Monday, August 12, 2019

Roles - Cruiser

Continuing our ‘roles’ theme (see, Roles – Frigate), let’s now examine cruisers.  What’s a cruiser?  Well, one classic and pretty good definition is that it’s a ship that’s strong enough to defeat anything it can’t outrun and fast enough to outrun anything it can’t defeat.  This concept can be traced back to the frigates in the age of sail.  Despite their name, sailing frigates did not give rise to modern frigates.  Instead, they filled the role that eventually became the modern cruiser.

Sailing frigates acted as scouts for the main fleet or acted independently by providing a cheap, plentiful, and reasonably powerful presence intended to keep/enforce the peace, secure trade routes, provide security from pirates and opportunistic foreign ships, provide a means of communication (if not particularly rapid communications), escort convoys, and generally patrol an area while upholding and reinforcing the parent country’s territorial claims and interests.

The English Navy’s famed frigates and captains, such as HMS Indefatigable and Edward Pellew, set the standard that would, ultimately, lead to modern cruisers.

HMS Indefatigable

Similarly, the United States’ sailing ship USS Constitution might be considered a prototype cruiser.  It was well armed and strong enough to defeat all existing frigates and even some larger ships and fast enough to run from any ship of the line that it couldn’t defeat.

When the age of sail gave way to steam and steel, the vastness of oceans and empires gave rise to the first modern cruisers such as the USS Olympia, Commodore Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish American War.  In keeping with the sailing frigates, cruisers were seen as ocean-ranging commerce raiders, scouts, and, often, the backbone of small surface groups.  Cruisers often were designed with great speed to enable them to operate with destroyers and to cover large areas quickly in the scouting role.  For example, the American Chester class ‘scout cruiser’, built beginning in 1905, was designed with high speed but light armor and armament.  Thus, cruisers of this era were used as ubiquitous global ‘presence’ ships while the battle line generally stayed in home waters.

USS Olympia

The advent of aircraft further emphasized the cruiser’s role as a scout as the cruisers now had the means to greatly extend their ‘sensor’ range.  The Brooklyn class light cruiser of the mid-1930’s, for example, carried 4 floatplanes and 2 catapults.

USS Brooklyn CL-40

In more modern times, the definition of a cruiser was a ship that was bigger than a destroyer and smaller than a battleship.  This was more a description than a definition, however.  Still, prior to the advent of WWII, the scouting role was still emphasized and cruisers were often used as scouts for the battle line. 

WWII saw the development of a wide range of cruisers from light anti-aircraft cruisers such as the Atlanta class which was armed with 5” guns to the near-battleship Alaska class cruisers with a main battery of nine 12” guns and heavy armor.  The range of designs reflected the range of missions that cruisers were used for.  The missions included,
  • Scouting (early war)
  •  Anti-air escort
  •  Land bombardment
  •  Independent surface group core

Thus, the WWII cruiser was, in a sense, a ship type that didn’t have a clearly defined role.  As an overall group of ships, cruisers could be considered multi-function ships in an era of single function design.  However, on closer examination, the multiple functions were filled not by one design type but by several designs, each specialized and optimized for the intended role.  Thus, the Atlanta class anti-air cruiser had numerous 5” anti-air guns while the Alaska class heavy gun cruiser was optimized for anti-surface and land attack.  So, while the overall classification of cruiser performed many roles, the roles were actually filled by purpose designed, single function classes.

Atlanta Class Anti-Aircraft Cruiser

The last true US cruisers were the California and Virginia classes – ‘true’ in the sense that they had a nice balance of speed, firepower, size, flag facilities, and some armor.  Their replacement, the Ticonderoga class, which the Navy labeled a cruiser, was just a modification of the Spruance class destroyer intended to fill the anti-air role and had none of the physical or operational characteristics of a cruiser.

This brings us to consider the question, what is a modern cruiser and what is its role?

The modern cruiser is represented by the American Ticonderoga class, the Chinese Type 055, and the SKorean Sejong the Great.  The common attribute among these is that all are focused on anti-air warfare.  Thus, they are defensive escorts rather than the scouts or independent sailors of earlier times.

