Cold War USN Missile Cruisers

US Navy Flag 41 missile cruisers 1955-1964

USN Missile cruisers developed in the 1950s testing brand new weapons systems on existing hulls. The Boston, Cleveland and Albany classes are forgotten today, but these eleven missile cruisers formed the base of a lineage that is still going on today. Howeve the most impressive of that era looked as a little sister of USS Enterprise: USS Long beach was the world’s first nuclear powered missile cruiser. This single, but impressive vessel launched in 1959, was followed by series of conventionally powered (missile) cruisers -The Leahy and Belknap- and the semi-experimental Bainbridge and Truxtun, followed by two short series of nuclear cruisers, the California and Virginia.

USS Port Royal, the last USN missile cruiser, here in the south China sea, 2017

The last of the latter class was completed just when a derivative of the prolific Spruance class DDs appeared, classed as cruisers given their capabilities: The Ticonderoga. The last one, USS Port Royal was commissioned in 1994, four years after the end of the cold war. After that, nothing imposed the construction of such vessels and as of today in 2020, no cruiser is planned or projected. The capabilities of the Arleigh Burke class destroyers and more importantly of the three revolutionary Zumwalt class, only delayed (after the program was cancelled) the retirement of the cruisers they were supposed to replace. As of today, the last of the nuclear-powered cruisers were retired in 1999 and 1998, and part of the “Ticon” remains, while the future CG(X) is still a long way away.

Part I: The last conventional cruisers (1948)

When WW2 ended, there were still many USN cruisers in construction, which were completed postwar. Indeed, by September 1945, the Fargo class light cruisers (Cleveland) were not completed (between December 1945 and October 1946 while ten more were cancelled), and for heavy cruisers, the four Oregon City (Boston class) and USS Toledo were completed in 1946 (USS Northampton was even completed in 1953). More interesting were the next generation of conventional cruisers, the Worcester class light cruisers and Des Moines class heavy cruisers. The first three Worcester inaugurated a battery of six twin turret fully automated for D.P. 6″/47cal guns for an amazing rpm (see later) while the Des Moines were a logical evolution of the Boston wartime class, integrating all the lessons of the war and recognized as the last of the USN all-big guns heavy cruisers with a displacement twice as heavy as interwar Washington cruisers.

Worcester class (1948)

Worcester 1953

The Worcester class were the last light conventional cruisers. “Light” was only because their main artillery caliber, 6 inches, rather their tonnage, 17,997 long-tons fully loaded, three times the displacement of most 1930s cruisers. Peacetime limitations away, engineers could freely propose a ship marrying firepower with speed and protection in a satisfying package. The Worcester class comprised the lead ship CL-144 built in New York Shipbuilding Corp. (Camden) New Jersey, and she was started on 29 January 1945 as war was still raging. She was delayed in September as the war ended, and launched only on 4 February 1947, completed on 26 June 1948 after revisions. She would serve until 1972 (future standalone post).
USS Roanoke was her unique sister-ship (CL-145), laid down in May 1945, launched on 16 June 1947 and completed 4 April 1949.
USS Vallejo (CL-146) was to be the third of the class, laid down on 16 July 1945 but cancelled 8 December 1945 and scrapped, while the last of the class USS Gary was cancelled even being laid down. At no point it was envisioned to convert them as missile cruisers after their decommission in 1958, merely a ten year career, and they did not served in the Korean war. They stayed until 1970 into the reserve.

USS Worcester testing her anti-nuclear washdown system, 7 July 1954.

Des Moines class

The last heavy cruiser class in service with the USN, the trio comprised USS Des Moines (CA-134), built in Bethlehem Steel Corporation (Fore River Shipyard, Quincy, Mass. laid down on 28 May 1945, launched on 27 September 1946 and completed on 16 November 1948 but decomm. 6 July 1961, but not stricken before 9 July 1991 (scrapped 2007), USS Salem (CA-139) launched 25 March 1947, comp. 14 May 1949 and decomm. 30 January 1959, since 1991 a museum ship at Quincy, Massachusetts, and USS Newport News (CA-148) from the same name shipyard of Virginia, launched 6 March 1948, comp. January 1949, decomm. in June 1975, struck July 1978, but sold for BU in 1993. USS Dallas (CA-141) and the unnamed CA-141, CA-142, CA-143, CA-149, CA-150, CA-151, CA-152 and CA-153 were all cancelled in 1945-46, as surplus.

These very large conventional heavy cruisers were the very last of “all-gun” but smaller than the “large cruisers” of the 30,000 long tons Alaska-class. They represented the pinnacle of the genre, reaching 20,933 long tons (21,269 t) fully loaded and able to reach 33 knots on 120,000 shp (89,000 kW). Contrary to the Alaska they stuck to their 8-in battery, in the classic arrangement of three triple turrets, unchanged since the Northampton class was designed in 1925. However these turrets housed the very best in gunnery at that time. They were the same 8″/55 caliber naval guns which equipped basically all previous cruisers since the Mark IX of the Pensacola, but this was the Mk 16 models, the last ones, housed in three 450-ton turrets, and were the first with auto-loading ever fielded by the US Navy. It allowed an unprecedented rate of fire (eight rpm per barrel) twice what Baltimore class vessels could for example. This auto-loading system also worked at any elevation, and so they could be deployed in the anti-aircraft role as well. The secondary battery of twin 5″/38 Mk12 DP guns was unchanged but this class also carried 12 twin 3-inch/50 Mk33 guns, considered superior to the classic quad 40mm Bofors, better suited for jets.

