CORVALLIS, Ore. – This has been an eventful month for the most famous ship name in the world – the USS Enterprise.
On Dec. 1, the U.S. Navy retired the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise – the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier – after a remarkable 51 years of service. At the same time, the Navy announced that the third Ford-class supercarrier, due to be completed around 2025, will be named Enterprise.
And the producers of Star Trek Into Darkness released a trailer for the sci-fi franchise’s latest film, out in May.
So how will the new supercarrier Enterprise compare to the starship Enterprise? Foriegn Policy put the question to naval analyst, former U.S. Naval War College professor and science-fiction fan Chris Weuve:
Q. Why did the Navy name the third Ford-class supercarrier the Enterprise?
A. It’s one of the most famous names – the most famous name, really – in U.S. Navy history. As a naval vessel in American service, the name goes back to a sloop-of-war the Continental Navy captured from the British in 1775 by not-yet-turncoat Benedict Arnold.
That vessel was burned to prevent capture, and the name went to another Continental Navy sailing ship. The Continental Navy became the U.S. Navy, which has had an additional six warships named Enterprise, three sailing ships (the last decommissioned for good in the early 1900s), a motor patrol boat which served during the First World War, and two aircraft carriers.
Both carriers had distinguished and record-breaking careers, the first in World War II, the second as the world’s first nuclear-powered carrier.
Q. A 23rd-century starship obviously has far more advanced technology than a 21st-century aircraft carrier. But in what other ways are the vessels dissimilar?
A. Setting aside the obvious difference of a real surface ship versus a fictional starship the aircraft carrier is a warship; its primary function is to provide offensive and defensive airpower, and to serve as a command-and-control node for a carrier strike group. It does other things, too, but those are the two main functions, and the only ones for which it was designed.
A carrier’s weapons are short-range and purely defensive, so a carrier does not travel alone, but in a carrier strike group with escorts that provide it with defense against submarines and air attack.
The various incarnations of the starship Enterprise are primarily exploration vessels. They have a military mission, yes, but it’s not really the primary mission. They are solo performers, designed to operate independently most of the time.
As for similarities, Captain Kirk’s Enterprise was about the same length as the aircraft carrier, although the crew was less than a tenth as big. The new carrier’s crew will be almost exactly 10 times that of Kirk’s starship.