Tuesday, July 5, 2016

USS Long Beach

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.

Long Beach dates back to the 1950’s when the Navy was looking at building new, pure missile cruisers and, led by CNO Arleigh Burke, developing an interest in nuclear powered surface ships.  Interestingly, most of these early design plans included provision for Polaris missiles (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile – SLBM).  The Navy viewed cruisers as hard-hitting, offensive platforms.  Initial design cost estimates were in the $90M range but that quickly proved to be far too optimistic.

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 Long Beach 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.

Eventually, all of the designs coalesced into SCB 169 which became the Long Beach 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.

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 Enterprise.  The radar system was tied into the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS), a forerunner of the modern, computerized combat control systems.  Long Beach 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.

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, Long Beach lost the Talos and Terrier launchers and had the radar arrays removed.  The final combat systems fit consisted of

  • 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 was decommissioned in 1995.

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 Long Beach’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 Ticonderoga class cruisers are clearly intended as task force escorts only.

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.


  1. I thought I read somewhere that Long Beach was the last cruiser built on an actual 'Cruiser hull' (not sure what that means). The book I was reading juxtaposed this with the Tico's which were built on Spruance Hulls.

    Regardless, I agree, she's a very attractive ship.

    What kept coming back to me while reading the post is this sounds disturbingly like the Zumwalts. They share some confusion as to which role she would play (She can defend against ballistic missiles, no, she's only a ground attack ship....) and limited (though not one off) technology (The radar, shared with the Ford, I think to some extent) suggest they might share some of the same issues.

    I also agree that we should be considering ships capapable of more independant action. Dispersion, or the ability to diperse and be effective, is a solid strategy in a nuclear environment.

    It may well be as anti ship IRBM's start to improve.

    1. That is true. The USS Long Beach was the last ship built from the keel up as a cruiser on a cruiser hull. All ships following the USS Long Beach that have been designated cruisers are build on a DDG hull. That's why the Long Beach was about 200' longer than the newer cruisers.

  2. repeat after me: USS Des Moines (CA-134) class, the last word in American heavy cruiser design ... ironically, the Des Moines and her sisters would be imminently more useful than DDG-1000 in the fire support role.


  3. Reading about lost capacities like this makes me think retiring the Virginia class was a serious mistake. I wish we still had a large class of hard hitting cruisers that we could use for decent missile platforms, multirole missions, and real decent naval gunnery, besides just two small 5 inch deck guns.

    1. naval gunfire support has long been seen as a waste of resources except in limited cases. To get close to shore puts the ship in peril as well.

    2. "naval gunfire support has long been seen as a waste of resources except in limited cases. To get close to shore puts the ship in peril as well."

      You're familiar with WWII amphibious assaults, right?

    3. "A ship's a fool to fight a fort."

      This old naval saying really means that a fleet better seriously overmatch ashore targets, which is nothing new in warfare.


    4. "A ship's a fool to fight a fort."

      And yet we did so, successfully, throughout WWII.

      "The seat of purpose is on the land."

      If the Navy wants to be relevant it has to find a way to support combat ashore. This is even more true during an amphibious assault when the initial landing will have no tanks, artillery, or heavy weapons. If not naval gunfire, then what?

    5. Yes both quotes are valid even today. The main point is that attacking shore installations (especially ones that are well fortified) are high risk. We lost more sailors than ground forces in the campaign around Guadalcanal. Hell we lost 2 flag officers in one battle (and the USMC says we left them there... but that is a discussion for another day) and kept fighting in contested waters for months. We lost nearly a ship a day during the Okinawa campaign. If you have to fight a shore base (either in days of sail or today) you have to bring overwhelming firepower and defensive capability. The ease that shore site can repair and replenish is tremendous and thus if a fleet is going to surrender one of its greatest advantages (ie moving around) then you need to over compensate with firepower and a sustainable fleet train.