The Missile conversion project of Des Moines
This package explained why they became the only heavy USN conventional cruisers deployed for the next decades, whereas the Baltimore class vessels were discarded. They remained in commission until 1975 and fought in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Of course, there has been consideration to convert them as missile cruisers hybrids: After decommission in 1961, Des Moines was mothballed in the South Boston Naval Annex, transferred to the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility at Philadelphia, in maintained reserve. In 1981 the Congress directed a Navy survey to determine a reactivation in lieu place of reactivating the two Iowa-class battleship in support of the Reagan Administration naval programme. The study concluded that there was not enough deck space on both ships to fit modern weapons systems like Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles, CIWS and modern radars and satcom. The per-ship costs were determined close to an Iowa class, for far less capabilities. The plan was then dropped.

wows depiction of the Des Moines
wow’s depiction of the Des Moines class

Early missile cruisers conversions (1958-62)

The trauma of Kamikaze attacks at the end of WW2 conducted the navy to a trusted AA defense against hostile aircraft, with better chances of eliminating the target than peppering rounds around. There was already a solution, pioneered by the Germans in WW2, although they were intermediate between future antiship missiles and guided bombs. Operation Bumblebee launched by the Navy help testing US Navy ramjet missiles in 1945, and the Applied Physics Lab PTV-N-4 Cobra/BTV first flew in October 1945. The program went on and eventually reached its critical point, the RIM-8 Talos missile.

The “Three T” (Talos, Terrier, and Tartar) were really at the base of the US Navy missile program in the 1950s. They were working in conjunction with the Navy’s carrier-based fighters, and point-defense systems. The most impressive one was the Talos, the “big one”, for long range interception, high altitude. This was the “soviet bomber killer”. At some point in its development it was defined as a universal missile. Its operational requirements were daunting, ever higher, faster, to be effective against equally capable targets. It became larger with a booster, at four tons. Therefore to cover the less demanding medium range, the Navy developed the smaller Terrier and Tartar.

RIM-8 Talos
RIM-8 talos and launcher; This was the standard long range, high altitude missile, with a ramjet and a rod-based warhead.

RIM-8 Talos was first used on the freshly converted USS Galveston in 1958, operational in early 1959. The Talos homed in on the target semi-actively and as the development went one and upgrades allowed its final figures of 2.5 Mach, 100 nautical miles, 80,000 feet of ceiling. If fighters with long range air-to-air missiles failed, Talos was the last recourse.
To eliminate its target, the Talos used a continuous-rod warhead: Rods were wrapped around an explosive charge, which forced them apart when detonating, forming an expanding metal circle that could cut through the airframe and fuselage at great velocity.
It was costly, but the most capable first-generation SAM in the navy, but required a large dedicated space to operate, so a heavy cruiser hull was ideal. However to make it more common, the Navy pressed the development of the cheaper Terrier and Tartar to be used on smaller cruisers and destroyers, and deployed missiles at a larger scale, and quicker. During the Vietnam war, Talos claimed three MiGs and it remained in the inventory for long, converted into supersonic Vandal target drones.

RIM-2 Terrier onboard USS Boston in 1966

The RIM-2 Terrier concept was initially close to the Talos, but diverged as development went on, focusing on smaller targets, closer. Talos evolved to shot down Soviet bombers armed with antiship missiles, while Terrier would eliminate the antiship missiles themselves after launch. The type of warhead needed changed, to a trusted blast-fragmentation system. Its development started with a wing-controlled and beam-riding missile capable of 1.8 Mach over 10 nautical miles. At the end of the process, it was tail-controlled, with semi-active radar homing and capable of mach 3.0 over 40 nautical miles and a 80,000 feet ceiling. It became so successful it became the standard on all USN ships, on destroyers and cruisers, and 8,000 were built in all, deployed on twin launchers, quick reload with often 80 vectors in stock inside the hull. It was replaced by the RIM-67 Standard Missile in the 1980s but equipped the Albany, California and Virginia-class cruisers as well as the Charles F. Adams, Mitscher, Forrest Sherman and Kidd-class destroyers and Brooke class frigates.

The small, short range Tartar was deployed on three cruisers classes, USN destroyers and frigates, but also Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Australian destroyers.

The RIM-24 Tartar was the small, short, to very close range vector in the family, and could be deployed against all sorts of missiles. It was used not only by destroyers, but also Frigates and came with a simpler and lighter single Mk.13/22 launcher, after the initial Mk 11 twin-arm launcher. It was capable of Mach 1.8, with a 18 miles range and ceiling of 65,000 feet. The ambition was to replace all twin 5-inch/38 in service in the USN by these launchers on destroyers. However the program had lower priority so at some point in June 1955, CNO Admiral Arleigh Burke pressed the case and urged development. It became basically a RIM-2C Terrier without the secondary booster, to ease production and was otherwise known as the Mk 15.

In the end, the legacy of three Ts and operational capabilities were not only to focus the U.S. Navy attention of a standard system, providing stability, but also revealed limits on improving constantly the missiles themselves, and the Navy came to recognize that further advances would necessarily involved the technical environment surrounding the missile, like the fire-control systems, computing, radars and target management as a whole. It became more logical to focus on the overall performance and this was the impulse and inspiration for the future Aegis system.

SAM-N-8 Typhon
The RIM-50 Typhon was an alternative “universal” SAM missile project developed in the late 1950s. The SAM-N-8 Typhon LR (RIM-50A), SAM-N-9 Typhon MR -(RIM-55A) by Bendix Corp. were paired with the AN/SPG-59 radar system. These were tested on the USS USS Norton Sound from 1962 but around 1966 the program was terminated. It was a superb example of faster, higher “super-Talos” which cost was deemed too high, and replaced by the better all-round standard system, wich started to focus on the missile environment instead.

The standard, was the original idea of a universal missile that could be tailored with some modularity for various tasks. The first model became operational in 1968. It replaced the Tartar, using the same launcher and Fire Control System. First combat was in the early 1970s, Vietnam war. By the late 1970s the second model development started, and it became operational with the Aegis Combat System in 1983 (so with the Ticonderoga class cruisers). Standard 1 and 2 were in effect SAM/SSM and first combat use was during Operation Praying Mantis, 3 July 1988. USS Vincennes (CG-49) shot down by error an Iran Air Flight 655 with two SM-2MR missiles.

