The Navy's Cruisers Are Old and It Has Nothing to Replace Them With

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The U.S. Navy's Ticonderoga-class cruisers, built during the 1980s, are nearing retirement age and there is nothing to replace them with. A backbone of the Navy's air defenses, the tall guided-missile cruisers' retirement would leave a hole in the Navy's ability to defend aircraft carriers and other high profile ships just as the service is shifting back to a focus on fleet versus fleet warfare.

USS Ticonderoga, the first ship in the class, was commissioned in 1983. Built around the then-new Aegis Combat System and a pair of twin Mk. 26 guided missile launchers, the Ticonderoga cruisers were designed to protect carrier battle groups from incoming swarms of Soviet anti-ship missiles. The sixth ship of the class, USS Bunker Hill, traded the missile launchers for 122 vertical launch missile silos. All in all, 27 were built.

USS San Jacinto.

The end of the Cold War left the ships without a mission, and all of ships not equipped with silos were retired. Five of the remaining 22 ships have taken on the additional duty of ballistic missile defense, armed with an advanced version of Aegis and SM-3 Block IA missile interceptors. Still, the ships need expensive upgrades to stay current, and the Navy has repeatedly proposed mothballing them to pay for new ships.

The Navy had originally planned to replace the Ticonderogas with a program called CG-21 that failed to produce anything useful. A second attempt, CG(X), also failed, done in by the ship's projected size and an estimated $6 billion for the first ship—approximately half the cost of an aircraft carrier. The Navy now thinks it could start building a new cruiser-sized ship in the 2030s, just as the youngest of the ships hits its 35-year projected lifespan.

Proposed Ballistic Missile Defense ship.

In 2013, shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls has proposed a cruiser-like ship based on the hull of the San Antonio-class amphibious ships. The enormous 25,000 surface combatant has 288 vertical launch missile silos for air defense, missile defense, anti-submarine, and anti-ship missiles and provisions for rail and laser guns. The ship would mount an S-band radar to detect ballistic missiles and flight deck and hangar for helicopters. Here's an updated version of the design.


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