It’s fun to occasionally look back at previous ship classes and reminisce. It can also be instructive. Let’s take a look at the one-of-a-kind USS Long Beach, CGN-9. Much of the following information comes from Friedman’s book on the illustrated design history of cruisers.
Further demonstrating the Navy’s view of cruisers as offensive weapons was the desire to include a powerful and comprehensive ASW suite meant to support independent operations as opposed to being limited to part of a carrier escort group.
Initial efforts were focused on nuclear frigates or destroyers rather than cruisers but it soon became apparent that the nuclear power plants of the time would require much larger ships – hence the eventual move to cruiser size ships.
It was also, belatedly, realized that the hull size necessitated by nuclear propulsion requirements would also dictate a much larger and more powerful weapons fit in order to justify the size of the ship, as compared to the starting design point of a destroyer/frigate weapons fit. Design cost estimates were beginning to approach $150M by the late 1950’s.
At that time, the Navy also recognized that nuclear power was needed in the short-legged escorts more than in the carrier itself.
Here’s an interesting passage addressing the issue of escort versus independent operations.
“… the CNO [Adm. Arleigh Burke] saw dispersion as increasingly important in a nuclear environment. A nuclear cruiser in particular should be able to operate alone against submarines, aircraft, and enemy missiles, although her primary role in non-nuclear war might well be within the task force screen. … The ship would not be able to handle a mass raid, but she would have to be able to shoot down several aircraft in quick succession …
This was a reversion to classical cruiser concepts. However, from the beginning the SCB (Ship Characteristics Board) and the bureaus had been thinking in terms of a fast task force escort.”
Thus, there was significant disagreement between CNO Burke and his design groups about the role of a cruiser.
Regarding the design concepts, Friedman notes,
“… the ship radars had been optimized for task force command and control, not for the much more limited needs of an individual unit armed with weapons of limited range.”
Friedman also notes that the main design goal of what became the
was not warfare but, rather, the introduction of
nuclear power to surface combatants.
That the weapons fit was not completely commensurate with the ship’s
size was, therefore, considered acceptable.
Further, the ship’s hull was lengthened to reduce resistance and
maintain the ability to meet a speed requirement of 30 kts. Long Beach
Eventually, all of the designs coalesced into SCB 169 which became the
and the ship was included in the FY57 shipbuilding
budget. The ship would be 720 ft long
and have a displacement of 16,000 tons. Long Beach was commissioned in 1961. Long Beach
The ship was designed with space amidships for Regulus II cruise missiles and structural provision for 8 Polaris missile launch tubes.
The SPS-32/33 radars were mounted on the now-iconic block superstructure which she shared with
. The radar
system was tied into the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS), a forerunner of the
modern, computerized combat control systems.
Enterprise initially entered service without the SPS-33. The combination of Talos missile system and
NTDS allowed the ship to shoot down two MiGs at ranges of around 60 miles
during the Vietnam war. Long Beach
A 1968 refit installed a conventional SPS-12 air search radar due, in part, to the poor reliability of the new radars and the need for IFF functionality.
The poor performance and reliability of the new radar arrays was due to the shortage of qualified technicians. Having only two such radar systems in the fleet, the Navy never established a technical school and was never able to properly service the radars.
Initial combat fit consisted of,
- 2x Terrier launchers (40 missiles for one and 80 missiles for the other)
- 1x Talos launcher (52 missiles)
- 1x ASROC (20 missiles)
- 2x 12.75” triple torpedo mounts
- SQS-23 sonar
In 1963 two 5”/38 guns were added amidships. The story is that President Kennedy insisted on the guns being installed after touring the ship and noting a lack of any guns. I don’t know whether this is true or not.
The Regulus and Polaris weapons were never installed in their intended locations.
By the end of her life,
lost the Talos and Terrier launchers and had the
radar arrays removed. The final combat
systems fit consisted of Long Beach
- 2x Tomahawk launchers (8 BGM-109)
- 2x dual-arm Standard SM-2ER SAM launchers (120 RIM-67)
- 2x Phalanx CIWS
- 2x 12.75” triple torpedo mounts
- SPS-48C, SPS-49, SPS-67, 2x Mk 90 radars
- SQQ-23B sonar
- SLQ-32, SLQ-34 ECM suites
- 4x Mk 36 SRBOC decoy launchers
|Long Beach 1961|
|Long Beach 1991|
So, what can we learn from the
? Long Beach
The most interesting lesson is the role of a cruiser which was in dispute during
’s design years and has been ever since. Escort versus independent operations is not
only an operational consideration but a major design factor. The equipment fits are radically different
for each role. Long Beach ’s design tried to straddle the line and failed. Her offensive weaponry was never installed
and only late in her career did she acquire even a modicum of offensive power
in the form of a few Tomahawk launchers and Harpoons. Interestingly and, I feel, incorrectly, subsequent
cruiser designs have come down solidly on the escort side of the question. The current Long Beach Ticonderoga class cruisers are clearly intended as task force
While the advent of VLS has allowed modern surface combatants to have a Tomahawk cruise missile land attack capability, that has not led to the development of offensive ships or independent operations doctrine and tactics. Only recently has there been any movement to give surface combatants a credible anti-surface capability. Our current DDGs and CGs are clearly task force escorts, primarily. Offensive operations are a distant secondary mission, at best.
I agree with CNO Burke and today’s Adm. Thomas Copeman both of whom have seen a need for independent operations. It seems almost certain that our ships will one day have to fight under skies that we do not dominate and without attachment to carriers – if for no other reason than our carrier and air wing numbers are steadily shrinking. We are eventually going to be forced into conducting independent surface ship operations and we desperately need a cruiser designed for offensive warfare.
The key point about a ship designed for offensive, independent operations is that the design involves much more than simply tacking on additional VLS or Harpoon launch canisters. For a ship to have any hope of conducting independent operations it must be designed for that role. Design elements include stealth, greatly increased armor protection, maximum redundancy and separation, a heavy medium and short range AAW fit, large numbers of UAVs for scouting, and, of course, a heavy anti-ship and land strike capability. Anything less is not survivable.
Anyway, big boxy superstructure aside, the ship is long, sleek, and just plain attractive. It looks like a warship! I’ve always had a soft spot for this vessel and it was fun to take a look back at it.