Boston class Fleet Escorts (Missile Conversion)

USS Boston, Camberra CAG1-CAG2

These two heavy cruisers were the first US anti-aircraft missile ships, rushed to completion to meet a very severe perceived threat. The first ship seriously considered for conversion was the older cruiser Wichita, which might have had three launchers, re-placing all her heavy gun turrets. The Terrier missile itself was rushed into production; it began as a test vehicle in the Talos programme, and the conversion of Boston and Canberra was conceived as a first phase, an austere effort which might be fol-lowed by the removal of the two for-ward turrets if it proved successful. The conversions were in fact successful, but instead of giving the ships further refits, extra ships were converted. By 1966 the radar fit was CXRX, SPS-37A, SPS-30, two SPQ-5 (CAG: 2). By the 1960s both were obsolete, and a project to modernise them was rejected as too ex-pensive. They were reclassified as cruisers (CA) in May 1968 and relegated to shore bombardment duties; before de-activation, the missile launchers were removed, leaving them with two 8th triple turrets forward. They were decommissioned in 1970.

Conway’s profile of the Boston class


Displacement: 13,600t; 17,950t PC.
Dimensions: 205.3 x 21.25 x 7.6 m
Propulsion: 4 shaft geared turbines, 4 Babcock boilers, 120,000 hp 33 knots, 7300 nm/20 kts
Crew: 1544
Electronics: SPS-6, SPG-8, SPS-12, CXRX, Sonar SPQ-5.
Armament: 2×3 8-in, 5×2 5-in, 8×3 in, 1×2 Terrier SAM 144 missiles.

Cleveland class Fleet Escorts (Missile Conversion)

USS Galveston, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Providence, Springfield, Topeka CLG-3-CLG-8.

No fewer than six hulls were called from the reserve of this famous light cruiser class, the most prolific in history. These six ships were converted to austere missile ships, keeping at least a part of their forward artillery. The missile installation was above the weather deck aft, either for a Terrier or Talos. They were all reclassified in May 1957 and recommissioned in 1958-60. In reality there were two subclasses, with the Galveston class CLG-3 to CLG-5 and Providence class CLG-6 to 8. They basically differed by the scale of their conversion: They were a solution to the problem of cost of new missile cruisers, and to deploy many in a short notice, whereas they had been originally intended as double-ended conversion. CLG-3 and 8 Galveston and Topeka retained most of their forward artillery: Their two forward triple turrets (2x 6-in) and three 5-in turrets. The others only retained only retained their forward “A” turret, while the “B” was disposed of, the barbette plated over and the whole superstructure rebuilt and moved forward, bringing the sole remaining 5-in turret in a raised structure behind the main turret.

Talos missile guidance radars USS Oklahoma City CLG-5 1963

Two new lattice masts were erected with the two funnels in between. The largest being aft with a three-dimensional electronically scanned radar and a fighter control height finder radar, and guidance radars, SPG-49 for Talos carriers and SPG-5 for Terrier. . The aft part was the least recognisable, with a deck-mounted twin missile launcher and reload behind. There was a magazine with a conveyor belt housing either a Talos system magazine (46 missiles) for CLG-3-5 or Galveston, Little Rock and Oklahoma city, and Terrier SAM (120 missiles) for the other ones, Providence, Springfield and Topeka. The three used as flagship had an helicopter pad aft but no hangar. In 1963, SPS-30 was replaced by SPS-8B and SPS-2 and later again by SPS-37A/43A rather than SPS-29. They also were refitted with a bow sonar SQS-23 and DASH drone control facilities for post-nuclear attack C&C and penetrate the outer ASW screen. After completion, these cruisers were considered top-heavy and had to be ballasted. They were decommissioned in 1969-79, stricken afterwards. USS Little Rock can be visited today as a memorial, Museum ship, at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, Buffalo, New York.

USS Little Rock firing its RIM-8 Talos on 4 May 1961

Conways profile of the Cleveland sub-classes
Conway’s profile of the Cleveland sub-classes


Displacement: 11,006t; 15,152t PC.
Dimensions: 186 x 20 x 7.8 m
Propulsion: 4 shaft geared turbines, 4 Babcock boilers, 100,000 hp 32 knots, 800 nm/15 kts
Crew: 1382
Embedded Electronics: SPS-43, 48, 2 SPG-55, Sonar SQS-26, NTDS radars.
Armament: 1-2×3 6-in, 1-3×2 5in, 1×2 Terrier/Talos SAM 46/120 missiles.

Albany class Fleet Escorts (Missile Conversion)

USS Albany, Chicago, Columbus CG-10-12
uss albany

These three ships were the most elaborated of the postwar US missile conversions, as well as the most futuristic in appearance. They alone received the kind of Talos launching system originally envisaged, its magazine deep into their hull fore and aft, (with fifty-each end). Planned entirely without artillery, they only retained two single 5-in/38 either side of the aft funnel. They had two twin Tartar on their beams for close range defense, with eighty-four vectors, as well as ASROC coupled with the SQS-23 sonar system. In effect they were massive missile frigates. The high bridge was necessary to clear the paired SPG-49 missile controle radars forward of it, and the unusual ‘Mack’ arrangement was created to reduce radar interference of the funnels. In addition, early planning called for the Regulus II surface to surface missile, but it was still at the design stage. However, six future conversions (CG 13—CG 15) did integrated Polaris launchers amidships.