    6. The Guadalcanal ship losses were due to surface battles not to any direct ship-to-land effort. The "land" did not cause any of our ship losses.

      The later Okinawa/kamikaze losses are a good example of your point in that the kamikaze aircraft were land based and could be considered long range artillery in the context of the "ship's a fool ..." adage. Still, our fight against land succeeded. Further, the cost was minimal. To the best of my recollection, no carrier, battleship, cruiser, or amphibious ship was lost. Destroyers and the like were lost on picket duty but that was there function and they were successful.

      War is high risk. Risk does not mean a mission/operation can't be done. It just means that you need the right equipment and tactics and that the benefit must outweigh the cost.

      The adage, "ship's a fool ...", is one that I've never quite agreed with. It dates back to sailing ships and actual forts and modern history (WWII on) seems to indicate that it is no longer valid although it is still a highly relevant reminder of the inherent dangers.

    7. This is a really interesting argument for me.

      It seems to me (I need to do some more reading) that in WWII coastal artillery didn't do a heck of alot. The Germans had guns from the planned H class on the coasts of Fortress Europe, but they didn't really deter our invasion. The fact that the artillery was immobile made it easier to plan around.

      Kamikaze and air attack, however, were much bigger threats. And they are more what we are like to face today, in shore based, *often mobile* anti ship cruise missiles, as well as raids from the air.

      I'm thinking that if the USN wanted to invade a country with Chinese level technology they'd be facing shore based and air launched missiles like the YJ-12.

      Could it be done? I don't know, but only because I don't know if Aegis can really work against a saturation attack of YJ-12's. Given the testing we do, I don't know that anyone knows the answer to that.

      *if* Aegis can, then just as a thought expiriment it would seem conceivable that we could, for a period of time, and with enough stock of standards, rotate in enough 'Burke's will full magazines to provide cover. We have enough 'Burkes.

      It could be very expensive in terms of ships lost though. We'd have to accept the fact that we'd lose both 'phibs and 'Burkes.

    8. "*if* Aegis can, then just as a thought expiriment it would seem conceivable that we could, for a period of time, and with enough stock of standards, rotate in enough 'Burke's will full magazines to provide cover."

      Don't make the common mistake of looking at aspects of combat in isolation. We would not send an amphibious fleet and Burke escorts to conduct an assault all on their own. Not even close! We would use massive aerial attacks to shut down land-based anti-ship missiles. We would employ electronic countermeasures to decoy missiles. We would launch Tomahawk cruise missiles to destroy or incapacitate airbases. And so on.

      The Burkes would not be only line of defense. Indeed, they would not even be the first line of defense. The Burkes would be the last line of defense to handle whatever survived and got past all our other efforts. Rather than face thousands of anti-ship missiles, launched completely unhindered by the enemy, the Burkes would face, hopefully, haphazard "leakers" that get past all our other defenses. That seems perfectly doable if Aegis functions even remotely like it is supposed to.

      If Aegis is facing saturation attacks, as you describe it, then we have failed utterly to conduct a full featured assault. Don't analyze in isolation!

      And yes, we would have to expect losses. That's war.

    9. Point taken.

      As to losses, I'm not sure how to do it, but I do think we need to somehow get the past the Navy/Public perception that losing a ship means we got defeated. Our perception seems to be really skewed.

      One thing I wonder, the shore based AShM's might be tough to find given our difficulties finding scud launcher in GW 1.

    10. "... perception that losing a ship means we got defeated."

      That comes from "fighting" a couple of decades of low end conflicts where avoidance of casualties was prioritized ahead of mission accomplishment. That has to make you wonder why we were in those conflicts in the first place.

    11. "One thing I wonder, the shore based AShM's might be tough to find given our difficulties finding scud launcher in GW 1."

