As 2012 drew to a close, the numbers of the U.S. Navy’s largest warships – the aircraft carrier – had dropped temporarily to 10.
That, combined with emergent repairs to two other carriers, temporarily put the Navy in a state of flux as it attempted to maintain a two-carrier presence in the Persian Gulf that has been the norm for the service since 2010.
This, in turn, required the Navy to re-evaluate deployment lengths and resulted in some ships spending more time deployed than was previously scheduled.
But it was also a year where the Navy began to really look to stabilize its workforce as the service – originally slated to cut as deeply as an end strength of 314,000 officers and enlisted, got the go-ahead in the 2013 budget process to level off at around 320,000.
Manning levels weren’t the only reason the Navy’s 237th year became a year of transition; emerging platforms such as the littoral combat ship (LCS) in the surface force and naval aviation’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft took significant strides toward full operational status.
Meanwhile, on the heels of a new chief of naval operations (CNO) taking over in September 2011, came a new senior enlisted sailor in 2013, with CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert naming new Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Michael D. Stevens to the service’s top enlisted post, replacing MCPON (SS/SW) Rick D. West in that job on Sept. 28, 2012.
With the re-election of President Barack Obama to a second term, the U.S. Navy sails into 2013 with some uncertainty as to who will take the Navy forward in its top civilian post. Will current Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus remain at the helm or will a new appointee take over?
Ships, Aircraft, and Operations
The year ended with the service having 288 “deployable battle force ships,” a number that includes both surface ships and submarines, with 101 of those deployed overseas and another 40 under way on local operations.
But the face of the Navy continued to change in 2012, as the sea service decommissioned four aging frigates and a landing platform dock and inactivated the carrier Enterprise in preparation for formal decommissioning in 2013.
The frigates are all slated for scrapping or foreign sales, though the LPD, the former USS Ponce, has re-entered service as the USNS Ponce, an Afloat Forward Staging Base, manned by a joint Navy and civilian crew.
Meanwhile, the Navy took delivery of two dock landing ships – the Anchorage and Arlington – and christened a third, the Somerset, in 2012. In addition, the amphibious assault ship America, LCS Coronado, and fast attack submarine Minnesota were christened.
At the end of the calendar year 2012, the Navy’s aircraft carrier force consisted only of the 10 ships of the Nimitz class.
The first of those ships, the Nimitz, entered service in 1975, and the final ship of the class, the George H.W. Bush, was commissioned in January 2009. Bush replaced the last conventionally powered carrier – the USS Kitty Hawk – on the Navy’s rolls.
The drop to 10 carriers – for now – came on Dec. 1, when the U.S. Navy inactivated the USS Enterprise after 51 years in the fleet. She started her career as an experimental ship that paved the way for the current and future atomic-powered carrier fleet.
The Navy officially estimates that more than 100,000 sailors served aboard the ship during her career – one that saw 25 deployments to the Mediterranean Sea, Pacific Ocean, and the Middle East.
Enterprise served the nation in each major conflict to take place during her time in service, beginning in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The ship made six combat deployments during the Vietnam War.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Enterprise was already deployed and delayed her return home in order to launch the first strikes in direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Her final deployment, also in support of operations in Afghanistan, ended Nov. 4, 2012, and saw her aircraft flying in excess of 2,200 combat sorties in support of coalition troops engaged on the ground.