USS Columbus firing a RIM-24 Tartar in 1965

CG-10-11 were modernised with SPS-48 it place of SPS-39, and one SPS-30 removed. The pair of 5-in/38 guns was installed at the insistence of John F. Kennedy, witnessing the failured in a demonstration of a Terrier shooting down a drone. The President may have been impressed by absence of the weapon suitable against TBs. Neither at which time she was also fitted with SPS-48 radar in place of her earlier SPS-39, one of her two SPS-30 fighter control radars being removed. ASROC nor the Mk 32 TT had reloads. Three further ships were to have been converted under the FY60 programme as CG 13—CG 15, with a new SPG-56 missile control radar (SCE-173A rather than SCB-173); they were cancelled in favour of the new Typhon missile system, itself abandoned a few years later because of excessive cost. Only the last ship, Chicago, was completed with (a primitive) NTDS. USS Albany received a full NTDS system as part of an AAW modernisation (SCB-002) under the FY68 programme (Boston Naval Shipyard, February 1967—June 1969) as weight compensation.

USS Chicago underway in the coral sea 1979

Her Talos missile system was modernised with digital fire control. She was refitted in 1974-75 to serve as flagship of the Second Fleet and her remaining SPS-30 replaced by a satellite communications antenna. USS Chicago was modernised in August 1972—August 1973, albeit not on the same scale as Albany. Her NTDS was brought up to date, and she was fitted with an SLQ-26 Threat Reactive Anti-Ship Missile Defence system. Albany had already had the SLQ-19A ASMD system fitted in 1970, after her SCB-002 modernisation. USS Columbus alone was not modernised, and she was, therefore, the first of the class to be laid up, in May 1975. She was stricken in 1976. Her two sisters were decommissioned in 1980, their Talos missile system having hem drawn from service to save money, even though initially they had been planned for retention through 1985. Normal practice would have been to strike them at this time, but in view of the international situation the Reagan Administration chose to retained them in reserve. With the Talos gone they were limited to the short range tartar missile battery. USS Chicago served as primary air protection ship during mining of the Haiphong Harbour in 1972. Other missile ships were covering the area, with carrier fighters acting only as backups. When MiGs were detected for the low-flying mining aircraft, USS Chicago shot one down one a range of 48nm, and the others fled.

Conway’s profile of the USS Albany in 1970


Displacement: 14,400t; 18,777t PC.
Dimensions: 205.8 x 21.3 x 7.9 m
Propulsion: 4 shaft GE geared turbines, 4 Babcock boilers, 120,000 hp 32 knots, Range 7000 nm/15 kts
Crew: 1382
Electronics: SPS-29/43A, 2 SPS-30, 2 SPG-49/SPW-2,4 SPG-51, Sonar SQS-23.
Armament: 2×2 Talos SAM 4×52 missiles. 2×2 Tartar SAM (4×42 missiles), 2x 5-in/38, ASROC, 2×3 324mm ASW TTs

USN Missile cruisers (1965-90)

Belknap class Fleet Escorts (Missile) 1959

US Navy Flag 9 cruisers (1959-64)

An aerial port beam view of the guided missile cruiser USS BELKNAP (CG 26) underway.

USS Sterett, CG-31

These missile cruisers, defined as “fleet escorts”, were originally intended to be cheaper versions of the Charles F. Adams destroyers. Their ASM means had to be improved and their range of action to 6000 nautical miles. But eventually the studies led to an even more expensive ship. It was decided to replace the Tartar missile with the less expensive Terrier system on the Leahy hull. Finalization of the design resulted in a combination of the ASROC system and the Terrier, and a 60 Terrier or 40 Terrier drum and 20 ASROC drums combined. The range of this missile was 32 km, its Mach speed 3 and its ceiling 24,000 meters.

She was carrying a classic fragmentation charge of 100 kgs. or a nuclear load of 1 Kt. It was under their name of “fleet escorts” (“cruisers” in 1970) that the ten Belknap were built, the first launched in 1963 and the last admitted on active service in 1967. The Class included the Belknap, J. Daniels, Wainwright, Jouett, Horne, Sterett, William Standley, Fox and Biddle. Another indication of their initial destroyer character was in the US Navy tradition of ship names, states for capital ships, cities for cruisers, and names of officers or various parliamentarians for the destroyers.

USS Josephus Daniels CG-27

These ships also embarked for a while ASM helicopter drones (DASH), and 4 TLT special ASM mk48 at the stern. They were also permanently equipped with the NTDS (Tactical Naval Data Integration System). These buildings knew their baptism of the fire with the viet-nâm: Thus on April 19, 1972 the USS Sterret destroyed a big anti-ship missile North-Vietnamese Styx with the help of one of its Terrier (a world first), and downed two Migs during a combined air/surface attack, demonstrating the effectiveness of NTDS. On 19 July, the USS Biddle dispersed a formation of Mig that attacked by night, destroying two aircraft. They were later modernized, the Wainwright testing the SM2 ER, the Fox testing Tomahawk in 1977, and from 1981 all received two quadruple ramps of Harpoon missiles. On this occasion, they received SPS48 and 49 radars. They were all active in 1990, but were removed from service in 1993-95. Some are still in reserve.

Belknap class illustration by the author


Displacement: 5400t; 7890t PC.
Dimensions: 166.8 x 16.7 x 5.5 m
Propulsion: 2 HP turbines, 4 Babcock boilers, 2 propellers, 85,000 hp. and 32 knots max. 7100 nautical
Crew: 388
Embedded Electronics: SPS-43, 48, 2 SPG-55, Sonar SQS-26, NTDS radars.
Armament: 1×2 MMA Terrier SMA-2 / ASROC ASM (60), 1×127 mm DP, 2×76 mm, 2×3 TLT ASM 324 mm.

