A few days ago I received an email from James Knochel at SendTheEnterprise.org. I had never heard of the group before. Their goal is to save the USS Enterprise from the scrapyard by converting it into a dedicated disaster response ship:

The Navy is planning to send the Enterprise on two 6-month cruises before throwing it away. They’ll have to cut it up to extract the nuclear reactors, so there’s no prospect for turning it into a museum. The Enterprise’s replacement, the USS Gerald R. Ford, is specifically designed to reduce operating costs. The Enterprise is just too expensive for the Navy to keep as an active warship.

Instead of throwing away a perfectly functional ship, we propose that the Enterprise be dedicated to disaster response.

This is a horrible idea. Enterprise is too big, too deep, too costly, and too old to be a viable dedicated humanitarian and disaster relief ship. The fundamental problem with Knochel’s idea is that it seems primarily interesting in finding a mission for the ship, rather than finding the right ship for the mission. In other words, it is about saving Enterprise, not saving people. If you are really interested in providing effective humanitarian relief, loading disaster response modules onto many ships would be a better choice.

However, given that it is clearly an original idea, I thought I would throw it out there to readers and see what your thoughts are.

Update: Here is a response from Knochel

“The genesis for my “Send the Enterprise” idea was in thinking about
ways to mitigate the environmental impact of BP’s Deepwater Horizon

Oil seeps into the world’s oceans every day. Bacteria in the ocean
waters use oxygen to eat this oil. But due to the massive amounts of
oil and natural gas that were being released from the blowout, all
available oxygen in the waters around the Macondo Prospect site was
quickly consumed.

My idea called for using “bubble fences” to get extra oxygen into the
water, thereby feeding the oil-consuming bacteria. This would require
a lot of energy, and I thought the U.S. Navy’s “portable” nuclear
reactors would be the ideal way to power this sort of infrastructure.

One of my early readers suggested that it’d be easier to pump warm,
oxygenated water to the depths required than air, which I eventually
realized was a good insight.

It’s not enough to have a good idea, they have to be properly marketed
too. In hindsight, Kevin Costner’s centrifuge was rather mediocre at
actually collecting oil, but his celebrity status got him attention
and million-dollar contracts.

I have neither celebrity nor attention, and good ideas don’t sell
themselves. To help with marketing, I titled my piece to piggyback on
to the mystique and legend of the Navy’s oldest nuclear powered ship:
Save the Gulf, Send the Enterprise

In the process of researching that article, I learned about many of
the disasters that the Navy has responded to in recent years. After
BP’s well was finally plugged, my thoughts shifted towards future
disasters: the possibility of another offshore blowout, and the
certainty of future volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis
anywhere in the world.

“When Disaster Strikes, Send the Enterprise” gets a lot more attention
than “wouldn’t it be cool if the U.S. Navy had some ships that were
dedicated to disaster response?”

Perhaps you all are correct that amphibious ships are more appropriate
for HA/DR than retired aircraft carriers. Whatever the case, I’m
hoping that the Congress will appropriate some money to fully study
the prospect of dedicating ships to these purposes.

If this idea takes off, and you see the media talking about “sending
the Enterprise”, please remember it’s more a marketing strategy than
an effort to “save” a specific ship.

Thanks for all the feedback & ideas.


James Knochel

Posted by Christopher Albon in Navy, Soft Power
Tags: ,

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  • And who would pay for it?

    I think the Paint it WHITE! argument was a much better idea than this.

  • Jim Dolbow

    I am in agreement for more humanitarian assistance ships. However, the Enterprise will be practically out of juice by the time it retires. So unless we put sails on it, it is not practical.

  • In an ideal world, it would make a great platform to filter the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and zap/offload the collected stuff. Maybe combine ocean cleanup with a franchise for an extreme resort, and an oceanography base for a university consortium.

    It also would make a billy-h**l of a space launch platform:

    Of course, no one saved the USS Triton (SSRN-586), the first vessel to circumnavigate the world submerged, so the Big “E” won;’t be saved by sentiment.

  • Scott B.

    The disaster response thingy is something they tried with the battleships when they realized reactivation wasn’t going to happen.

