Sunday, March 06, 2005
The Navy plans to send the retired carrier USS America (CV 66) to the bottom of the Atlantic in explosive tests this spring, an end that is difficult to swallow for some who served on board. The Navy says the effort, which will cost $22 million, will provide valuable data for the next generation of aircraft carriers, which now are in development. No warship this size or larger has ever been sunk, so there is a dearth of hard information on how well a supercarrier can survive battle damage, said Pat Dolan, a spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command. The Navy's plan raises mixed emotions in Ed Pelletier, who served on the America as a helicopter crewman when the ship cruised the Mediterranean Sea shortly after its commissioning in 1965. He said he was "unhappy that a ship with that name is going to meet that fate but happy she'll be going down still serving the country." Pelletier, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is a trustee of an association of veterans who served on the America. Issues surrounding a vessel bearing the name of its country can be more sensitive than for other ships. In 1939, Adolf Hitler, fearful of a loss of morale should Germany's namesake ship be sunk, ordered the pocket battleship Deutschland renamed for a long-dead Prussian commander. Since its decommissioning in 1996, the America has been moored with dozens of other inactive warships at a Navy yard in Philadelphia. The Navy's plan is to tow it to sea April 11 - possibly stopping in Norfolk, Va. - before heading to the deep ocean, 300 miles off the Atlantic coast, for the tests, Dolan said. There, in experiments that will last from four to six weeks, the Navy will batter the America with explosives, both underwater and above the surface, watching from afar and through monitoring devices placed on the vessel. These explosions would presumably simulate attacks by torpedoes, cruise missiles and perhaps a small-boat suicide attack like the one that damaged the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. At the end, explosive scuttling charges placed to flood the ship will be detonated, and the America will begin its descent to the sea floor, more than 6,000 feet below. The Navy has removed some materials from the ship that could cause environmental damage, Dolan said. Certain aspects of the tests are classified, and neither America's former crew nor the news media will be allowed to view them in person, Dolan said. The Navy does not want to give away too much information on how a carrier could be sunk, she said.
The carrier America, decommissioned in 1996, is moored at a Navy yard in Philadelphia. The Navy plans to tow it to sea on April 11 - possibly stopping at Norfolk - before taking it to the deep ocean.