Leahy class Fleet Escorts (Missile) 1961

US Navy Flag 9 cruisers (1961-64)

These missile cruisers were the first designed in the USA. They were contemporary with the series of Farragut and Adams missile destroyers. To justify their rank of cruisers (their standard naming was “fleet escort”), they had two Terrier anti-aircraft launchers instead of one. However they eliminated in fact the only versatile gun of the edge, not having any armament said “classic”. In itself, the Leahy were the first cruisers of this new generation dedicated to the guided missile, coexisting for a while with many “classic” cruisers, whose design dates back to the Second World War. However, in the long run, these ships were quickly rendered obsolete and modernized due to constant progress in guidance and sensors. Nine buildings were started between December 1959 and July 1960 and commissioned between August 1962 and May 1964. The class included the Leahy, Harry E Yarnell, Worden, Dale, Richmond K Turner, Gridley, England, Halsey and Reeves.

During the Vietnam conflict, these ships were recast to include the NTDS fire management system, the SPG-55B guidance radar coupled with the new SM-1 Standard Launchers, and two pairs of 76mm AA guns. were added. These were removed in the 1970s for the benefit of two quadruple Harpoon missile ramps, giving them the anti-ship capability they lacked. Finally, in the 80s, a second overhaul gave them the SPS49 radar, the CME SQL-32 system, and finally two Phalanx missile guns and two 12.7mm pieces. Arrived at the service limit, they began to be removed between 1993 and 1994. Most have been scrapped since.

Leahy Class
Leahy Class missile cruiser – Author’s Illustration


Displacement: Standard 5150t, 7600t FL
Dimensions: 162.5 x 16.3 x 5.8m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 turbines, 4 boilers Babcock & Wilcox/Foster-Wheeler
85,000 hp. and 32 knots.
Crew : 377

Sensors: Radar SPS37, SPS49, 4 lines of fire SPS55, Sonar SQS23
Weaponry: 2 x 2 MMA Terrier (80 v), 1 ASROC ASM (8v), 2 x 2 76 mm AA, 2 x 3 TLT 357 mm side, 12 torpedoes mk32.

USN Nuclear-powered missile cruisers (1960-78)

USS Long Beach, Fleet Escorts (Missile, nuclear) 1960

An aerial port bow view of the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS LONG BEACH (CGN-9) underway.

Artist Impression in 1956

This great cruiser is probably as famous as the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. in fact, he was the first nuclear-powered ever built. He was also the first American cruiser built after the Second World War. It was studied as a missile frigate project in 1955 and the project evolved. He also shared with the USS Enterprise the radar mass of the SPS-23 radar which earned him his massive superstructure, and had a long-range sonar SQS-23 to the bow associated with the ASROC launcher. The massive weight of the superstructure forced the engineers to heal the stability and raise the bow. Very similar to those of the Enterprise, its C1W reactors were a more modest version, delivering a total of 80,000 hp, enough to give it a speed of 32 knots and more.

USS Long Beach launching a terrier missile in October 1961

The maintenance difficulties of their fixed antenna SPS-32/33 led to their addition in 1968 the SPS-12 of aerial detection. He served in Viet-Nam: In May and June 1968, in the Gulf of Tonkin, he recorded the first two victories of a cruiser of this type against North Vietnamese Migs. His major redesign took place in 1980 in Puget Sound, New York. In 1983 he left without his fixed antennas SPS-32/33, against SPS-48/49, two anti-missile guns installed in place of their Talos fire control radards, said dual carriage replaced by two quadruple ramps of Harpoon missiles . His adaptation to the AEGIS standard was abandoned, as was his conversion to a coastal strike cruiser with a very long 203 mm long gun. It was to be modernized again in 1993 but was set aside in 1994. It remained in its time the most powerful missile cruiser ever built, the only (poor) equivalent possible to the Soviet Kirov.

USS Long Beach
Author’s illustration of the USS Long Beach


Displacement: 15110t standard, 16600t FL
Dimensions: 219.9 x 22.3 x 7.3 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 turbines, 2 C1W reactors, 80,000 hp. and 32 knots.
Crew : 1107
Sensors: Radar SPS-32/33, SPG-49, 2 SPW-2 fire lines, 4 SPG-55, Sonar SQS-23
Armament: 1×2 Talos AN (52v), 2×2 Terrier AA (120v), 1 ASROC ASM (20v), 2 x 127mm AA, 2 x 3 TLT 357mm (12 mk32 ASM torpedoes).

Long Beach 1960

USS Bainbridge fleet escort (cruiser, nuclear) 1961

USS Bainbridge, called DLG-25 and CGN-25 from 1975 was a nuclear-powered Leahvy, and prototype for a cheaper fleet escort than the mighty Long Beach. She represented a minimal platform for two reactor plants, and was expected to reach destroyer speeds. A submarine plant used on USS Triton was rejected as it weighted too much. Destroyer nuclear propulsion was given high priority from 1956, for endurance, a limiting factor in carrier operations. AAW modernization at Puget Sound between 30 June 1974 and 24 Sept. 1976 wa completed at San Diego in April 1977: She had now a large deckhouse aft for NTDS, the 3-in replaced by 20 mm guns and two Phalanx CIWS were added in 1983-85. SPS-37 was repkaced by SPS-49, SQL-32(V)3 and RBOC installed, and later the Mark 14 weapons direction system. She had been decommissioned and stricken on 13 September 1996.

Conway’s profile of USS Bainbridge in 1962


Displacement: 7250t standard, 7980t FL
Dimensions: 172.3 x 17 x 5.9 m
Propulsion: 2 shaft turbines, 2 D2G reactors, 60,000 hp and 30 knots.
Crew : 459
Sensors: Radar SPS-37, SPG-39, 4 SPG-55, Sonar SQS-23
Armament: 2×2 Terrier AA (4×40 missiles), ASROC, 2×3 TLT 357mm ASW (mk32), 4x 3-in/50 AA.

