As US Navy ships get too old or too expensive to operate they are withdrawn from active service - but they may still be useful in a future war. Many of these are kept in reserve fleets around the country called "Mothball Fleets." Some ships that go into these mothball fleets are brought back to action later, while others are sold off to other countries. Most just end up getting scrapped.

One of the largest reserve or mothball fleets is the one at Philidelphia (and you can tour it today). It is a shadow of what it once was and looks poised to get even smaller as its ships are sold off or scrapped.


United States Mothball Fleets

When a ship is kept in reserve or "mothballed" the basic ideas are to keep the ships afloat and in a sufficient state so that they can be reactivated quickly in an emergency. The Korean War is an example when many of the World War Two era ships were successfully reactivated resulting in considerable savings in both time and money.

  • Usual Fate: To Become Too Old And Obsolete to Be Useful

In a few cases, the general public intercedes for the ships in reserve to not be scrapped so that they can be used as museums, memorials, or artificial reefs. These can go on to be some of the US's most interesting and historic naval museums.

At one time there were vast numbers of ships stored in these reserve fleets, but now there is only a shadow of what there once was.

Today there are three Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facilities in the country these are:

  • Puget Sound Naval Shipyard: Located In Bremerton, Washington
  • Joint Base Pearl Harbor: Located In Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
  • Philadelphia Naval Shipyard: Located In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Related: HMS Victory: Visit The UK's Most Historic Naval Ship

The Philadelphia Naval Shipyard

Of these mothball fleets, the largest is the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. It holds several dozen inactive warships including Ticonderoga class cruisers, Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, Forrest Sherman class destroyers, gunboats, and numerous supply ships. Most of these ships are stricken and are to be disposed of.

One exception is the Oliver Harazd Perry-class frigates that are stricken by may be sold off to third countries. Some of the supply ships are inactive and in reserve.

Today one can walk around the shore and see the ships mothballed. Hurry if one would like to see the USS John F. Kennedy if she is still there.

There are also tours of the Navy Yard Philadelpia. One can choose with guided tours and sell walking tours. It really is worth it to see these once mighty weapons of war rusting away and awaiting their fates.

Related: USS Constitution: Visit The America's Most Historic Navy Ship

USS John F. Kennedy - The Supercarrier Museum That Never Was

Notably in the mothball fleet is the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) Kitty Hawk class supercarrier. She is the last of the conventionally powered carriers built for the US Navy. She was officially decommissioned in 2007 and was then berthed in Philadelphia and kept in reserve.

  • Decommissioned: 2007
  • Service: 40 Years of Service

She was held as available for donation as a museum or a memorial. While the United States has a number of aircraft carrier museums around the country (like the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City), it doesn't have any supercarriers as museums.

There was hope that she would be made into a museum and there could be naval tours on this supercarrier (and maybe her supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk in Washington too). These were the only supercarriers that could feasibly be made into museums as they are conventionally powered (the decommissioned USS Enterprise and successive carriers are nuclear powered and are much more difficult to make into museums).

  • Supercarrier Museums: Unlikely To Happen Now For A Very Long Time

What that means for travelers and naval enthusiasts is that is there is unlikely to be a supercarrier museum to tour for a very long time.

In 2017 the Navy revoked her "donation hold" status and in 2021 it was reported she (together with the USS Kitty Hawk) was sold for a penny and is to be scrapped.

  • Fate: To Be Scrapped
  • Scrapper: International Shipbreaking Limited in Brownsville, Texas
  • Sold: For One Penny

The latest news that has been reported (January 2022) of the USS Kitty Hawk is that she is being towed from Seattle to Texas around South America for scrapping (she is too big to fit through the Panama Canal).

As of the time of writing (Feburary 2022), it is unclear if the USS John F. Kennedy is still berthed in Philadelphia or not - but there doesn't seem to be any reports that she has been moved yet.

Next: How To Get The Most Out Of A Historical Visit To The Pearl Harbor Museum & Memorial