While in use as early as World War 1 (1914-1918), the aircraft carrier rose to prominence during the Pacific naval battles of World War 2 (1939-1945) where her powerful air wings shifted the balance in the region from Japanese to American dominance. The arrival of the carrier in this war also signaled the end of the battleship as the primary capital ship and ushered in the a new "king of the seas". Today, the United States enjoys the largest, most powerful naval fighting force on the planet as well as the largest fleet of active aircraft carriers. The vessels provide an "anytime, anywhere" approach to growing unrest in the world while also serving as a power projection tool when necessary. The American aircraft carrier has evolved by leaps and bounds since the conventionally-powered "flat-top" systems of old - now able to reside on station longer and field more aircraft on shorter notice. The vessels are staffed by well-trained professionals that ensure the operation of all sections of the ship are fluid and mistake-free.
In May of 1975, the first of the ten-planned nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carriers was commissioned to form the new backbone of the United States Navy (USN). The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) then joined the group as the ninth vessel when was ordered on December 8th, 1994. She saw her keel laid down on February 12th, 1998 by Northrop Grumman Newport News and was launched on March 4th, 2001 with formal commissioning on July 12th, 2003. Due to the ailing health of former President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), his wife Nancy became the ship's sponsoring agent.
USS Ronal Reagan maintains an active presence among the USN fleet as of this writing (2014) making her homeport at NAS North Island Coronado in California. She fights under the motto of "Peace Through Strength" and is affectionately known under the nickname of "Gipper" after President Reagan himself. Ronald Reagan - the former actor - had earned the nickname from his film "Knute Rockne" where he played George "The Gipper" Gipp.
USS Ronald Reagan follows the same design lines and ocean-going capabilities established in the Nimitz-class during the 1970s. She has a nearly all-flat flight deck with a starboard side island superstructure which is set slightly aft of amidships. The primary landing area for fixed-wing aircraft is the angled section of runway running from starboard-stern to portside-bow. Four hangar elevators provide the necessary access from below with three elevators featured along the starboard side and one along port. There are a total of four steam catapults arranged about her design which allows for the near-simultaneous launching of four aircraft (the two catapults at portside nearly intersect which delay launching of one aircraft over another). Two catapults are featured over the forecastle and two along the portside of the vessel. The Reagan also can launch and retrieve helicopters without issue including special forces types. Dimensions of the vessel include a running length of 1,092 feet, a beam of 252 feet, and a draught of 37 feet. The whole crew complement numbers 3,200 personnel and includes all manner of levels - officers, enlisted, security, etc... The air wing comprises an additional 2,480 personnel for a grand total of 5,680 souls onboard at any one time - essentially a floating small American town.
As with all of the Nimitz-class, Reagan is outfitted with a nuclear reactor propulsion system. This is arranged as 2 x Westinghouse A4W series reactors coupled to 4 x steam turbines driving 4 x shafts. Total output power becomes 260,000 shaft horsepower supplying the ship with a maximum speed of over 30 knots. Since the power supply is nuclear-based, her range is essentially unlimited and the lifespan of the reactors is stated around 20 to 25 years before needing replacement. The problem then becomes disposal of the radioactive waste once the reactor has reached its usefulness.
Reagan is arranged to support up to 90 fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft at any one time. This provides much tactical flexibility in any one theater for the carrier can field a broad collection of aircraft to suit whatever operational role is required of her. This includes air defense fighters, strike aircraft, Airborne Early Warning (AEW) platforms, transports, Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters and the like. All fuel and munitions for the aircraft are stored aboard in lower decks and supply the air arm the tools of their deadly trade. Specialized design of the hangar areas ensure that an explosion or fire can be rapidly contained in the event of an accident or direct hit from an enemy weapon - lessens no doubt learned through the hard fought carrier battles of World War 2.
At the island superstructure of the vessel are the various sensors and processing systems available to the Nimitz-class of ships. The AN/SPS-48E serves as the primary 3D air-search radar system and is coupled with the AN/SPS-49(V)5 2D air search system. The AN/SPQ-9B is the target acquisition/fire control radar and 2 x AN/SPN-46 radars serve in the air traffic control role alongside the AN/SPN-43C air controller. The AN/SPN-41 is an instrument landing aid radar system. Up to 3 x Mk 95 radars are featured as well as 3 x Mk 91 NSSM guidance systems. Electronic warfare is handled through the SLQ-32A(V)4 countermeasures suite and the SLQ-25A "Nixie" torpedo countermeasures decoy kit. Armor protection is up to 2.5" thick at critical areas of the ship.
While being primarily defended by her accompanying fleet of surface warships and air defense fighters, the carrier still carries a small collection of ranged weapons as a final line of survival. This collection is led by RIM-7 "Evolved Sea Sparrow" medium-range surface-to-air missiles and backed by up to 4 x 20mm Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWSs) are installed. The RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) launchers can take the place of the Phalanx Gatling guns as needed. These provide a short-range surface-to-air capability as well.
After commissioning in 2003, the Reagan was sent on the requisite shakedown cruise to prove her design and systems sound for formal USN service. She then sailed from the American East Coast to her homeport of NAS North Island in San Diego, California. Along the route she was able to conduct several goodwill stops in South America with American allies such as Brazil. Her first deployment came in January of 2006 and her first actions were in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) where her strike capabilities were brought to bear. She was then deployed to the Western Pacific under the Surge Deployment initiative until returning home in April of 2007.
After Typhoon Fengshen hit the Philippines, Reagan and her assets were used in a humanitarian role - a rather unsung commitment quite regularly seen with USN forces - where helicopters and transports provided supplies and assisted in rescues. Beginning August 2008, Reagan was deployed near the Afghanistan theater and launched air strikes on enemy targets in the country. More air strikes followed in 2009 before she was returned home in October. The vessel was then underwent maintenance during the first half of 2010 before being deployed for trials of new equipment and general exercising of procedures. She joined other elements for RIMPAC 2010. In November, her crew assisted the stricken ocean liner "Carnival Splendor" which had suffered an engine fire/outage.
En route to South Korea for 2011, USS Ronald Reagan was instead deployed in support of Japanese humanitarian forces following the deadly tsunami. Reagan then made headway for home and arrived in San Diego waters for September. A period of refit and repair then followed at Bremerton, Washington for all of 2012 before returning to San Diego in March of 2013. USS Ronald Reagan now awaits her 2015 deployment to Japanese waters under the flag of the Seventh Fleet - no doubt as a show of force due to growing Chinese claims over regional waters, airspace, and resource-rich islands.