USS Truxtun fleet escort (cruiser, nuclear) 1964

USS Truxtun DLGN-35 underway off Point Loma, California 1970s

USS Truxtun called DLGN 35 was essentially a nuclear version of the Belknap class, enlarged and rearranged to accomodate the powerplant. The nuclear propulsion organisation had hoped at the beginning to duplicate the Bainbridge, but this was rejected as to test the new SQS-26 sonar. Her 3-in/50 guns were replaced by Harpoon missiles in 1980. She was modernizes and refitted in 1982-84: Two Phalanx CIWS were added and a new EW suite added with SQL-32 and SBROC. She also had a Mark 14 weapons direction system installed called NTU. She was decommissioned in 1993.

Conway’s profile of USS Truxtun in 1980


Displacement: 8150t standard, 8970t FL
Dimensions: 172 x 17.6 x 6 m
Propulsion: 2 shaft turbines, 2 D2G reactors, 60,000 hp and 30 knots.
Crew : 490
Sensors: Radar SPS-40, SPG-48, 2 SPG-55, Sonar SQS-26
Armament: 1 Terrier/ASROC SAM/ASW (60 missiles), 1-5in/54, 2x 3-in/50 AA, 2×3 TLT 357mm ASW (mk32).

California class Fleet Escorts (Missile, nuclear) 1972

California, South Carolina (1972-74)

These missile cruisers defined as “fleet escorts” (“cruisers” in 1975) were defined from the experiments carried out on USS Truxtun and USS Bainbridge in nuclear propulsion. They were the first of this type in “serial” production. Extremely expensive they used a new generation of reactor, the D2G whose lifetime of the heart was three times longer. Their arrangements required the adoption of a long and massive hull without recess, returning to this standard defined in the thirties. Their armament was much larger than previous cruisers, including two of the new 127 mm Mk42 guns, two launchers of the new standard SAM, and one ASROC.

Cruiser USS California

Their 4 TLT ASMs of 324 mm were lateral and fixed, in the deckhouse. Paradoxically, their large stern did not house a hangar, because at the time of their design the ASM DASH drones were the preferred, although they were not adopted later. They did, however, have a spot hosting a LAMPS helicopter or later a Seahawk, or a Sea King. The California and South Carolina (launched in 1971 and 1972, admitted in 1974-75) were renamed battleships, reflecting their importance within the nomenclature of US navy. They quickly received two quadruple Harpoon missile ramps. Both are currently in reserve since 1998.

California class
California class cruisers – Author’s illustration

Conway’s profile


Displacement: 10 150t; FL.
Dimensions: 181.70 x 18.6 x 6.3 m
Propulsion: 2 HP turbines, 2 D2G reactors, 2 propellers, 60,000 hp. and 30 knots max.
Crew: 533
Embedded electronics: Radars SPS-40, 48, 2 SPG-51, SPG-60, SPQ-9, Sonar SQS-26.
Armament: 2×1 MA Standard SM1 (80), 1 ASROC ASM (24), 2×127 mm DP, 4 TLT ASM 324 mm.

Virginia class Fleet Escorts (Missile, nuclear) 1976

Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas (1971)
uss mississippi

These four ships qualified as wing escorts like the previous California and requalified cruisers en route. The first, USS Virginia, was started in August 1972 and commissioned in 1976, the others, Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas (CGN 39-41), between 1977 and 1980. They were designed as more economical than california, along with the new Spruance destroyers. They were however wider and heavier than the California. They also had two SAM / ASM standard/ASROC anti-melee launchers, with 24 AA missiles at the front and 44 ASROC ASMs at the rear. They had the same 76mm quick-firing skiffs, and returned to the ASM Triple Torpedoes System. They were carrying only one helicopter, and their ASW capabilities remained hampered by their noisy cooling pumps from their D2G reactors.


They were the first to use the new SQS-53A sonar and their associated Mk116 fire control system. Each stop of these buildings to recharge their uranium was to allow them a 10-year service. In the 1980s, they received the new SM-2 missiles, a Kevlar shield, eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles installed in ramps at the front end, and finally, eight Tomahawks installed on their aft deck when the helicopter was removed. In 1990-95, they moved to the NTU system, their abandoned ASROC missiles, the installed SPS-49 and 48A radars, and two Phalanx missile guns. Costly, they were all four disabled, the first in 1993-94 and the other two in 1996-97. They currently have “active reserves”.

Virgina class cruisers
Illustration of the Virginia class cruisers


Displacement: 10 300t standard, 11 000t FL
Dimensions: 178.3 x 19.2 x 6.4 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 turbines, 2 D2G reactors, 60,000 hp. and 32 knots
Crew: 519
Sensors: Radar SPS-40, SPS-55, SPG-51, 60, SPQ-9. Sonar SQS-53
Weaponry: 2 x 2 SM-1 standard / ASROC (68 v), 2 x 2 76 mm AA / AM, 2 x 3 TLT 357 mm side, 14 mk32 ASM torpedoes, 1 ASW helicopter

Ticonderoga class missile cruisers (1981)

28 Cruisers 1981-1992

An aerial port bow view of the Aegis guided missile cruiser USS TICONDEROGA (CG-47) underway during Standard II missile tests near the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.

These missile destroyers, eventually renamed missile cruisers, derived from the previous large Spruance, but with a difference in size, since they had been fully designed to implement the AEGIS system, which made them the most modern times. In fact, they are also known as the “AEGIS cruisers”. The latter system was originally designed for an anti-aircraft escort frigate, like the future California cruisers. Their design was the result of numerous studies and landmarks from the late 1970s, which resulted in the rejection of Typhoon frigate projects and heavy cruisers of the CSGN type.

Instead, a compromise solution based on the largest destroyer hulls of the time, Spruance, was preferred. The armament, cost, and effectiveness of the USS Ticonderoga, made the entire class redesigned as a class of cruisers (CGs) rather than destroyers. The AEGIS system is based on a highly efficient system of two SPY-1 solid fixed antennas installed in the front superstructure, and comprising 4080 separate phase transformers. The block is powered by its own radio frequency generator, several megawatts. This system is not for long range, but to handle a maximum of echoes and must be relayed by a SPS-49 type of airborne surveillance radar and two SPG-62 target illuminators.


