Norfolk, Virginia, Dec 2 (IANS) The US Navy inactivated its first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Enterprise, Dec 1.
Commissioned on Nov 25, 1961, and the eighth ship to bear the name Enterprise, the 'Big E' was also the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
It was retired after completing 25 deployments beginning in the Cold War at the height of the US-Soviet tension over the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
The last major deployment for the carrier, numbered CVN 65, was in May 2011 when its onboard F18 Super Hornet aircraft gave a protective shield to the US Navy SEALS who raided Pakistan's military city of Abbotabad, near Islamabad, in helicopters to kill Al Qaeda terror outfit leader Osama bin Laden.
The US had deployed three aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea for the operation, apparently as a backup measure, just in case the Pakistani Army did something to attack the commandos.
The other two aircraft carriers were Carl Vinson and Ronald Reagan.
Incidentally, the carrier deployment for the mission, codenamed Neptune Spear, was first acknowledged by Defence Secretary Leon Panetta a year later while responding to a question by India Strategic (www.indiastrategic.in) at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi in June 2012.
As per naval traditions, ships live on.
The name, accordingly, has been passed on to a newer generation aircraft carrier under construction. The first vessel in the series is named after late President Gerald Ford (CVN 78), and due to enter service in 2015.
It may be recalled that Enterprise was also deployed in 1971 during the Bangladesh Liberation War to deter India from taking action against Pakistani forces, whose massacre and repression of the then East Pakistanis led to an exodus of more than 10 million people into India.
There was no hostile action against India, though.
Enterprise saw action in Vietnam, in both the Gulf Wars against Iraq, and became the first ship to launch strikes against terrorists and Taliban forces in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terror attacks on the US in 2001.
'On Sep 11, 2001, Enterprise aborted her transit home from a long deployment after the terrorist attacks, and steamed overnight to the North Arabian Sea. 'Big E' once again took her place in history when she launched the first strikes in direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom,' the Navy statement observed.
Significantly, the ship is only being inactivated for the time being, and not decommissioned. That means that if required, it can be stocked and replenished at short notice for an emergency.
Panetta had said that the US will keep an 11-carrier navy, six of which will be deployed in the Asia Pacific region.