USS Carl Vinson: The Navy’s Super Aircraft Carrier Armed with F-35s

The third Nimitz-class carrier in service with the United States Navy, the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) was launched in 1980 and entered service in 1983. As with other carriers in her class, CVN-70 can carry more than 65 fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, while she can travel more than 5,000 nautical miles in less than 7 days in support of national tasking.

The carrier has a notable combat record and was deployed during Operational Desert Strike, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Southern Watch and Operation Enduring Freedom. The carrier was also deployed twice to the Western Pacific in 2017 and 2018 respectively and was the carrier that supported the F-35C tests during the Rim of the Pacific 2018 exercise. The warship has earned multiple Battle Effectiveness Awards—or Battle “E”—for its role in naval operations in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2011, 2015 and 2018. The warship has been bestowed other awards including the Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

Following the successful Navy SEAL raid that led to the death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, his body was buried at sea in 2011 from the deck of the warship. On Veterans Day of the same year, the vessel hosted the first NCAA basketball game—the “Carrier Classic” between North Carolina and Michigan State—ever played on a navy aircraft carrier. The carrier had also been deployed on humanitarian missions, including response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, where she served as part of the relief effort Operation Unified Response.

In January 2020, it was announced that the carrier would be changing her home port to San Diego, joining two other Nimitz-class carriers, USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Abraham Lincoln. CVN-70 arrived in her homeport following a seventeen-month overhaul at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The ship’s maintenance period also included upgrades to combat systems, electrical systems, and crew living spaces, as well as preservation of the ship’s hull, rudders, and shafts. In March, the U.S. Navy successfully demonstrated a “proof-of-concept” exercise that highlighted how a deployed carrier could still receive the critical parts to successfully maintain the Navy’s carrier variant of the F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation jet fighter.

Carl Vinson had successfully completed several certifications for the F-35C, including flight deck certification (FDC) and carrier air traffic control center (CATCC) certification, last September. During the extended maintenance period that was completed last year, the carrier received major upgrades in support of the fifth-generation aircraft. Carl Vinson is the first aircraft carrier equipped to support both the F-35C Lightning II jet fighter and CMV-22 Osprey aircraft. Upgrades included enhanced jet blast deflectors able to take the increased heat generated by the F-35C and the addition of the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), the new computer network that supports the unique maintenance and tactical operations functions of the advanced aircraft.

While most United States Navy carriers are named today for past presidents or those who made significant contributions while serving in the Navy, CVN-70 was named for the late Rep. Carl Vinson (D-Georgia), who represented his state in the House of Representatives for fifty-one years, where he earned the nickname “swamp fox” and “the Admiral” due to his interest in U.S. naval affairs. Rep. Vinson served as chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee in 1931 and played a pivotal role in the guiding the U.S. Navy through the Second World ധąɾ and the early Cold ധąɾ. He was a strong supporter of the Two Ocean Navy Act, which dramatically increased the naval budget by 70 percent.