Sejong the Great Class

Further, the distinction between cruiser and destroyer has been so badly blurred that the designations are now meaningless.  The designation ‘cruiser’ is now bestowed, or not, on a ship class for reasons of prestige, public relations, Congressional oversight, etc. rather than because the ships meet any particular historical or functional definition of a cruiser.

We might almost go so far as to say that modern cruisers no longer exist in the sense that there are no ships that fill the traditional roles of a cruiser.  Aviation has taken over the scouting role, AAW-focused ‘destroyers’ have taken over the escort role, and there are no ships performing the independent operations role.

The Soviet Union Kirov class cruiser is an interesting case.  It came very close to the traditional attributes of fairly heavy firepower, moderate armor, decent speed, and high endurance.  In terms of roles, it was used for strike operations, scouting, in a sense (hunting US carriers), and independent surface operations as the core of a surface group.  On the other hand, by modern standards, the Kirovs were so far beyond other countries’ ‘cruisers’ that they could easily be classed as modern battleships, lacking only heavy armor.  It is also interesting that no country has attempted to build a vessel equivalent to the Kirov.

Kirov Class

As stated, from a functional aspect, cruisers no longer exist and current discussions about ‘cruisers’ are merely semantic debates.  Interestingly, though, this blog has called for true cruisers to fill the traditional roles and lend some much needed firepower and presence in an alternative form to carrier groups (see, “Independent Cruiser”).

Thus, the cruiser is no more.  Naval strategists have dropped all the traditional cruiser roles or distributed them out among other platforms.  This seems unwise as the need for an ocean-ranging presence (meaning with firepower) has never changed and, when we find that our vaunted UAVs are nowhere near the omniscient and invulnerable assets that we assume them to be, we may well regret the disappearance of a far ranging scout capable of defending itself.

The trans-oceanic presence role of a cruiser is worthy of some additional consideration.  Once upon a time, cruisers were invested with significant authority and power by their parent countries to enforce national intent.  It was expected that they would, occasionally, exert their influence (again, firepower) for the betterment of their country.  Ship Captains wielded great autonomy and power.  Today, we have removed all such authority and power from ship Captains and have adopted a policy of appeasement instead of enforcement and might.  That being the case, there is no need for a cruiser – some might say there is no need for a navy if appeasement is the policy.  However, history strongly suggests that these changes have led to a worsening of international behavior, not an improvement.  For example, we now have third rate countries dictating policy in the Middle East, seizing ships of all nations, threatening international shipping lanes, etc.  Once upon a time, such Barbary Pirate behavior was terminated by the actions of Decatur and Bainbridge and the young American Navy.  There is still a need for forceful presence around the world.  Of course, that requires a modicum of courage and resolve by our civilian leaders and a willingness to invest ship Captains with autonomy and authority.

Stephen Decatur

In short, while the world navies have abandoned cruisers, the traditional roles of the cruiser have not vanished which makes the abandonment all the more curious.  We could use a couple dozen modern cruisers far more than a couple dozen frigates.


  1. Would be nice to see a modern conventional powered Virginia type cruiser. Replace the 5" guns with the light weight 8" guns and install VLS instead of launchers. Remember being tied up alongside the Virginia, they had a flight deck on the stern with below deck hanger for two LAMPS 2 helos. Always liked that, as it didnt take up a lot of topside space.

  2. I would like to see the navy dust off the plans for the post WW2 Des Moines class heavy cruisers.

    They were big, with a 716’ length, 76’ beam and displacing about 20,000 tons.

    They had three triple turrets with auto-loading 8” guns capable of pounding out a staggering 12 rounds per minute.

    They also had up to 6” of belt armor and 3.5” of deck armor.

    To adapt the design to the modern navy, I would do the following:

    -place a 4 panel TRS-4D fixed radar mounted on the top of the superstructure forward of the funnel. It would sit in an armored box with armored doors that could slam shut over the panels.

