The first nuclear-powered carrier, the After Striking a Rock Enterprise, debuted that year. This idea was much ahead of its time. Of course, only some things have gone swimmingly.
he aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, right, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) and the guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG 69) transit back to their homeport of Norfolk, Va. Enterprise, Porter and Vicksburg are returning from a deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, where the ship conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeff Atherton/Released).
You may have heard that Chinese anti-ship missiles pose a significant threat to U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, but natural obstacles near shore can also be dangerous to these floating airports. It almost sank when the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise ran into a relatively low seamount in 1985. As a result of the accident, the ship sustained a 60-foot gash, three propellers were severely damaged, and the port keel was destroyed. Let’s look at this incident, in which one of the Navy’s most recognizable carriers came dangerously close to sinking.
In 1985, during routine training drills, the Enterprise was stationed in the southern California area of operations. On November 2, 1985, while traveling 100 miles south of San Diego at Cortes Bank, the Enterprise collided with a section of the 13-mile-long Bishop Rock, causing hull damage. “counter-flooded the void and controlled the flooding,” as described by the crew on Seaforces.org. But they broke the first screw, and the other two were also damaged. Moreover, 24 JP-5 fuel storage tanks were lost temporarily.
Due to the amount of damage, it required urgent repairs in a dry dock. Enterprise is moored in San Francisco Bay to get to Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and brought The ship’s debris inside for a more in-depth inspection and damage assessment. The damage assessment needed 400 person-hours and 25 dives by divers.
The ship’s skipper, Robert L. Leuschner, allegedly had a rough cruise, contributing to the accident. Planes in the carrier’s air group had trouble hitting their targets in attack and bombing scenarios while other aircraft landed and took off swiftly.
What followed was defined by task and purpose. The pilot informed him that Cortes Bank was close and helped him plot a new trajectory. A bogus report of a gunman below decks distracted Captain Leuschner. No one spotted the carrier approaching the bank during those crucial lulls in communication and vigilance. The accident cost $17 million, leading to Leuschner’s dismissal.
In 1960, the first nuclear-powered carrier, the Enterprise, was unveiled. Due to its cutting-edge reactor technology, it was years ahead. Most of the Enterprise’s service during the Vietnam War was heroic, but in 1969, the ship suffered a devastating fire that claimed the lives of 27 sailors and injured 314 others. In 1983, while trying to enter a port outside of San Francisco, it similarly ran aground.
After the collision, the Navy managed to right the ship and get it to dry dock. The divers performed their duties with courage. Concerns still need to be addressed. What was going on below decks that diverted the captain and crew’s attention away from the bridge? According to reports, this individual was armed. That’s hard to fathom and even implausible. Yet, it diverted the sailors’ focus from maintaining the ship’s safety long enough for the false alarm to succeed.
It is unclear what kind of inquiry the Navy performed into this disaster, but the Enterprise is fortunate that the outcome wasn’t worse. It is a lesson that the United States Navy should remember when conducting patrols in the East and South China Seas alongside the Chinese Navy. If the U.S. Navy wants to keep its ships in good condition while operating in contested areas, it must prioritize minimizing distractions caused by competing vessels.