This process took place at the HII-Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) facility in Newport News, Virginia, marking significant progress in its meticulous maintenance and modernization program.

The Nimitz-class supercarrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), belonging to the United States Navy, has completed a momentous episode in its Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH) after detaching from dry dock this week.

This process took place at the HII-Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) facility in Newport News, Virginia, marking significant progress in its meticulous maintenance and modernization program.

To enable the transfer of the colossal vessel to the shipyard’s equipment dock, where the pending work will continue, and the final RCOH tests will be carried out, NNS proceeded to flood the dry dock with 100 million gallons of water, thus allowing the aircraft carrier to flotation and mobilize.

Throughout its RCOH drydock phase, CVN-74 has undergone “substantial upgrades” as part of an “exhaustive overhaul process, encompassing both the interior and exterior of the vessel,” according to sources by HII.

Modernization of the John C. Stennis Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
USS Nimitz

Rob Check, vice president of in-service aircraft carrier programs at NNS, expressed his delight at this achievement: “Watching Stennis leave the dry dock and reenter the water reflects the immense effort of our shipbuilders, crew and our government partners.

“We maintain our focus on the remaining tasks of this RCOH period, with the aim of preparing this formidable aircraft carrier for the next stage of its operationalization.”

The future of the USS John C. Stennis: a second operational life

The USS John C. Stennis is now positioned as the seventh ship in its class to undergo RCOH. This crucial process involves a mid-life review and maintenance that culminates in the recapitalization of the aircraft carrier.

This will allow it to meet both the current and future demands of the US Navy, ensuring its operation in the fleet during the second half of its projected 50-year useful life.

USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier: challenges and progress

Modernization of the John C. Stennis Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
USS Nimitz

The RCOH is notable for its complexity, as evidenced by the work of NNS shipbuilders, who have replaced thousands of valves, pumps, and piping components.

Additionally, they have made major structural upgrades to the carrier’s island, mast and antenna tower. Significant improvements have been made to aircraft launch and recovery systems. Likewise, the hull of the ship has undergone a complete renovation, including painting the sea chests and freeboard.

Finally, the propeller shafts were restored and reconditioned propellers and rudders were installed, preparing USS John C. Stennis to meet future challenges on the global maritime scene with renewed capability.

Progress on USS John C. Stennis Overhaul

In the subsequent phase of the RCOH, the HII-Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) team will complete the overhaul and installation of essential components of the USS John C. Stennis, as well as verify the functionality of its electronics, combat and propulsion systems.

A crucial aspect will be the improvement of living conditions on board, with special attention to crew accommodation, kitchen areas and dining rooms, thus guaranteeing an optimal environment for staff.

Captain Mark Johnson, head of the In-Service Carrier Program Executive Office, emphasized the scope of the RCOH: “This project expands the improvement of virtually all spaces and systems on the aircraft carrier, beyond the essential tasks of desupply and refueling of the nuclear reactors, as well as the repair and modernization of the propulsion plant.”

Johnson highlighted the diversity and complexity of the work, which challenges everyone involved, from the planning team to shipyard crews and staff on board the ship.

A great renovation project

Modernization of the John C. Stennis Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
USS Nimitz

The RCOH can be likened to a major home renovation, with the team showing anticipation comparable to that of a homeowner excited about the final result.

“Our commitment is unwavering to returning the ship to its warfighting role and promoting both the professional and personal development of our crew,” said Capt. J. Patrick Thompson III, commanding officer of USS John C. Stennis, expressed optimism about the continued collaboration. With industrial partners to finalize pending production and testing and reintegrate the Stennis into the fleet.

Since commissioning in December 1995 and entering the RCOH process in May 2021 under a $3 billion contract with NNS, the supercarrier has completed more than 65% of its overhaul, pointing toward renewed delivery to the US Navy. US by October 2026.

Additionally, in 2024, HII was selected under a $913 million contract to start the RCOH of USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), marking the beginning of the revitalization of another Nimitz-class carrier with advanced capabilities and an extension of its operational useful life.

The technological reinvention of the Nimitz aircraft carriers

Modernization of the John C. Stennis Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
The USS Harry S. Truman, homeported in Norfolk, is photographed anchored in The Solent on October 8, 2018, near Portsmouth, England. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is named after the 33rd president of the United States and has a crew of more than 5,000. The Nimitz-class ship, launched in 1998, carries more than 70 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Aircraft carriers undergo rigorous mid-life refueling reviews with more than 50 years of expected service, which involves a comprehensive incorporation of improvements to propulsion systems, infrastructure and electronics. According to Naval-Technology.com, these warships should not be seen as new, but as improved from their original state.

“When John C. Stennis is recommissioned, she will be positioned as the most technologically advanced Nimitz-class aircraft carrier in the Navy,” said Rear Adm. Casey J. Moton, commander of the Carrier Program Executive Office. “She will provide the Fleet with unprecedented capabilities in all aspects of its mission.”