    -a rotating TRS-4D mounted behind the funnel that could be rapidly retracted into an armored enclosure, this would be a redundancy in case the primary was put of of action

    -keep the twin 5” mounts on the fore and aft of the superstructure for anti-missile airbursts, defense against small Iranian-type boats, and light bombardment

    -install 4 SeaRAM CIWS missiles, two on eac h side

    -install 4-6 Phalanx CIWS, 2-3 on each side

    -install two Goalkeeper 30mm CIWS, one on the stern behind the helicopter pad and the other as far forward on the bow as heavy-sea practicalities would allow, these would provide a heavier weight of shell against bigger anti-ship missiles

    -Harpoon launchers on the superstructure in armored boxes, reloadable from below

    -I would reluctantly remove the ‘A’ 8” gun turret (keeping the raised ‘B’ turret and the aft turret) to make deck space available for rows of VLS launchers

    -I would have one ASW helicopter in the below deck hanger originally designed for the seaplanes. The purpose would be to contribute to the battlegroup’s ASW helicopter fleet while also dispersing them throughout the group’s ships

    -the remaining hanger space would be packed with as many small and ‘cheap’ surveillance drones as I could fit in there

    -the 8” guns could be used for anti-missile defense using airburst rounds to create a spread pattern of pellets for the missiles to fly into; at 12 rounds a minute it could really put some steel downrange for this purpose

    -the 8” guns would also be great for shore bombardment, I would want them to have some copperhead type guidance rounds to be able to hit a laser spot for precise fire support when the Marines needed it

    I think that this would be a useful, multi-use ship, that would be survivable against other surface ships and provide shore bombardment capability.

    I would think that a couple of these in a surface battle group would look good in the Persian Gulf right now.

    1. I would quibble about a few details but, overall, this is a great design and I'm all for it! You may be an Army guy but you have a feel for naval matters.

    2. What I appreciate about this concept is the unapologetic emphasis on firepower.

    3. Might want to consider more CIWS,s. Nine or ten of the cruisers would be a wonderful start.

    4. "Might want to consider more CIWS"

      We tend to forget how many weapons we packed onto WWII ships. Sure, people will argue that today's weapons are precision guided, blah, blah but they ignore that the attacking weapons have also vastly improved their accuracy, evasion, and countermeasures so it's a net wash. A good warship design should have far more close in weapons than we do now. There's nothing wrong with overkill !

    5. Agreed... And from another angle, todays weapons are much more fragile and likely to become inop due to even minimal damage, so higher numbers of weapons (defensive or otherwise) becomes an important redundancy. Even the smallest gun systems used to have some armor/shielding, whereas none do today, hazarding them to the smallest of otherwise non-damaging shrapnel, near misses, blasts, etc....
      For the relatively small costs, deckspace and power requirements they need, its seems as if every ship should have 4+CIWS, and the fact that they doesnt is boggling....

    6. I agree with a lot of what Army Guy proposes, and also with ComNasvOps's independent cruiser concept. I would also go with the Des Moines hull, it's big enough and we shouldn't need a lot of studies to figure it out. I'd probably go with gas turbine/electric propulsion, maybe something like what Makin Island has, for economy, less manpower and quieter running in a submarine threat environment. I don't think anybody mentioned, but I'd give it a bow sonar because for independent ops it would need sub detection capability even if it weren't going to chase them. Instead of putting VLS cells where the A turret is, I had thought of keeping the A turret and putting VLS cells where the B turret is, but I guess the decision would depend on where you could get the most cells and how the weight tradeoffs work. I agrre with at least 4 SeaRAM and 4 Phalanx, and I like adding 2 Goalkeeper to ave a larger projectile. I like the dual radar arrangement, but I would lean toward SMART-L for the second radar. I like the idea of having two different types in case the bad guys figure out how to fool one of them. And I would try to make everything between the stack and the Z mount into a large platform for handling helos and UAVs, with a hangar deck below and elevator to connect them. I would try to carry 2 helos, primarily for redundancy in the ASW role if operating independently, and I would also give it 4-6 ASW torpedo tubes. To do all that, I'd probalby have to give up the two 5-inch guns, although I might be able to squeeze in a couple of the 57-mm popguns, since they wouldn't really be needed for NGFS. All of those tradeoffs are debatable, but that's the way I'd go.

