Special Report

The US Navy's Oldest Ships and Submarines

usnavy / Flickr

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.

28. USS Tennessee
> Commission date: 12/17/1988
> Unit type: Ballistic missile submarine
> Class: Ohio

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

27. USS Lake Champlain
> Commission date: 8/12/1988
> Unit type: Cruiser
> Class: Ticonderoga

26. USS San Juan
> Commission date: 8/6/1988
> Unit type: Attack submarine
> Class: Los Angeles

25. USS San Jacinto
> Commission date: 1/23/1988
> Unit type: Cruiser
> Class: Ticonderoga

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Source: 39955793@N07 / Flickr

24. USS Leyte Gulf
> Commission date: 9/26/1987
> Unit type: Cruiser
> Class: Ticonderoga

23. USS Key West
> Commission date: 9/12/1987
> Unit type: Attack submarine
> Class: Los Angeles

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22. USS Helena
> Commission date: 7/11/1987
> Unit type: Attack submarine
> Class: Los Angeles

Source: Stocktrek Images / Stocktrek Images via Getty Images

21. USS Antietam
> Commission date: 6/6/1987
> Unit type: Cruiser
> Class: Ticonderoga

20. USS Mobile Bay
> Commission date: 2/21/1987
> Unit type: Cruiser
> Class: Ticonderoga

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

19. USS Theodore Roosevelt
> Commission date: 10/25/1986
> Unit type: Aircraft carrier
> Class: Nimitz

18. USS Chicago
> Commission date: 9/27/1986
> Unit type: Attack submarine
> Class: Los Angeles

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Source: Public Domain via the United States Navy / Wikimedia Commons

17. USS Bunker Hill
> Commission date: 9/20/1986
> Unit type: Cruiser
> Class: Ticonderoga

Source: Public Domain via the United States Navy / Wikimedia Commons

16. USS Nevada
> Commission date: 8/16/1986
> Unit type: Ballistic missile submarine
> Class: Ohio

Source: Public Domain via the United States Navy / Wikimedia Commons

15. USS Germantown
> Commission date: 2/8/1986
> Unit type: Dock landing ship
> Class: Whidbey Island

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Source: national_museum_of_the_us_navy / Public Domain / Flickr

14. USS Alaska
> Commission date: 1/25/1986
> Unit type: Ballistic missile submarine
> Class: Ohio

Source: Public Domain via the United States Navy / Wikimedia Commons

13. USS Alabama
> Commission date: 5/25/1985
> Unit type: Ballistic missile submarine
> Class: Ohio

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12. USS Henry M. Jackson
> Commission date: 10/6/1984
> Unit type: Ballistic missile submarine
> Class: Ohio

Source: Stocktrek Images / Stocktrek Images via Getty Images

11. USS Georgia
> Commission date: 2/11/1984
> Unit type: Guided missile submarine
> Class: Ohio

10. USS Florida
> Commission date: 6/18/1983
> Unit type: Guided missile submarine
> Class: Ohio

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Source: usnavy / Flickr

9. USS Michigan
> Commission date: 9/11/1982
> Unit type: Guided missile submarine
> Class: Ohio

Source: viper-zero / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

8. USS Carl Vinson
> Commission date: 3/13/1982
> Unit type: Aircraft carrier
> Class: Nimitz

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7. USS Ohio
> Commission date: 11/11/1981
> Unit type: Guided missile submarine
> Class: Ohio

6. USS Frank Cable
> Commission date: 10/29/1979
> Unit type: Submarine tender
> Class: Emory S. Land

Source: Public Domain via US Navy / Wikimedia Commons

5. USS Emory S. Land
> Commission date: 7/7/1979
> Unit type: Submarine tender
> Class: Emory S. Land

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Source: Stocktrek Images / Stocktrek Images via Getty Images

4. USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
> Commission date: 10/18/1977
> Unit type: Aircraft carrier
> Class: Nimitz

Source: Stocktrek Images / Stocktrek Images via Getty Images

3. USS Nimitz
> Commission date: 5/3/1975
> Unit type: Aircraft carrier
> Class: Nimitz

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Source: Public Domain via the United States Navy / Wikimedia Commons

2. USS Mount Whitney
> Commission date: 1/16/1971
> Unit type: Amphibious command ship
> Class: Blue Ridge

Source: viper-zero / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

1. USS Blue Ridge
> Commission date: 11/14/1970
> Unit type: Amphibious command ship
> Class: Blue Ridge

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