USS Theodore Roosevelt CVN-71

Last month, the US Navy supercarrier USS Theodore Roosevelt visited the UK. This provided an excellent opportunity for UK naval aviation enthusiasts to see at first-hand what the largest and most effective naval aviation platforms in the world look like. Certainly an impressive sight, not least because the carrier was anchored off Stokes Bay, Gosport rather than going into Portsmouth harbour, where the Royal Navy’s last aircraft carriers, the Invincible-class ships, were based. This afforded a better view of the American ship, but the reason was simply that the Theodore Roosevelt (pennant number CVN-71) was too big to fit into Portsmouth.

USS Theodore Roosevelt, Gosport
The USS Theodore Roosevelt anchored in Stokes Bay, Gosport on the morning of 24 March 2015

The Theodore Roosevelt was commissioned in 1986, the fourth of the ten Nimitz-class carriers introduced between 1975 and 2009 (which surely must set a record for the length of time between the first and last ships of the same class commissioning into service). The Nimitz-class reflected a policy of steady improvement and growth in carrier design since the end of WW2, and particularly the birth of the ‘supercarrier’ with the Forrestal-class (see USS Ranger, A Supercarrier At Risk). The Nimitz-class was the first full class of nuclear-powered US carriers, after the one-off Enterprise (CVN-65) from which the Theodore Roosevelt took over duties in Carrier Group 12.

Four US carrier classes
Four US Navy carrier classes in service during the 1991 Gulf War; Nimitz-class USS Theodore Roosevelt (upper right), Midway-class USS Midway (upper left), Forrestal-class USS Ranger (lower left) and Kitty Hawk-class USS America (lower right) – US Navy

The US Navy’s gradual refinement of the large fleet aircraft carrier stands in stark contrast to the Royal Navy’s approach of modifying WW2-era ships in somewhat piecemeal fashion until the 1970s, and failing to replace them in a like-for-like way. The vessel’s size in part reflects the decision taken in the late 1960s to switch to nuclear power, although the conventionally-powered Forrestal and Kitty Hawk-class carriers were still bigger than the RN’s new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will be. In fact, the Nimitz-class ships, while huge, are not all that much larger than their predecessors – only around 20ft longer than the Kitty Hawk-class and not quite as wide, though they do displace around 20,000 tons more. The new Gerald R. Ford-class carriers will be no bigger than the 40-year-old Nimitz design, with improvements chiefly confined to technology.

USS Theodore Roosevelt, Solent
The Theodore Roosevelt completely dominates the Solent, 24 March 2015

The Theodore Roosevelt is known affectionately as ‘The Big Stick’, after the titular president’s famous quotation, ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’. As a demonstration of power-projection, CVN-71’s presence inevitably speaks louder than any words could.

USS Theodore Roosevelt bridge
USS Theodore Roosevelt’s bridge superstructure and plethora of sensor antennae, with F/A-18s and E-2D Hawkeyes on deck

The purpose of any aircraft carrier is in its air group, and the sheer size of the Theodore Roosevelt’s was apparent in her crowded deck park, even from a distance. The air group, Carrier Air Wing One, consists of no fewer than nine squadrons – three strike fighter squadrons and a Marine fighter squadron (VFA-11, VFA-136, VFA-211 and VFMA-254) all flying variants of the Boeing (McDonnell-Douglas) F/A-18, an Airborne Early Warning squadron (VAW-125) flying the Northrop-Grumman E-2D Hawkeye, an Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ-137) flying the EA-18G Growler, an Anti-Submarine Squadron and Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron flying variants of the Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk, and a detachment of a Fleet Logistics Support Squadron flying the Grumman C-2A Greyhound. All-in-all, the ‘Big Stick’ carries around 90 aircraft.

USS Theodore Roosevelt deck park
USS Theodore Roosevelt’s crowded deck park, here loaded with F/A-18E/F Super Hornets

The ship visited Portsmouth with her escort USS Winston Churchill between 22 and 27 March 2015, before heading to the Persian Gulf via the Suez Canal to join the US Fifth Fleet.

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