      Yes, they might! Remember, though, that in Desert Storm we were looking for a few dozens of launchers. In the context of a peer assault having to deal with only a few dozens of missiles would be a happy result. If the enemy has hundreds or thousands of missiles, many of the locations (and warehouses/storage locations/bases) would be fairly obvious. Sure, we'll miss some but "some" is something that Aegis can handle, supposedly.

    12. "A ship's a fool to fight a fort."

      And yet we did so, successfully, throughout WWII.


      The key was the overmatch of firepower, with reconnaissance being a key enabler, during all successful allied invasions.


    13. "One thing I wonder, the shore based AShM's might be tough to find given our difficulties finding scud launcher in GW 1."


      We do not have to find the launchers, we just have to kill the sensors, which should be much easier to detect.

      Shooting at a known geographic location is easy; shooting at a moving target afloat requires that the enemy fix our position in real time.

      If their radars come up, we kill them. If they do not radiate, we cannot kill them, but then they cannot find us.


  4. Biggest thing i got out of this (good article, thanks) was that you dont build and felid a weapon in 1 off designs. The lack of know how on how to use your own ship, while sounding terrible, is a direct result of not building enough of them, to have the need for training centres on how to use the new ship.

    Stood out to me. The big shiny toy thats tied up to the moorings (or sitting on the runway) does not a weapons system make, its the shiny bit that impresses the yolks.
    Rather, when embarking on such builds, you must build the whole kit and caboodle, else, you're just pissing in the wind.
    I take it USN learnt from it too. Other than the USS Enterprise, which was kind of a one off build (not really, kind of) all subsequent ship builds were in classes? Correct me if I'm wrong please.

    1. Nate, let me repeat the salient point from the post as it relates to your comment. The goal of building the Long Beach was not to build a warship but to introduce nuclear power to surface ships. The success or failure of Long Beach, as a warship, was almost irrelevant.

      We have built several one-of-a-kind submarines, some of which were clearly partial function units as opposed to complete warships. Again, the purpose was to learn about various technologies as lead ins to future classes of subs.

      Prototypes are a time honored and wise way to approach ship construction. In fact, the reverse approach, the LCS, has proven disastrous.

      The LHA America is a two-of-a-kind and the Zumwalt is a three-of-a-kind and even there the third unit is looking to be a one-of-a-kind with a proposed rail gun and a steel superstructure rather than wood composite.

  5. Great article COMNAVOPS!

    One of my favorite ships, proportions look off with that big radar box but I always thought it looked futuristic and weapons fit was impressive, makes today's weapon load-out seem puny.

    I was curious about the price tag and found this on WIKI: "....... At commissioning, the ship was reported to have cost $320 million ($2.53 billion today),[9] which was over budget from earlier estimates of $250 million"

    I don't know if that's true, on another calculator, the number would be have closer to $3.2 billion, still a great buy at the time, I seriously doubt we could produce Long Beach today for that price!!!!

  6. "We are eventually going to be forced into conducting independent surface ship operations and we desperately need a cruiser designed for offensive warfare."

    I'm curious as to what you see independent ships doing in war.
    Historically, they would prowl shipping lanes appropriating enemy cargo ships, but I don't think that would be occurring in future....?

    1. Sorry, let me be clearer. When I say independent surface ship operations, I don't mean a single ship roaming around. I mean a surface group that does not have a carrier attached. For instance, a cruiser and some destroyers conducting Tomahawk strikes on naval and air bases, but doing so without carrier air support. We have too few carriers and too small air wings to believe that in a peer war we're always going to have carriers available for every operation. Thus, I see a need for independent operation cruisers that can form the backbone of surface strike groups. Sorry for the confusion.

    2. In that case, Id argue you would need two ships.

      Carriers serve three distinct roles.

      The first, is C4ISTAR.
      The C4 bit is pretty easy, any ship can be slightly enlarged to hold a Flag Officer and his staff, even an LCSs "Flex Deck" could probably manage it. The ISTAR is harder, you can mount a bigger, better, and more numerous radar array, but its not going to replace the E2.

