WASHINGTON -- The Navy plans to send the retired carrier USS America to the bottom of the Atlantic in explosives tests this spring, an end 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 are now 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 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 are often more sensitive than for other ships. In 1939, Adolf Hitler, fearful of a loss of morale among his people should Germany's namesake ship be sunk, ordered the pocket battleship Deutschland renamed.
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 on April 11 -- possibly stopping at 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 already removed some materials from the ship that could cause environmental damage after it sinks, Dolan said.