Ticonderoga class

The first unit of the missile cruisers of the Ticonderoga class entered service in 1983. As 2016, the ships of this class are still in service with the United States Navy, however with updated characteristics. The first five units built were decommissioned in 2004-2005. Some of the remaining twenty-two ships were speculated to be decommissioned during 2013-2014, not due to technical obsolescence but because of the cut in the Defense Budget of 2013; however this did not happen.

The cruisers of the Ticonderoga class were originally planned as destroyers and built with a hull model similar to that used in the antisubmarine destroyers of the Spruance class; later, the increased combat capability offered by the AEGIS combat system (an ensemble of phased-array radars able to track multiple targets simultaneously) justified to change the classification from guided-missile destroyer to guided-missile cruiser. AEGIS cruisers, with their wide capability of detecting, analyzing and tracking any object of tiny size in several hundreds of kilometers around, constitute the shield of the attack aircraft carrier fleets.

Total length of these ships reaches 173 meters, beam is 16.8 meters and draft is 10.2 meters, being displacement around 9800 tonnes with a full load. The high cost of the AEGIS system rendered prohibitive the installation of a nuclear propulsion plant, so this one consists instead of four gas turbines General Electric LM2500 which give a total output of 80000 shaft horsepower (identical propulsion plant as that used in the Spruance class). Maximum speed is around 32.5 knots, which might be affected by the increment in displacement and hence draft, for these ships are about 1500 tonnes heavier than those of the Spruance class, in whose hulls they were based. Operational range is around 6000 nautical miles (11000 kilometers) at a cruise speed of 20 knots, and about 3300 nautical miles (6100 kilometers) navigating at a high speed of 30 knots. Which became obvious over time is that the overload would cause high levels of structural stress, occurring cracks on several of these ships.

The personnel onboard is approximately 400, and there is a wide variety of complex systems onboard for them to operate. Electronic systems include a multifunction radar, air and surface exploration radars, fire control radars for the missile and artillery systems, active and passive sonars and devices for electronic warfare (electronic countermeasures). The AEGIS system, which comprises four phased-array panels with about 4000 radiant elements each, was created, specially, as a countermeasure against the saturation missile attacks that western military experts feared so much in the times of the Cold War. Another important devices are the air search radar SPS-49 installed in the mast, able to detect any small flying object at ranges of up to 450 kilometers, and the four target illuminators SPG-62 Mk 99 which in combination with the phased-array panels SPY-1 direct the antiaircraft missiles Standard.

The diversity of armament is not less extensive, specially on the ships of the second generation, which started from the sixth unit built and currently represents all the ships of the Ticonderoga class in service. Originally were included two Mk 26 twin launchers for the medium-range surface-to-air missile RIM-66 Standard or the antisubmarine rocket ASROC, eight surface-to-surface cruise missiles RGM-84 Harpoon whose primary purpose is the neutralization of enemy ships, two Mk 45 127-millimeter dual-purpose cannons in single mountings, two Mk 15 Vulcan Phalanx CIWS 20-millimeter multibarrel cannons whose primary purpose is the neutralization of incoming missiles (but can prove useful to destroy nearby aircraft or incoming fast boats as well), two Mk 32 triple launchers for Mk 46 324-millimeter antisubmarine torpedoes and, as final complement, some 12.7-millimeter machine guns.

These ships carry as well two antisubmarine helicopters (Sikorsky SH-60B or MH-60R Seahawk) equipped with the LAMPS III system (Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System), whose primary purpose is the localization of enemy submarines; the sophisticated Soviet models were another big concern during the Cold War. In this first photo below it can be seen the leading ship of the class, USS Ticonderoga (CG-47), which had this configuration of armament.

Ticonderoga class missile cruiser (early variant)
The following photographs correspond to the second generation of the Ticonderoga class. In these ships the Mk 26 launchers were replaced by two Mk 41 VLS (Vertical Launching System) with 61 cells; the whole ensemble has 64 cells (8 x 8) but three of them are nullified by the installation of the loading crane. The VLS is able to launch diverse types of missiles, including surface-to-air missiles (RIM), surface-to-surface cruise missiles (Tomahawk) and antisubmarine rockets (ASROC). This configuration allows as well to fire many missiles simultaneously and it fits perfectly with the concept of the AEGIS system. Additionally two Mk 38 25-millimeter cannons (M242 Bushmaster) were installed as well in these ships.

Ticonderoga class missile cruiser (late variant)
Ticonderoga class missile cruiser (late variant)
Ticonderoga class missile cruiser (late variant)
Ticonderoga class missile cruiser (late variant)

Virginia class

The missile cruisers of the Virginia class were the last exponents of the series of nuclear-powered cruisers built for the US Navy, which started with the prominent USS Long Beach in the dawn of the 1960s. The Virginia class comprised only four ships (USS Virginia, USS Texas, USS Mississippi and USS Arkansas); the first of them was commissioned in 1976 and the last one was decommissioned in 1998.

Albeit the nuclear propulsion plant granted to these ships the capability of sustaining high speeds for long periods of time, rendering them excellent escorts for the fast - and also nuclear-powered - aircraft carriers, in the 1990s their armament was becoming obsolete, and because of their nuclear propulsion plants these ships would be very expensive to maintain. In fact, they would be notably more expensive to maintain than their successors, the cruisers of the Ticonderoga class, powered by gas turbines and equipped with very improved weapons and electronic systems.

The ships of the Virginia class had a total length of 179 meters, a beam of 19 meters and a maximum draft of 10 meters. Standard displacement was around 10660 tonnes and maximum displacement reached 11660 tonnes. The propulsion plant consisted of two nuclear reactors General Electric D2G actuating on two shafts, giving a total output of 60000 shaft horsepower and a maximum speed of 30 knots. Top speed was not so great but, as aforementioned, it could be sustained during long periods of time, and the virtually unlimited range was a great plus.

The primary purpose of these ships was that of air defense. There was nothing similar to the AEGIS system in these ships; their radar equipment was conventional, with rotatory antennas for the two-dimensional or three-dimensional search radars. On the other hand, the armament was similar to that found in the early generation of the Ticonderoga class. However, the complement was around 580, notably higher than the 400 embarked on the succeeding class.

Virginia class missile cruiser (early variant)
The armament comprised, originally, two Mk 26 twin launchers for the medium-range surface-to-air missile RIM-66 Standard or the antisubmarine rocket ASROC, two quadruple launchers for the surface-to-surface cruise missile RGM-84 Harpoon, two Mk 45 127-millimeter dual-purpose cannons in single mountings, two Mk 32 triple launchers for Mk 46 324-millimeter antisubmarine torpedoes and one SH-2F Seasprite antisubmarine helicopter.

In a later refit were installed two Mk 15 Vulcan Phalanx CIWS 20-millimeter Gatling cannons and two "armored box" launchers for the long-range cruise missile Tomahawk, which however were installed on the flight deck, rendering impossible helicopter operations. Note the differences in the two photographs provided, depicting the USS Virginia (CGN-38).

Virginia class missile cruiser (late variant)

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