The combined capability of the SM-2 (anti-aircraft and anti-ship) combined with the ability to detect and track multiple all-round targets simultaneously, makes the protection provided by a Ticonderoga much more effective than that of a previous-generation building. Despite the cost of the system, the Ticonderoga class continued with 14 operational buildings in 1990 with famous names (Yorktown, Vincennes, Valley Forge, Thomas S Gates, Buker Hill, Mobile Bay, Antienam, Leyte Gulf, San Jacinto, Lake Champlain, Philippine Sea, Princeton, Normandy, Chancellorsville). Since 1990, 12 others have entered service, the last one, USS Port Royal, in April 1994. They are all currently in active service, forming the spearhead of US naval surface forces alongside class aircraft carriers Nimitz that they escort. They have been engaged in all recent conflicts.

Triplets at Philadelphia NyD - Credits
Triplets at Philadelphia NyD – from

These ships are waiting to be broken up and recycled, bearing specific markings.
These are the USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), USS Ticonderoga (CG-47), and USS Yorktown (CG-48), spotted at Philadelphia NyD.
The first ships in the US Navy to feature AEGIS, now adopted by a collection of destroyers in many navies, including Japan, Spain, South Korea, Australia, and Norway. Most of the time it was fitted on destroyers, since Frigates seems too small to house it, until recently. Recognisable by a massive structure on top of which was placed the bridge in general, it is only betrayed by a few internal antennae protections on the front and sides of the “box”. AEGIS is, of course, one of the most famous late cold war American integrated naval weapons system, developed by the Missile and Surface Radar Division of RCA, now produced by Lockheed Martin.

It was capable of coordinating the detection of 200 targets simultaneously, including from other ships and either subs, aircraft, missiles or ships, and guiding the appropriate weaponry to targets, or activate ECM and counter-measures. Before that, it needs to be recalled that there was already a failed attempt in 1958, with the Typhon Combat System, but tracking was only possible at any given time by dedicated radars, so few targets. It was theorized in 1970 and the EDM-1 tested on the USS Norton Sound, in 1973.

In fact, after this system was adopted, Soviet saturation attacks planned on American task forces were no longer possible. This was not an acronym but referred as the name of the shield used by the god Zeus in Greek Mythology. It is difficult to believe this system is already 30+ years old: The Ticongeroga class cruisers, yet of the size of the Spruance class DDs of but higher tonnage, were 28 ships delivered from 1981 to 1992. Now superseded by the Arleigh Burke, they are prending disposal and to be broken up in the following years. “Aegis” became almost a brand, sometimes far away from the original concept, and local declinations. The Chinese for example designed a similar system sometimes called the “chinese aegis” by some authors, used by their Type 052C and Type 052D destroyers. Even the Admiral Gorshkov class frigates seems to use a Russian version of it, called the Poliment Redut. It is quite likely that the Russian gargantuan Lider-class project wil use a scaled-up and modernized version of it.

Conway’s profile


Displacement: 6560t standard, 8910t FL
Dimensions: 171.6 x 16.8 x 9.5 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 4 LM2500 gas turbines, 80,000 hp. and 30 knots
Crew: 343
Sensors: SPY-1A Radar, SPS-49, 2 SPG-62 Firing Lines, Sonar SQS-53
Armament: 2×2 Standard SM-1 AA / AN / ASM (68 v and 20 ASROC), 2 x 127 mm AA, 2 x 3 TLT 357 mm (12 tons mk32 ASM), 8 Harpoon, 2 helicopters.

Characteristics of USN Missiles Cruisers

Tartar Mark 11 mod 2 missiles on board USS Chicago
Tartar Mark 11 mod 2 missiles on board USS Chicago


Although the development of missiles in the USN started right after WW2, with the help of some German engineers (which after all designed, deployed and had kills with the first anti-ship missiles). There were two distinct branches, before cruise missiles (Tomahawk) made their apparition:
The SAM family, comprising the RIM-50 Typhon, RIM-2 Terrier, RIM-8 Talos, RIM-24 Tartar and RIM-66 Standard, and the AGM-123 Skipper II, Harpoon and UGM-89 Perseus.
Efforts were directed first on surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and one model: The Terrier. It was deployed on the Boston and Cleveland classes, Leahy, Bainbridge, Belknap, Truxtun. It was soon followed by the Talos and Tartar (Cleveland and Albany, Long Beach). These were long-range to very long-range vectors made to intercept Soviet bombers at high altitude.
There will be a dedicated article on the main USN page.


AEGIS conversion project FY77/78/79 concept for the USS Long beach – Artist impression


Fire Control System

SPQ-5 (later Mark 25 Mod 7)

ASW warfare

Although it was a task more suited to destroyers, the idea of launching ASW torpedoes by using missiles, a logic development of the ASW rocket launchers of WW2 appeared with the ASROC, the great standard for such system in the USN fleet until today. At some point, the ASROC was also capable of launching the Terrier. These systems were used on the Albany class, Long Beach, Leahy, Belknap as well as the later nuclear-powered cruisers and the Ticonderoga class.
The second system was the triple torpedo tube with ASW acoustic models. This had been already treated by the post on USN ASW Frigates, as the ASROC.

The Strike Cruiser (CSGN) project (1975)

Initial two islands artist impression of the project in 1974.
Initial “two islands” artist impression of the 10,000 tonnes project in 1973.

