The USS America was a rugged United States Navy aircraft carrier. The Navy in an experiment tried to sink it – and it didn’t really go well for those trying to sink it: China praises its anti-ship missiles which are dubbed carrier killers, but how hard is it to sink American carriers? The USS America is a good example. America had a distinguished service history since commissioning in 1965. The flat-top was retired in 1996, and the Navy wanted to know how an aircraft carrier would react to explosions that simulated an attack. During explosive tests, nearly a decade later, it took the aircraft carrier four weeks before America was finally scuttled. So this action showed that America could take a punch and not fall easily.
Let’s see why the carrier was so resilient:
USS America: an exemplary service record
The USS America was a conventionally powered, non-nuclear carrier of the Kitty Hawk class of supercarriers. America was a mainstay during the Vietnam War with three theater deployments and later patrolled the Persian Gulf and participated in Operation Desert Storm. America had a flair for tough jobs having been deployed off the coasts of Libya, Iraq, Haiti and Bosnia during its service history.
Big and dangerous
The ship displaced 83,573 tons. There were four hangar elevators. These served 79 aircraft. The air wing consisted of fighters, bombers and anti-submarine aircraft such as F-4 Phantoms, A-6 Intruders, A-7 Corsair IIs and SP-2 Neptunes.
Air defense was effective
America had a full complement of air defenses, including radars and sensors which, by the time of the Vietnam War, were of advanced quality. It also carried surface-to-air missiles and close-in weapon systems for better protection and survivability against any bogeys that broke through the main air defenses.
No pilot lost in Vietnam
America has had an excellent record in Vietnam. Amazingly, it lost no pilots in 10,500 sorties and dropped over 11,000 pounds of bombs.
Enviable record in the Middle East
During the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan, America saw more fighting off the coast of Libya. At that time, it was carrying F-14 Tomcats and engaged in battle against Libyan surface-to-air missiles and small ships which it was destroying or damaging.
But the Middle East service for America was not complete. The carrier flew 3,000 sorties to attack Iraqi positions during the first Gulf War. After the war, the America sends its planes to patrol the no-fly zone over Iraq.
Simulated combat trials
In 1996, the America was decommissioned. Rather than converting it into a museum, the Navy selected it for testing in 2005 to study how huge ships would cope with onboard explosions and respond to flooding that followed.
Dario Leone of the Aviation Geek Club unearthed this quote on Quora about mechanical engineer Blake Horner’s America which is quite telling: “[T]he purpose of the tests was to make future aircraft carriers more resilient, as well as to see how warships reacted to explosions and underwater damage. Obviously, after being beaten for four weeks, they can survive a LOT on sheer bulk. But at the same time, the tests weren’t supposed to really sink her immediately. So there was no ‘shoot to kill’ mentality of naval officers conducting the test, when the whole point of attacking enemy battleships was to sink them,” Horner said.
The America was thus the largest ship in the US Navy to have sunk. Reviewers learned that a double-hulled ship of her size was difficult to destroy. They concluded, according to Horner, that the missiles would have to penetrate deep through many rooms and voids to fatally wound a jumbo jet. These lessons helped the Navy design future carriers such as the Gerald R. Ford class.
Today, the America, after 30 years of remarkable service, is at the bottom of the sea between Charleston, South Carolina and Bermuda.
Now as 1945 Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. EastwoodPhD, is the author of Humans, Machines and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an emerging threat expert and former US Army infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.