The Navy is trying to get rid of its cruisers again, but it's heading for another fight over their fate

The US Navy's guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, in the South China Sea on April 9, 2021. Ethan Jaymes Morrow, US Navy/MCS3
The US Navy's Ticonderoga class cruisers, which are larger and better armed than any other surface fleet, is the largest.

The Navy spent almost a decade trying get rid of its cruisers. They claim they are unreliable and expensive.

Congress has fought these efforts and the Navy's latest attempt to do so appears set for resistance.

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The US Navy's surface fleet cruisers were the largest and best-armed warships after the 1992 decommissioning its last battleship. The Navy currently has 21 Ticonderoga-class active cruisers and one in reserve.

The Ticonderogas are capable of carrying a staggering 122 missiles and other weapons. They pose a significant threat for any enemy and have played an important role in the Navy’s power-projection process since 1980.

The Navy has tried to get rid its cruisers for almost a decade. They cited their age and high upkeep costs. The fear that losing the ships would limit America's ability to respond to Chinese threats has led Congress to repeatedly reject the Navy's plans.

The Navy remains committed to divesting its cruisers and the Navy's most recent effort, which was outlined in the Navy’s 2022 budget request looks set for intense debate in Congress.

The Ticonderoga class

The final ship of its class, Virginia-class nuclear powered guided-missile cruiser USS Arkansas (March 17, 1982 shock test). US Navy/PH1 Toon

The US Navy's last Virginia class nuclear-powered cruiser, in 1998, was decommissioned. Now the only cruisers in active service are the ships of Ticonderoga-class.

Between 1980 and 1994, 27 Ticonderogas were constructed. They represented a significant step forward in the Navy's cruiser force.

These ships were the first to use the AEGIS Combat system, which uses radars and computers to track enemy forces and guide friendly missiles.

They can also be armed to their teeth. Two Mark 45 5-inch guns were used in the first five cruisers. They also had two Phalanx Close In Weapon Systems and two Mark 32 torpedo launchers. Up to 96 missiles could be launched from two Mk 26 guided missile launchers and two quadruple Mk 141 missile launchers.

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The next 22 cruisers were better armed. Two Mk 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) were installed to replace the two Mk 26s. The VLS, which has 61 cells, allow one Ticonderoga, to carry up to 122 missiles and other armaments.

The cruiser can carry a variety missiles including the BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise-missiles, RGM-84 Harpoon surface-to-air missiles and RIM-162 ESSM missiles. It can also fire antisatellite and anti-ballistic missiles.


The guided-missile cruiser Ticonderoga-class USS Shiloh launches an SM-2 surface to air missile from its forward vertical rocket system, March 19, 2020. US Navy/MCS2 Ryre Arciaga

Ticonderogas are able to serve many roles, including anti-ship and anti-submarine, as well as ground-strike.

They are used most often as air-defense and escorts in carrier strikes groups. However, they can also serve as flagships for surface actions groups.

The Ticonderoga-class Cruisers have been involved in almost every US combat operation since their commissioning. They also played an important role in many other operations.

The cruisers were used to escort oil tankers during Operation Earnest Will in the 1980s and were part US operations against Libya.

Ticonderogas was involved in air-defense and missile strikes during Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s. A 1993 strike in Iraq was also conducted in retaliation to a plotted assassination on George H.W. Bush in 1993. Bush.

A sonar technician at the combat information centre of Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam on September 21, 2018. US Navy/MCS William McCann

They also enforced a no fly zone in Iraq, and were present during The Third Taiwan Strait Crisis (between 1995 and 1996).

In the 2000s, cruisers of the Ticonderoga-class class participated in the Invasion of Iraq and strikes on Libya. They also participated in anti-piracy operations off Somalia and many other hurricane relief operations.

Notable events include the USS Lake Erie's destruction of a US spy satellite that was not functioning with a SM-3 rocket before it reentered Earth's atmosphere, 2008, and the near collision between USS Chancellorsville and a Russian destroyer at the Philippine Sea in 2019, 2019.

They are the best candidates for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea because they are the Navy's strongest surface vessels.

Decommissioning debate

The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay is ready to dock in Seal Beach, California on October 26, 2017. US Navy/MCS1 Chad M. Butler

For almost a decade, the Navy has been pushing to decommission its remaining cruisers.

According to Adm. Michael Gilday of Chief of Naval Operations, the service has three concerns: They are too expensive to operate, they have begun to cause reliability issues, and their lethality is decreasing as some of their systems, like the SPY-1A radars, are "approaching obsolescence."

Gilday stated that "these ships on average right at the moment are 32 years old," during a Navy League event held in July.

"We are witnessing challenges in the material conditions on these ships that are to a certain extent, unpredictable," he said, pointing out fuel tank cracks, which recently caused a cruiser twice to return to port unannounced.

Gilday stated that the cost of operating the seven cruisers to be decommissioned "is approximately $5 billion over the five year defense plan." In June, Gilday testified that cruiser modernization efforts are running "175% to 200% higher than estimated costs" and causing "hundreds upon days' delay."

According to Vice Adm. Jim Kilby, the cost of modernizing two cruisers (USS Hue City or USS Anzio) is approximately $1.5 billion.

After a port visit to Thailand, the USS Cape St. George, a guided-missile cruiser of Ticonderoga-class, was taken by the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Cape St. George. US Navy/Master Chief Petty Officer Adam Randolph

The Navy proposed to cancel the modernization plans for six cruisers, and reduce the number of cruisers by nine by 2025.

Between 2004 and 2005, the first five cruisers were retired. However, Congress has rescinded the Navy's plan to retire the remaining Ticonderogas.

2013 Congress rejected a budget request which included seven retirements of cruisers in a two-year time frame. It rejected plans to retire 11 cruisers and lay off the 11 remaining for modernization.

The Navy agreed to a "2-4-6” plan in 2015. It could only build two cruisers per year for four years, and it couldn't modernize more then six ships simultaneously.

This is just the beginning of the debate. Resistance has already been shown to the latest proposal to retire seven cruisers.

Proposed 2022 National Defense Authorization Act by the Senate Armed Services Committee forbids early retirement of ships "unless Secretary of Navy issues certain certifications to Congress."

However, the House Armed Service's subcommittee for naval forces stated that its version of NDAA will not prevent the Navy retiring cruisers.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga-class, in the Atlantic Ocean, March 4, 2010, US Navy

Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith has stated that the Navy should not have more ships than it has the ability to afford. Vice Chair Rep. Elaine Luria is a former Navy officer and executive officer on a cruiser. She believes the capabilities of cruisers are too valuable to lose in light China's threat.

You must have ships. At a recent think-tank conference, Luria stated that you must have a platform. "So I am a strong advocate for not decommissioning seven of the cruisers. As you'll see in the NDAA cycle I believe there will be a fight over this."

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The Navy claims that there will not be a significant loss in capability. Money saved from scrapping cruisers will be used to purchase other systems like Virginia-class subs, Constellation class frigates and Flight III Arleigh Burke -class destroyers.

China is building a formidable force of Type 055 Renhai class cruisers. Each ship carries 112 missiles. Three Renhais are currently in service, and Beijing may have ordered at least 16.

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