      The Second, is air superiority, a Carrier can maintain a pretty phenomenal air superiority patrol.
      Obviously a Cruiser cant do that, but something like the Kirov can ruin a strike packages day. Again, a big, numerous, varied, redundant and powerful radar array, coupled with lots of big, medium and small launchers and an arsenal of missiles.

      The third, is strike, lots of fighters, drop lots of bombs, most easily replicated, by my personal obsession, an arsenal ship.

      Anyway, I've wasted all my time setting the scene.

      I think you would need two cruisers to replace a carrier.
      One as an ISTAR/AAW platform, the other as a strike platform. You could combine them, but I think it would be a bit too unwieldy, and a 500 tube arsenal ship would only really replicate a day, maybe two, of carrier strike, so you might not want equal numbers of the two.

    3. TrT, you're really missing the point on this. If you want to exactly replicate the capabilities of a carrier, build a carrier.

      When we look at independent surface ship ops, by definition we're looking a less (and different) capabilities. Such a group would not sail into enemy waters, park itself, and dare all comers to attack. No, such a group would conduct some of the lesser missions like quick strikes on air and naval bases, hunting enemy surface groups, acting as diversions for actual carrier groups, and so on. "Base raiders" is actually the role I see as most likely.

      That doesn't require, and is not capable of, the same degree of offensive and defensive firepower as a carrier. Simply penetrate to Tomahawk range, launch, and scoot away.

      I haven't really discussed this concept too much in past posts so I can't fault you for not understanding my thought process. I also envision such an independent cruiser to have a MASSIVE UAV capability. The UAVs will be the poor man's E-2 Hawkeye, providing scouting and local situational awareness. The cruiser would be quite stealthy and heavily armed for medium to short range AAW (note that I did not say long range AAW!).

      As far as Tomahawk loads for the group, to hit and destroy a single air/naval base would only require 50-70(?) Tomahawks or thereabouts. That's a partial load for a single Burke. A 500 missile arsenal ship is not needed.

      Again, if you want to replicate a carrier, build a carrier!

      Hopefully, this makes more sense as I explain it more. I hadn't planned to make this ship design public, yet, but you commented so I'm answering.

    4. What would the purpose of a small, non-aircraft carrier flotilla be. If for ship-2-ship combat, wouldn't a submarine be more efficient with less risk? If for land strikes, couldn't a submarine launch a cruise missile strike, again with less risk?

    5. "What would the purpose of a small, non-aircraft carrier flotilla be."

      I pretty much answered this in the preceding response to TrT but I'll expand on it.

      You're questioning the concept because you believe that a submarine is a better choice for attacking a ship or even a shore target. Well, you couldn't be more ... right. So, why did I suggest a need for an independent surface strike group?

      You're aware that the main function of our SSNs is ASW? They'll take any surface ship that happens along but that's not their main purpose.

      You're aware that we are facing a significant shortfall of submarines? We'll hit a low of 48 or so in the relatively near future and it will probably be even lower due to the Navy's well established tendency to early retire ships and subs.

      You're aware that a single Virginia class sub has 12 Tomahawks (if the VPMs are added the total goes to 40, if I recall) so is incapable of executing an effective strike against a base by itself. It would require five or six subs to destroy one base. Subs are stealthy strikers but not heavy hitters.

      Finally, our carriers are decreasing and it is likely we'll be at 8-9 before too long.

      So, while there might be better choices on paper, the reality is that we'll have more missions than submarine and carrier assets and will be forced to use surface groups. On a relative basis, we'll have excess Burkes so why not make use of them. Also, not every mission needs a carrier - again, surface ships can suffice for lesser missions.

      We'll have to fight with what's available and that won't always be what the perfect choice is on paper.

      Hopefully, that's clear now?

  7. Yep, limited payload makes sense, thou its a shame we seem to be ignoring the silent service more and more for dubious projects and systems.