An outgrow of the earlier Typhon Frigate project (DLGN), this replacement project for earlier ships, both cruisers and destroyers armed with the “three T” missiles. The CSGN was a larger nuclear-powered missile cruiser conceived as a follow-on of the Long Beach, closing decommission. The program started in 1973. The ship was tailored to house the new AEGIS system, developed at first for the DLGN 38 program. A substantial anti-ship role was envisioned, managing new generation SAMs as well as Harpoon and Tomahawk vectors. The first design was constrained in displacement, the hull was reduced, but to the cost of power, and it could only reach 30 knots, considered essential to be part of the fleet escort or any task force based on the super carriers they were supposed to protect.

Artist impression of the modified CSGN project in 1976

In 1975, a second design was proposed with a longer hull, reaching 700 feets. It used an improved, enlarged D2G powerplant made for the Frigate project, and reached the expected speed. This powerplant combined therefore the two pressurized water D2G General Electric nuclear reactors on two shafts, rated for 60,000 shp (45 MW), two 2,000 kW (2,700 hp) diesel generators and six ship service turbo generators.

What was remarkable also was the provision made in the design for a 8 inches (203 mm) gun battery, as well as armour, a first since WW2. Armour however was limited to modular boxes protecting only the ammunitions and computer rooms. The gun was a lightweight 8-in/55 in turret placed forward, automated and capable of an insane rate of fire for such caliber. The roomy hull allowed for accommodating vital safety spaces around and below the waterline, an there was a 2-4 separation with the machinery room hosing the nuclear reactors.

Model of the modified version by Reuven Leopold

Also, the aft space reserved for aviation had an hangar large enough to house two LAMPS III ASW and SAR helicopters, but VSTOL aircraft were considered (like the Harrier II). At some point, Reuven Leopold, senior ship designer of the program proposed a variant with a flight deck running all the length of the hull, making this very “Kiev”-like. In the end, two of the new CSGN were integrated in the 5-years program of the of the Ford administration, but it was abandoned when leaving office, and replaced by a simpler replacement for the California class (CGN 42) added in the Reagan administration’s own 5-years plan. Both the strike cruiser concept and modernization of the USS Long Beach were cancelled by the Fort administration. The Ticonderoga was considered a much more economical approach to deploy the AEGIS system fast.

A last aspect which went out when the CSGN was abandoned, was its extensive flagship facilities. The role was performed by various auxiliaries until the, older vessels being discarded. The lack of this option was sorely missed in the 1960s, and pushed the Navy already to develop a missile cruiser project armed with the Tartar. So far, no missile cruiser of that scale and scope has been planned, the only ship vaguely suitable to such approach being the massive Zumwalt class (see later).

Profile of the 17,000 tonnes design
Profile of the 17,000 tonnes design (cc).

Specifications of the CSGN

Displacement: 15,900 standard, 17,700 tonnes FL
Dimensions: 216,30 m oa x 23.40 x 6.8 m (709 x 76 x 22 feets)
Powerplant: 2 shafts nuclear D2G reactors, 30 knots.
Armament: 2×2 Mk.26 mod2 for SM-2/ASROC SAM/ASW, 2×4 SSM Harpoon, 2×4 Tomahawk, single 8-in/55, 2×3 Mk.32 ASW TTs, see notes.
Sensors: SPS-49, SPY-1 AEGIS, sonar SQS-53 and projected towed sonar system.
Crew: Circa 450.

The return of cruisers ?

CGBL Guided Missile Cruiser Baseline 1980
CGBL Guided Missile Cruiser Baseline 1980

I would just take on an excellent article of Tyler Rogoway on war zone, published april, 16, 2018. As the article was written, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral John Richardson, just put forward his vision and strategy for a replacement for the “Tico”, reaching half of their operational career, as well as some of the early Arleigh Burke ships (1991). As interviewed by Defense News’ David Larter, his requirements were as follows:
– A large and suitable hull. In this chapter, the FFG(X) is decidely too small, while the Burke block III DDs are already too cramped, using every bit of space available. This left the DDG-1000 Zumwalt and LPD San Antonio class. While the latter’s powerplant in actual form would be insufficient for fleet use alongside carriers, It still brings 25,000 tonnes on the table for further enhancements.
-Large quantities of power output, needed to feed lasers, railguns, electronic warfare systems, and very powerful radars and sensors, the Zumwalt seems already well placed.
-Extreme modularity, with only a few critical basic system and all the rest “swappable”. An issue given the mediocre performances of the Littoral Combat Ship in that area, as sold to the American taxpayer. In the end, the ‘large surface combatant’ as flagged would be best served by using the already existing, massive hull and systems of the advanced Zumwalt class. By eliminating the two forward turret, devoid of any ammunitions after so many budget cuts, replaced by standard cells. And also revising the original plough bow, perhaps not suited for heavy weather, replaced by a conventional one.
This brings the author in conclusion to draw prospective view of this cruiser FY 2030, based on the DDG-1000, a sensible choice to reduce costs. He is showing the CG(X) /CG-21 alternative design in 2000 with a classic prow (much longer than the Zumwalt, circa 220 m (), and CGN(X) in 2007, an alternative nuclear powered project, even larger, circa 260 m for probably 28-30,000 tonnes. It would appear as a perfect fit both to answer the Russian Kirov-class still in service and the future Lider class.

It should be useful to recall the Surface Combatant For The 21st Century (SC21) initiative worked out a common design for a cruiser and smaller version as a destroyer. DD-X was completed as the Zumwalt, but curtailed to just three on 28 planned, and the CG-X has not seen the light of day in any shape or form. The Zumwalt, at the end of the day and before being watered down, was cutting edge and could have been much cheaper with the double serie built as planned.
It is a perfect fit for a cruiser by its four innovation packs:
-The “smart” Integrated Power System, allowing to dispense energy where it is needed at a moment notice
-EM Railgun, high power, but amazing range as planned, 60 up to 150 miles, with conventional projectiles instead of costly missiles
-Open-architecture “electronic keel” to cut down the crew to 150
-Brand new central operation, clear and roomy.

Read More

Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1947-95 – Future Cruiser projects

US Navy Cold War Frigates

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