This month the USS Forrestal (CV-59), the first of the post-World War II aircraft carriers, was towed to the shipbreakers. She was nearly 60 years old, a remarkable lifespan for a steel warship. Commissioned in October 1955, she was decommissioned in September 1993 after 38 years of active service. That figure in turn is dwarfed by the 50-year active lifetime of the later, larger carrier Enterprise (CVN-65). The reason these ships last so long—and are so enduringly useful—is that they are fundamentally modular, so much so that we take that aspect for granted. Their weapon system is largely, though not entirely, the aircraft they carry, which are replaced as they age and become obsolete. Modularity is not complete; some shipboard systems (particularly command and control and maintenance) also have to be replaced to make full use of more modern aircraft. However, the evolution of carrier aircraft has been spectacular.
The Forrestal began life in an era of subsonic jet fighters using analog electronics and short-range weapons.