The US Navy’s Oldest Ships and Submarines

The Department of Defense’s fiscal year 2023 budget included the retirement of four Freedom-class littoral combat ships. Rather than being vessels that had finally reached obsolescence after decades of reliable service at sea, the vessels are among the newest in the fleet, plagued by mechanical issues. One, the U.S.S. Little Rock, was commissioned in 2017. To give context for the scope of failure the littoral ships represent, there are many U.S. Navy vessels that have been active since the 1970s. 

Currently, the United States ranks as the world’s strongest naval power with the U.S. Navy alone boasting a fleet of over 240 ships and submarines. Perhaps the crown jewels of the American fleet are the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, which were a stabilizing factor throughout the Cold War. The U.S. owns 11 aircraft carriers overall, while countries like Russia and China only have one and three, respectively. (This is the world’s largest navy.)

However, as the Nimitz-class carriers begin to age — most are thirty years and older — the U.S. is replacing them with the newer Ford-class supercarriers. Submarines from the Cold War era are also aging out and being replaced as well. 

To determine America’s oldest warships, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Naval Vessel Register directory of commissioned ships in the U.S. and cross-referenced with data from the World Directory of Modern Military Warships regarding the class or type of each warship. We compiled data on all ships and submarines — 28 in total — that have been commissioned in the service of the U.S. Navy for 33 years or more and ranked them by age.

As it stands now, the bulk of the U.S. Navy is made up primarily of the destroyer fleet, which accounts for nearly 30% of all naval vessels. The submarine fleet comes in a close second, accounting for roughly a quarter of the total strength of the force. Beyond this, an aging fleet of cruisers followed by littoral combat ships and amphibious assault support ships account for the rest of the Navy’s vessels.

Although the U.S. is repairing and replacing much of its naval vessels from a bygone era, it still ranks as the strongest in the world.

Here’s a look at the oldest ships and submarines still operating in the U.S. Navy.

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