The USS Long Beach was one of those revolutionary designs of the postwar years; she was the first surface ship propelled by a nuclear propulsion plant and also the first one whose armament comprised exclusively missiles. As counterpart, she was the last cruiser on the United States Navy built with a traditional cruiser hull (and a really large one), being not only larger than any subsequent cruiser, but larger than any cruiser of the World War Two era. She was the larger cruiser ever built until the arrival of the Soviet Kirov class, twenty years later.

She was single in her class, because she was an experimental platform for the SCANFAR system, based in a new type of phased-array radar using planar antennas, which was the predecessor of the AEGIS Combat System, installed much later on the Ticonderoga and Arleigh Burke classes. Similarly to the AEGIS, the radars of the SCANFAR system were installed on the walls of the bridge superstructure, and due to their large size the USS Long Beach had such a bulky and characteristic bridge, whose only equivalent could be found on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.

The overall length of the USS Long Beach was 220 meters, while beam was 21.8 meters and draft was 9.3 meters, being her normal displacement around 14400 tonnes. The propulsion plant comprised two nuclear reactors Westinghouse C1W, two steam turbines General Electric and two propellers. With a power output of 80000 shaft horsepower she could reach a maximum speed over 30 knots.

The distinctive silhouette of the main superstructure hid an ensemble of planar antennas and diverse radars (six exploration and tracking radars type AN/SPS and six fire control radars type AN/SPG). The complex electronic dotation was completed by an electronic warfare system AN/SLQ-32 and a sonar AN/SQS-23. The ship had also a large complement: 1160 crewmen.

USS Long Beach missile cruiser
The USS Long Beach (CGN-9) was commissioned in 1961 and she remained in active service until 1994. In 1964, the Task Force 1, which comprised the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and the escorting missile cruisers USS Long Beach and USS Bainbridge, and was the first all-nuclear battle formation in the History of naval operations, started a two-month unrefueled cruise around the world. The nuclear engine of the USS Long Beach was refueled for the first time in 1966, after five years of service.

She provided support during the Vietnam War, shooting down two MiG fighters with her missiles RIM-8 Talos, and during the First Gulf War of 1991, which was her last important action. Precisely due to the cuts in the defense budget after this war, it was decided to decommission every nuclear cruiser as soon as their reactor cores ran down. So, the "heart" of the USS Long Beach was deactivated in 1994, after 33 years of service.

USS Long Beach missile cruiser
The armament onboard the USS Long Beach had a long history of modifications and upgrades. The nuclear cruise missile Regulus initially introduced in the design was never installed. The ship was completed with two twin launchers for the medium-range surface-to-air missile RIM-2 Terrier, one twin launcher for the long-range surface-to-air missile Talos, one octuple launcher for the antisubmarine rocket system ASROC and two triple torpedo launchers Mk 32 for the 324-millimeter antisubmarine torpedo Mk 46. A landing pad for a helicopter was included from the beginning, but because of the lack of a hangar no helicopter was ever carried.

Shortly later, two 127-millimeter cannons installed in single mountings were added to counter the threat of low flying planes and fast patrol boats. The Talos was later removed, when this missile was declared obsolete, and replaced by two launchers for the long-range cruise missile Tomahawk. Launchers for the cruise missile RGM-84 Harpoon, capable of destroying ships located beyond the horizon, were later added as well. On the bar to the right they can be seen various weapon systems that were installed on the USS Long Beach along her service history.

The photographs presented below are more recent than the photos shown above; they allow to see the two Terrier launchers placed on the bow, the ASROC launcher behind the bridge structure, the two 127-millimeter cannons just after the ASROC, and two Vulcan Phalanx CIWS 20-millimeter Gatling cannons, watching like sentinels upon the landing pad and the Harpoon launchers astern. These weapons are the antithesis of missiles; they protect against incoming misiles by using the traditional formula of a cannon, but one capable of a high rate of fire - thanks to its multiple barrels - and of a great precision - thanks to its incorporated radar, which is able to track and correct the trajectory of the projectiles as needed -.

In the time when the USS Long Beach was designed, military experts were so enthusiastic about missiles that they believed these would render artillery pieces useless on the battlefield; but they were totally wrong. Missiles obviously have great advantages, but they also require a minimum distance to be guided towards a target, their sensors have wide blind angles and, because of their guidance systems, they can be "deceived" and deviated from their path by electronic countermeasures. None of these shortcomings is present in an artillery piece.

USS Long Beach missile cruiser (late period)
USS Long Beach missile cruiser (late period)
USS Long Beach missile cruiser (late period)
Note: a conceptual illustration of the USS Long Beach armed with the nuclear missile Regulus is available in the Illustration Gallery.

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