millimeter) M2HB machine guns. Harpers Ferry provided humanitarian relief in Burma in 2008, and in 2009, the ship was involved in humanitarian rescue missions in the Philippines.
The USS Ticonderoga is a guided missile cruiser and the first Ticonderoga-class ship. This was the first combatant vessel to use the AEGIS combat system in order to trace and engage as many aircraft targets simultaneously as possible.
Nicknamed ‘Tico,’ the Ticonderoga‘s motto is “the First AEGIS Cruiser.” In 2004, the ship was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Vessel Register to be disposed of, but currently stands as an inactive ship at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia.
There is probably no ship more famous in the United States Navy than the USS Enterprise. Sharing its name with a long line of other proud vessels, the USS Enterprise CVN-65 was the first nuclear-powered vessel in the American fleet – and, to this day, at 342 m (1,123 ft), remains the longest ship to ever serve in any naval force in the world.
Nicknamed “Big E,” the Enterprise was commissioned on 25 November, 1961, and was only decommissioned on 3 February, 2017 – nearly 56 years later.
The ship has famously inspired the fictional Star Trek starship, Enterprise, and even appeared in a Star Trek film, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
It was succeeded by the USS Gerald R. Ford.
The USS Wasp, much like the America, is a multipurpose amphibious ship, and is the first of its class, which is therefore also named Wasp.
The primary function of Wasp-class ships is to land ground forces on enemy territory, and to provide them both logistical and tactical support in their operations.
Launched on August 4, 1987 and commissioned for the first time on July 29, 1989, the Wasp serves as the flagship of the United States Second Fleet. Its motto is “Honor, Tradition, Excellence.”
USS America LHA-6
While to the untrained eye the USS America LHA-6 may look like an aircraft carrier, it’s actually designated as an amphibious assault ship – the first in its eponymous America-class fleet. But while it’s designated as an amphibious assault ship, this doesn’t mean the ship itself is capable of amphibious maneuvering. Rather, it’s used as a launching station for amphibious forces; it carries both aircraft and amphibious vessels within its hull, which allow for complex sea-to-shore operations.
USS Michael Monsoor DDG-1001
The second vessel of the Zumwalt-class, the USS Michael Monsoor DDG-1001 was launched on June 21, 2016 and its planned commissioning will take place in 2018. The ship is designed for high-intensity attacks near the shore and advanced land attacks.
The motto of the Michael Monsoor is “I Will Defend,” and it sure seems to be built for that function with its Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile system and its ability to launch vertical Tomahawk missiles. The ship displaces 14,564 tons and measures 600 feet (182.9 meters) long.
USS George H. W. Bush
The USS George H. W. Bush, named after the 41st president of the United States of America, who served as a naval aviator during the Second World War, is the 10th – and final – Nimitz-class supercarrier.
With its home port in Norfolk, Va., the George H. W. Bush has been deployed all over the world’s oceans. The giant ship displaces 102,000 long tons of water and has an overall length of 1,092 feet (332.8 meters).
Virginia-Class Attack Submarine
Also known as the SSN-774, the Virginia-class attack submarine is a nuclear-powered submarine built for quick attacks in coastal waters and across international waters. The Virginia-class submarines have replaced the older Los Angeles-class submarines and are classified as a less expensive version of the Seawolf-class attack submarines.
The U.S. Navy anticipates that this class of attack submarines will remain in service well after 2060. Currently, there are 14 of these vessels in service, and a total of 48 are planned to enter service over the next few years. This underwater vessel stores Tomahawk tubes, torpedoes and missiles, and it contains several technological advances that previous U.S. submarines didn’t have, such as photonics sensors, modular masts, rescue equipment, and a payload module.
USS Los Angeles
One of the U.S, Navy’s most important strategic roles is expressed through its attack submarine fleet – and for many years, the beating heart of that fleet was comprised of the Los Angeles-class attack submarines. Heading them was the USS Los Angeles, which was launched from the Southern Californian city it was named after on April 6, 1974 – and remained in service until February 4, 2011, by which time it was the oldest submarine in service. Since then, it has been recycled, but its legacy lives on.