      I would build 20 of them. I would assign one each to my 12 carrier strike groups, each containing 1 CVN and 1 CVL. I am also contemplating 8 battlewagons and 8 Hyuga-type ASW carriers in 8 surface action/ASW hunter-killer groups, and I would assign one to each of them for my 20. So when operating in group it would be the #3 ship and would head up the screening unit, along with 2 Burkes (40 total), 3 "mini-Burke" escorts (60 total), and 3 ASW frigates (60 total, plus 20 surface-attack frigates to operate with amphibious forces).

      I would set up the task organization so that the cruiser could be detached from either group, with or without escorts, to conduct independent operations. When operating in company, I would want them to be able to handle the Tico AAW command and control role when operating in group, and to have a robust AAW and ASW self-defense capability when operating independently. The cruisers and the battleships would provide fire support for amphibious operations, along with the surface-attack frigates. And in all roles, the cruiser would have substantial UAVs and possibly some UUVs to expand its coverage.

    7. "independent ops"

      Just to be clear, I do not propose independent ops as in a single ship by itself. The vulnerability of that was more than proven in WWII. When I discuss 'independent' ops, I'm referring to independent of carriers and land based air cover. Thus, a surface group comprised of cruisers and destroyers would be an 'independent' operation, as I've defined it. Any single ship will be an automatic sinking in combat. There is no single surface ship war mission that I can think of that is useful and survivable.

    8. "Just to be clear, I do not propose independent ops as in a single ship by itself."

      Understand. My surface action/ASW hunter-killer group probably fits your definition of independent ops.

      I could see a cruiser breaking off from the main group with 3 or so escorts to carry out some operations. But the only true single-ship operation that I could see is some kind of peacetime show-the-flag effort. The cruiser would make a pretty impressive representative in that role.

    9. These are some pretty interesting ideas that people are putting out there.

      My ideas were things that I had thought about on how to update the Iowa class ships, but scaled down to the Des Moines class.

      I'd build 8 or 10 of these heavy cruisers and mix and match them with the 4 Iowas depending on the mission and threat level.

      I'd also use the Des Moines class hull as the basis for a small armored drone carrier to add to those battle groups.

      I really like the WW2 ship hulls. They are armored, spacious, and fast (32 to 33 knots).

      (Could the Ticonderogas be replaced on a Cleveland class hull?)

      I wonder if modern computer modelling of fluid dynamics could squeeze a couple of more knots (or better yet, greater range) out of the WW2 hull shapes with some minor tweaks?

    10. Yes... I actually did some math on using the Clevelands a while back...all the function, speed AND armor in a nice AAW package!!!

    11. I think we would see better speed/range since modern gas turbine propulsion saves weight and space while giving comparable or greater hp....

    12. See CNOs post "Conceptual Armor..." Dec 2018.

    13. "I really like the WW2 ship hulls."

      I've posted on this many times. We've stopped building WARships and have been building peacetime, technology ships. We've abandoned firepower for data/networks in the mistaken belief that data will compensate for firepower. The Russians understand that artillery still rules the battlefield. Yes, there's a place/use for drones and intel/recon is always valuable but, in the end, firepower rules. If you can area bombard a region into submission it really doesn't matter that you didn't know how many of the enemy were left-handed and had their top shirt button undone - you just kill 'em all.

      The same applies to ships. Armor and firepower are what make for good WARship designs.

  3. A good starting point would be to re-designate the Zumwalts as cruisers given size and the 6 inch guns only having ever been allotted to the cruiser role as the main gun in any navy that had them. Even if the guns come off I could see them at minimum serving as a command cruiser.

    I think in the future what will revive the cruiser is the need for an all electric ship and the growing power need for rail-guns, lasers and ECM. Drones and swarm technology will require overlapping and duplication of fire in a way not seen since 1945. Plus, even as we begin to rely on directed energy we will still have a huge need for traditional kinetic solutions from a reliability and trust factor. Additionally, meeting the standard of graceful loss of capability to damage as a survival standard will push size again on manned platforms. Example being loss of the second CIWS on the DDGs and no second main gun in the design. I see a large portion of missiles moving off platform so the sensors and deep magazine weapons stay on station while the missiles get restocked by high speed intra-theater transports with targeting via data link.