    Very bad ideas tend to re-emerge from times to times…

  • Hey Scott B: Do you know of a news story or document talking about battleships for disaster response?

  • Hospital ship and Disaster relief modules for the LCS makes more sense. You can fly the appropriate modules and people to meet the nearest LCS rather than hoping the Enterprise is somewhere in the vicinity.

  • I’m the biggest fan of USS Enterprise due to her place in history, and the legacy she bears from CV 6. That said, it’s simply not possible to save her, and other nuclear carriers for a whole host of reasons.

    There are, and have been, multiple groups that have tried to save a ‘supercarrier’ conventionally powered. That’s a more reasonable, if ultimately impossible, task.

    But if a group like this wants to look at a Navy ship for relief efforts, look to USS Tarawa LHA 1. She’s sitting in Pearl right now waiting on her disposition, which clearly is as a target. Now, reasonably, it’s not likely civilans could get her underway, but if they could, she’s got the flight deck, storage space, hospitals, etc. to be the right ship to do this.

    The big deck amphibs have been called on, with much less fanfare than the carriers, to arrive at every natural disaster that’s occurred in the last 10-15 years, and are the most flexible assest in the Navy/Marine inventory. This web site is just another that really doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It’s too bad, because the big deck amphibs deserve more credit than what they get.

  • Victor

    Does deep draft mean a ship is bad (or good) for HA/DR?

    Regardless of the answer to that question, Comfort and Mercy are crap for standalone HA/DR due to their slow speed and utter lack of C2 capability, but an amphib – large deck or not – makes for a great waterborne HA/DR platform.

  • NavyDoc

    Although I’m not sure the Big E is the right ship it does have one benefit over the current Hospital Ships: landing space. Currently one of the biggest issues with the TAH’s are the fact that if they are at anchorage there are huge patient movement issues. With a carrier or LHA/LHD type ship you have a larger flight deck and therefore easier patient movement. I like the idea of LHA/LHD better than a CV due to the well deck. The other issue with a CV is that they are not Casualty Receiving Ships and don’t have the medical capability of an LHA/LHD.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    It all boils down to too small a fleet. The E is worn out. The answer to send an LHA when and as required. Too few flattops?
    Why yes there are. So build enough. Then the rest of their task groups and the support ships for all.

    You can’t get sea power easily, and you can’t get it on the cheap.
    You can get it. It’s all a matter of priorities.

    Fail to, and all kinds of hazards and shortages make themselves manifest. Quit looking for the magic wand and the snappy “solutions” from the know nothings.

    Build, train, and maintain an adequate fleet. Or suffer the consequences.

    Oh, yes…almost forgot. LCS delende est.

  • B. Walthrop

    Deep draft for HA/DR is both a blessing and a curse. You need both (depending on the situation). Deep draft for capacity and shallow draft for access. CVN. LHD. LHA. MLP. LMSR. JHSV. LCAC. LCU. You need them all.


  • My son is currently on the Big E on his second deployment. (2011, 2007) He spent the two and half years in the shipyards working on her as well. 665 million later she is a fine ship but an old one. They will spend the next two deployments expending her nuclear fuel and then they will try to decide how they could make it safe for a museum. It would cost too much to do that or keep her running. A fine old warhorse with an amazing career, she will share the same fate as her predecessor. The scrapyard.

  • Victor

    Per the usual, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution – for large-scale HA/DR such as Haiti, a big-deck amphib may be more useful than a CVN, as LCUs and LCACs can make landings and transfer materiel ashore along with the flexibility of rotary-wing assets. Effectively, you’re utilizing the big ships for what they’re designed for – amphibious assault – just without the contested nature of the advance.

    CVNs are great for power projection but don’t allow for the simultaneous waterborne landings that amphibs do.

  • Exactly – over at my blog http://wharfratshome.blogspot.com/ I have a picture of the flexibility of the LHD platform. I’m extremely irritated that the current administration sent in limited carrier aviation capabilities, not representated in the picture I have posted.

    Harriers from Kearsarge were launched, but with only 6-7 per LHD, it’s limited in what can be accomplished. Harriers are in effect carrier aircraft, so why not the Enterprise airwing? Could this not be what ‘limited warfare’ means for liberals going back years?

