In the new atmosphere of austerity, the US Navy is having to look at economies, including the possibility of retiring the USS Enterprise:
Meanwhile, the navy is facing budget cuts, and growing costs for new ships. The first of the new Ford-class (CVN-21) aircraft carriers will go for at least $14 billion (this includes R&D for the entire CVN-21 class). The current Nimitz-class carriers cost $4.5 billion each. Both classes also require an air wing (48-50 fighters, plus airborne early-warning planes, electronic warfare aircraft, and anti-submarine helicopters), which costs another $3.5 billion. Thus the thinking is that smaller carriers will be cheaper to build and operate (smaller crews) and carry the same number of warplanes (because most of them will be smaller UAVs).
Meanwhile, the cash crunch is getting serious. So the navy also wants to decommission its oldest aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) three years early, in 2012. Originally, the Enterprise was going to stay in service until the USS Ford was ready in 2015. But changes in aircraft weaponry, namely smart bombs and targeting pods, have reduced the need for eleven carriers. The navy believes ten will get the job done. Plus, the Enterprise, as the world’s first nuclear powered carrier, will also be the first to be decommissioned. That will mean removing eight nuclear reactors. Unlike later nuclear carriers, which had only two reactors, the Enterprise was designed so that one reactor replaced one of the steam boilers of a non-nuclear power plant. The navy has decommissioned nuclear powered surface ships before, having retired nine nuclear powered cruisers in the 1990s. This was done because these ships were more expensive to operate and upgrade. So the costs and savings are known.
The Enterprise was an expensive design, and only one was built (instead of a class of six). While a bit longer than the later Nimitz class, it was lighter (92,000 tons displacement, versus 100,000 tons). The Enterprise was commissioned in 1961, almost 40 years after the Langley entered service (1923).