    1. "Even if the guns come off"

      Just to be clear on the point, you're aware that the Zumwalt guns aren't really guns? They're rocket launchers. The 'guns' were incapable of firing at a ship, for example.

      "overlapping and duplication of fire in a way not seen since 1945."

      That's an intriguing statement and I'm not sure what, exactly, you mean by it. I'd love to see you expand on that.

      Your point about graceful loss of capability is outstanding and not something the Navy currently considers in its designs, unfortunately.

    2. I will say I am surprised they don't seek any duplication in the FFG(X)given the size they seem to be leaning toward.

      I just meant overlapping fields of fire that will remain even after the first weapon of a given type/purpose gets knocked out. If you look at the last 3 all gun cruiser designs Juneau, Worcester, and Des Moines they had 24, 19, and 33 gun mounts respectively as originally built, 60, 36, and 57 guns total. Certainly 360 degree missile coverage fills in a lot of this now, but when salvos of ASMs coordinate their attack together like an automated fighter squadron moving at supersonic speed over the horizon, you will need multiple fly swatters let alone multiple pea shooters to effectively manage a barage. Cook them with microwaves, then lasers, missiles, guns, soft kill for the leakers. No leakers? Wait until those ASMs release cluster drones in their dying breath when they know they are cooked. Call them starfish or jellyfish cluster drones. Maybe they fly, maybe they swim. This will happen sooner than the failure of imagination crowd can handle. When they say "how do you complete the kill chain....If autonomy is coming and I or a bird, or fish need only our brains, eyes and ears to make a kill, why won't a missile, a drone, or anything else that can now think for itself, even if in a simple way.

    3. " When they say "how do you complete the kill chain....If autonomy is coming and I or a bird, or fish need only our brains, eyes and ears to make a kill, why won't a missile, a drone, or anything else that can now think for itself, even if in a simple way."

      I think you are spot on. The "networks everywhere" nonsense is going nowhere. Far too easy to take them down.

      OTOH, autonomous is the future at least for smaller devices like a missile. A mobile phone CPU is more than enough enough to power it, the key is in the software. I think is a good illustration of where we are going. A cell phone powering a self-driving car. No networks involved other than GPS.

  4. We need fresh thinking on this topic: almost every ship class name is obsolete: destroyers are no longer built to hunt down torpedo boats (also obsolete); battle line engagements were rare even by the end of WWII; and cruisers were originally units that could operate with the battle line (obsolete) or detached to threaten commerce (still valid) and outrun any enemy warship that they could not sink.

    Arguably, the aircraft carrier is the only surface ship that retains much of its traditional mission set: scouting (air, surface, and subsurface) along with fleet air defense. I would argue that any “strategic bombing” was a short-lived carrier mission that ended conclusively with the advent of UGM-27 Polaris.

    It is hard to contemplate any surface warship operating independently in the 21st century. Baring a revolution in sensor technology, it seems that Admiral Doenitz’s vision of naval warfare dominated by submarines is the rule.

    It is also difficult to contemplate anything like a battle line being created in an age where almost any ship, submarine, or aircraft can employ nuclear weapons, which are still actively discussed in Chinese and Russian doctrine. Yes, Prinz Eugen survived the Bikini tests in good physical condition, but she was so radioactive that she was uninhabitable and ultimately sank.

    I submit that new ship classes be created to reflect their actual role: “task force escort,” “long range strike,” “landing force ship,” and so forth.


    1. "It is hard to contemplate any surface warship operating independently in the 21st century."

      Depending on the strictness of the word 'independent', maybe. I agree that a lone ship (truly independent) is not feasible in war but, then again, it never has been since the advent of air power. HOWEVER, an 'independent' surface group - meaning, independent of a carrier or even land based air coverage - is a feasible concept. Not only is it feasible, it's almost mandatory given the extreme reluctance with which we're going to commit $15B carriers to combat and the scarcity of land based air cover in the Pacific. We'll need non-surface (my definition of independent) groups to attack artificial islands, clear regions of enemy ships, conduct ASW, interdict enemy merchant shipping, raid peripheral enemy bases, etc. Surface groups of powerful cruisers and Burke destroyers (for AAW) can be quite useful and I see them as mandatory.