    Kearsarge was enough, but Enterprise was too much???? I hope you can figure where I’m going with this. I suspect this was as much political as anything. Cruise missles, with token carrier aircraft from Kearsarge, rather than bring on the big boys and finish it off in 24 hours.

    In fact, I just heard Senator Kerry say ‘this is a limited operation’ on Fox News- bingo. Now there’s an expert on winning wars and military operatins:::))).

  • My answer not good enough to post? My son has been on the Big E for over four years and my opinion does not merit a reply?

    What a joke…..

    [Update from Admin: Did I miss your comment?]
    [Update from Admin: Found it – inadvertently deleted b/c I thought it was a duplicate. Apologies!]

  • Redeye80


    You mean the LCS’ with the cracks below the waterline?


    The Enterprise would make a lousy disaster assist ship and while an LHA would be better, I am not sure that would be much better. For the money you spend, you could easily convert several container ships with flightdecks (like the old Arapaho concept), a hospital, command center, several thousand containers of supplies, self unloading cranes, and a few SLWTs and lighters. You station one ship with a care taker crew with each MPS squadron and you have a ready made HA/DR task force, just fly in crews when you need them.

  • Scott B.

    Christopher Albon said : “Hey Scott B: Do you know of a news story or document talking about battleships for disaster response?”

    I don’t recall any specific doc or story that may confirm the above. This is however based on discussions I have had with a gentleman who was the hull configuration manager for the battleships during the 1980s. I’ve seen some of the drawings he prepared for disaster response, but none of these managed to survive repeted HD crashes.

  • P.S. Wallace

    I think the idea of a large aviation-capable logistics support / humanitarian assistance ship has merit, but do not believe CVN 65 would be the solution, for the reasons stated above, as well as the need to consider that we do not need to spend money on reactor-trained personnel and the Nuclear Propulsion Program overhead unless that capability is truly needed for war-fighting reasons. For this application, I don’t think it is.

    If we are going to do this, it probably should be new construction. Such a ship needs, off the top of my head, command facilities, aviation capabilities, a well-deck (to load boats with both supplies *and* with trucks to deliver those supplies in disaster areas), a hospital, and a large storage capability for supplies. The Wasp-class has all this to some extent, so with some rejiggering an addition to that class may be prudent. The America class also has potential, though the well-deck is a really nice-to-have item for disasters (where port facilities may not be in existence and landing supplies across the beach is needed).

    If we think the ship during peacetime would be too big to be out there just waiting for the need for a Japan/Indonesia-type rescue capability, just put some oceanography gear on it and map the bottom when it has nothing else to do, so we don’t have another submarine run into a uncharted seamount. I joke, but not overly much. There is potential there. With the well-deck it can also serve as mothership for small PT-type boats for piracy patrols/engagement. It would still perhaps be considered too big, so maybe increased scope for education and scientific research things are also players–as well as helping friendly nations enforce and study their EEZs. Add the Seabees, and we have something else it can do–build things in Africa or Asia or South America as it shows the flag. All these items have been mentioned in the previous post on the subject.

    There is no doubt in my mind the ship could be a potent item of statecraft. Especially if we have more than one so that we have a steadily reoccurring presence in South America, Asia, and Africa. Though we may want to rethink the size again. And maybe one would be better, so it was seen as a genuine effort and not “imperialist propaganda”. But then disaster response time becomes an issue. All these are trade items.

    In wartime it could serve as a fleet command ship to replace existing units when they decommission, as an aviation-capable escort for the fleet logistics train (in the tradition of CVEs), as an ASW platform, as a logistics ship capable of long range VERTREPs, as well as whatever capabilities it can bring as a dedicated amphibious assault ship augmenting the capabilities of the ARGs (or whatever they are called now). The only debate would be about size.

    But overall I still think the concept has merit, and one with enough wartime utility so as to not be a total drain on the ship construction budget.

  • Big E Captain Mewbourne met with Captain Linsey of the Vinson today, that most likely means the Big E is there to replace her. Three weeks late but, in the Arabian Sea. No where near the Mad Colonel. (Info from the Navy Site)