Nuclear Aircraft Carrier

Nuclear aircraft carriers are enormous ships capable of traveling the world indefinitely. Indeed, the ships feature relatively large flight-decks capable of launching and landing fixed-wing aircraft, typically fighters.

At 1,123 ft. (342 m.) the USS Enterprise is an enormous ship. In contrast, only oil supertankers are larger.

The Enterprise supported 4,600 service members. First launched Sept. 24, 1960, Enterprise remained in service until December 1, 2012. The ship featured eight nuclear reactors. However, future US carriers, and most other countries, never built more than two reactors per ship. The ship cost $451 million USD (about $4 billion in 2019 dollars).

The Enterprise’ first mission was recovering astronaut John Glenn, the first American in orbit. Her second mission was the Cuban blockade, leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis. By 1964, the Enterprise was sailing with two other nuclear-powered ships around the world as a display of American firepower.

Enterprise fought extensively during the early Vietnam War, launching countless airstrikes. On Dec. 3, 1965, she launched a record 165 sorties in one day. Eventually, the ship was sent elsewhere for refitting and other missions. However, she returned to Vietnam in 1971, towards the end of the war. Additionally, Enterprise also fought in both the first and second Iraq War, as well as in Afghanistan and countless other American skirmishes.

Surprisingly, the nuclear aircraft carrier was designed and launched after the nuclear submarine, a more complex weapon. At the present time, many countries have nuclear aircraft carriers. The portable airfields circle the globe endlessly, sailing from one conflict to another.

Nuclear Submarine

Nuclear submarines can stay underwater for an unlimited amount of time, or at least until the food runs out. Prior to nuclear subs, there were diesel-electric subs, that still exist today. However, these subs use diesel engines to recharge batteries. Therefore, diesel subs must surface to turn on the diesel engines and recharge their batteries, limiting their range.

Nuclear submarines, including the first one, were designed to remain underwater indefinitely. Rather than remaining close to coastal waters, nuclear submarines are able to travel the globe. In particular, nuclear sub routinely sail under the polar ice caps and are capable of breaking through the ice to surface.


The first nuclear submarine is the Nautilus, launched Jan. 21, 1954. It was tested for years, becoming the first ship to reach the North Pole on Aug. 3, 1958. Eventually, in 1960, it was assigned to the Sixth Fleet as an active-duty submarine. However, by 1966 new technologies rendered Nautilus obsolete and it was retired as a training submarine.

Nuclear submarine technology evolved and, eventually, the ships were equipped with all manner of weapons besides ordinary torpedoes. Nuclear submarines can launch cruise missiles and even full-blown nuclear ballistic missiles. Since they’re quiet and travel under the polar ice caps it is virtually impossible to destroy a nuclear submarine before it launches missiles unless an enemy submarine is nearby.

The USSR eventually developed their own nuclear sub but the early versions, and even some more recent models, lack reliability. The first Soviet nuclear submarine, the K-19, launched in 1958 and earned the nickname “the widowmaker.”

Both the US and USSR/Russia developed two basic types of nuclear submarines, bombers that launched ballistic missiles and hunters that destroyed other submarines and supported special operation missions. There is a broad consensus that the combination of a nuclear submarine armed with nuclear ballistic missiles is the most powerful weapon developed in history.