When most ships are decommissioned, they eventually will head to the scrapyard. Mostly, their fate is to become razor blades.
Others become artificial reefs, providing a tourist attraction for divers and a home for fish. But some vessels escape these fates for a more noble end: They are sunk as targets.
And that's not new.
Back in the early 1920s, the United States used old battleships as targets to test how well air-dropped bombs could sink ships. In fact, since the end of World War II, ships have been sunk as targets – often to test how well current or new weapons work, or to provide crews with training that is quite realistic in using their anti-surface warfare systems.
The Baker shot of Operation Crossroads, Bikini Atoll, July 25, 1946. As the spray column collapses a 900-foot-tall "base surge" of radioactive mist envelops the target ships. Ship in the foreground (left) is the Japanese battleship Nagato. (DOD photo)
The 1946 Operation Crossroads was perhaps one of the most dramatic examples. In two tests, the Navy detonated atomic bombs amongst a fleet of obsolete ships, including the Japanese battleship Nagato, the German cruiser Prinz Eugen, and the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV 3). A total of 14 ships sank outright, while the Prinz Eugen sank five months later.
Perhaps the largest ship to be sunk as a target was the aircraft carrier USS America (CV 66). This ship displaced almost 85,000 tons when fully loaded, and had a 31-year career, including service in the Vietnam War, Operation El Dorado Canyon, and Desert Storm.
The decommissioned aircraft carrier, USS America (CV 66) was "laid to rest" after being sunk at sea. America was the target of a series of tests designed to test new defense and damage control systems for the CVN-21 program. (US Navy photo)
On May 14, 2005, the America was sunk after the testing by controlled scuttling, which included remote systems monitoring the effects of underwater explosions that took place over four weeks.
The video below shows the sinking of a pair of Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates and a Newport-class landing ship. Often smaller systems will be used before they unleash the really powerful missiles – and last, but not least, the torpedoes.