The Ticonderoga CG class Aegis cruisers are tasked with anti-air warfare (AAW) as their main function. They provide area anti-air and missile protection using the combination of Aegis radar system and Standard missiles. The ships of the class were built from 1980 -1994, making them 18-30 years old with a design life of 35 years. The class is ready to begin retiring. Indeed, the five non-VLS ships have already been retired and several others have been announced for retirement in 2013.
The Navy originally intended to replace the Ticos with the new CG(X) but that program has been cancelled. It now appears that the DDG-51 Burke Flt III will be the Tico replacement with the new AMDR (Air and Missile Defense Radar) being substituted for the Aegis arrays.
Let’s take a closer look at the main capability of the AAW cruisers. Looking strictly at missile capacity, the Ticos have 128 Mk41 VLS cells compared to the Burke’s 96. That’s 25% less VLS capacity! While it is possible to increase the length of the Flt III Burkes so as to accommodate more VLS cells, that does not appear to be the current stated intent of the Navy. As reported in the recent CRS report (1) on the Navy’s destroyer programs,
[emphasis added]“The Flight III DDGs will utilize the same hull and major systems as current Flight IIA DDGs including LM 2500 propulsion gas turbines, Mk 41 Vertical Launch System, Mk 45 five inch Gun Weapon System, Mk 15 Phalanx Weapon System (CIWS), AN/SQQ-89 Undersea Warfare System and Tactical Tomahawk Weapon Control System. The principle dimensions and hull form will be unchanged from Flight IIA DDGs. The AN/SPY-1D(V) radar will be replaced with the AMDR-S radar and the ship’s power and cooling systems will be upgraded to support the new radars. The deckhouse will be modified to accept the new radar arrays.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with replacing a 128 cell AAW ship with a 96 cell one, however, the anti-air capacity, the vessel’s main function, will be significantly reduced. That seems unwise for the primary AAW ship in the fleet. If anything, more VLS cells ought to be added. Of course, multiple ships could pool their weapons to compensate for the individual reductions. Unfortunately, history and budget limitations have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that each class of ship is smaller than the one before it so this scenario is extremely unlikely to play out. Instead, we appear headed towards fewer ships with reduced AAW capacity at the same time we’re headed towards a more challenging A2/AD (Anti-Access/Area Denial) requirement. Does this make sense?
To be fair, there are no solid, published design specs for the Flt III yet so who knows what the VLS capacity will be. However, without increasing the length of the Burke, it will be very difficult to squeeze more VLS cells into the design.
This is an issue worth keeping a close eye on.
(1) Congressional Research Service: “Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O'Rourke,
August 10, 2012