    A saying I heard is "during war, like will kill like, before moving on other targets." I think it won't take long to remove an enemy's SSN force from the fight before our submarines get task with other targets.

    1. "... won't take long to remove an enemy's SSN force from the fight ..."

      That statement is true today. However, China is rapidly building up their sub force. Are you aware that they numerically equal us right now?! Of course, many of those Chinese subs are old diesel subs or early generation nuclear subs so they are not yet on our level in terms of quality but they are fast gaining.

      Both countries currently have 70 subs but we are going to drop to 40 something over the next decade or so while the Chinese will continue to grow and modernize. That's a very disturbing trend. Within the foreseeable future, China will both outnumber us and match our quality.

      So, you might want to reconsider your statement or at least qualify it!

    2. At least for today my statement is true. What we decide to do with that advantage in the future is another matter. If you look through history, every navy, every army, every great country, lost its edge because of misguided policies or misspent fortunes. Whether America learns from those past empires or not, that is what will make me reconsider that statement.

      On a side note, North Korea I do believe have in the ballpark of 70ish subs. That should be added to the threat China's subs pose as well, I doubt they'll remain idle if WW3 begins.

  8. I served aboard the USS Long Beach from 1974 to 1978. Our usual role was to escort the USS Enterprise. However, it was not uncommon that the Long Beach was dispatched on missions without any supporting warships at all.
    It was expected that we could handle any threats that arose and I have every confidence that we could have done so. The only surface warship more dangerous than the Long Beach was the Enterprise and we were on the same side.

    1. Glad to hear from you! Long Beach has always been one of my favorites.

  9. Nice write-up! I served aboard The Grey Lady from 1978-1980 in her Marine Detachment. As far as I know the Marines of CGN-9 where the last Marines to fulfill a 200+ year old tradition of Marines manning the guns on a Navy surface warship. (The Chicago had Marines on it also and was decommissioned in 1979)

    (Also built on Blogger, btw)

    1. Good to hear from you. I checked out the website. Nice! I especially liked the note about manning the guns during missile firings and being responsible for shooting down any missile that turned back towards the ship! Did that ever happen?

    2. Actually, the only missile I saw go off course was the very first time I witnessed a firing. I was a boot/wog at the time, a month or so before I began manning the radar for the port gun.

      I shared this page on the MarDet CGN9 Facebook page that just posted today.

  10. I served aboard USS Long Beach 1990-1994, Reactor Controls division and was on the decommissioning crew. The two deployments I did were solo missions, no supporting ships. One as the Admiral's Flagship in Operation Desert Shield 1990, and one Anti-Drug Operations tracking targets in the Caribbean.

    1. Welcome aboard! I hope you enjoyed the post and, maybe, a bit of reminiscing.

  11. I was one of the 107 Vietnamese boat peoples USS Long Beach rescued in April 30, 1980. Thanks the US Navy for the rescue mission and thanks the United States for the open arm in accepting hundred thousands of those boat people after the fall of Vietnam back then. USS Long Beach will always remain in my memory in this life.

    1. I was there. One of the Marines stationed on the ship at the time. We made 2 rescues that year. The first one in the winter I believe. I believe you were among the group that I tried to trade some American currency for N. Vietnamese currency. That started quite a ruckus. Got my butt chewed out for it! lol!

      Feel free to email me. I'd love to know how you've been doing! Dave@TheHolleringStump.com

    2. Did the Talos and Terrier missiles in addition to antiaircraft and antimissile use have any surface-to-surface ability like the modern SM-missiles have some? (Still being lame compared to russian dedicated surface-to-surface missiles)

    3. This post has been out there for some time, however, I have photos of the event, and some of the people rescued if someone is interested.

  12. https://www.facebook.com/groups/UssLongBeachCGN9/ USS Long Beach Facebook group welcomes you!

  13. https://www.facebook.com/groups/UssLongBeachCGN9/


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