      "I submit that new ship classes be created to reflect their actual role: “task force escort,” “long range strike,” “landing force ship,” and so forth."

      Agreed. As a matter of philosophy, we always had that up until around the end of the Cold War when we switched from building ships to perform a combat function to building ships to carry technology and hoping they could fulfill a combat function. In other words, we've always built role-related ships like ASW (corvettes and destroyer escorts), torpedo boat (destroyers), anti-torpedo boat (also destroyers), carrier escorts (cruisers), battle line (battleships), troop transports (attack transports AP/APA), etc. Only since the Cold War have we gone away from roles and to just technology carrying ships with no specific roles.

      You're quite right. We need to recognize WHY we build ships - that is, to perform a specific function - and return to that philosophy.

    2. totally agree that surface ships are pretty much sitting ducks anymore. we already have the perfect cruiser its the SSGN. Build a long range AIP boat of the same size, arm it with supersonic cruise missles, NSMs and even a sub launch variant of ESSM and tube launched drones for surface survaillence. Build a boatload of them and flood the oceans. Subs are the big stick.

    3. "totally agree that surface ships are pretty much sitting ducks anymore."

      Oh come on, now. Ships are no more vulnerable then they have ever been. Sure, anti-ship weapons have increased in accuracy and speed but defensive weapons have also increased - a net wash, more or less.

      Of course subs are powerful. However, they can't provide area sensor coverage, they can't establish AAW coverage for bases or operational areas, they can't conduct amphibious assaults, they can't perform MCM, they can't resupply forward bases, they can't … well, you get the idea.

      Ships are necessary and as survivable as they've ever been. Weapons and tactics change but the basic equation stays the same.


    me thinks a new cruiser will be a long way off!

    also apologies for being off topic but:

    that means it can now get there but cannot arm or launch any aircraft!

    1. I would caution you about the navalnews website. It simply repeats Navy public relations posts with no critical analysis. That doesn't mean that some of what they print isn't true but it does mean that what they're printing is pure, unadulterated Navy spin so read it with a huge grain of salt. How many times has the Ford been declared problem free and ready to go by the Navy? And they've been wrong (or lying!) every time. Are the Ford's propulsion issues really fixed? Maybe, but history says no.

  6. Thanks, what is your take on a flight IIIa Burke? From the outside it seems crazy. The basic ship is out of date. Hull at least a generation. Power supply low, very un stealthy, has weight problems .....
    They must have enough time between now and end of the flight III on order to design a replacement.
    Personally I'd get the new asw frigate design sorted and into
    Production first, giving time to sort out an aaw design for the carrier escort and then go for a new destroyer.
    That would give the designers / yards a long but achievable work load. But I'm just an onlooker.

  7. Haven't advances is missiles and technology contributed to blurring the distinction between a cruiser and destroyer?

    Missiles today allow the smallest ship to punch well above its weight class. For example, Russia refitted the Nanchunka III corvette Smerch (~650 long tons) with 16 Uran (SS-N-25) anti-ship missiles. These replaced 6 Malakhit (SS-N-9) missiles originally installed.

    The Burkes with their 90 VLS cells have more firepower than the California and Virginia class cruisers. Their radars and electronics are far superior too.

    1. "Haven't advances is missiles and technology contributed to blurring the distinction between a cruiser and destroyer?"

      This is purely a semantics discussion. That aside …

      No, not really. A WWII destroyer arguably had more 'punch' than many cruisers due to their heavy torpedo loads. What distinguished destroyers from cruisers then - and still ought to, today - is roles. The WWII destroyer was a convoy escort, battle line torpedo boat, and ASW asset. Cruisers were scouts, land attack (bombardment), and carrier escorts.

      Similarly, what should distinguish destroyers and cruisers today is roles. However, the fixation on making every ship perform every role is what has blurred the distinction between cruiser and destroyer.

      Comparing a Burke of today with a Virginia/California of forty some years ago is as irrelevant and meaningless as comparing a Virginia/California to, say, the USS Olympia. Different times.

    2. There was some overlap in time between the Burkes and Virginia-class. Six Burkes were commissioned before the last Virginia-class was decommissioned.

      But, in terms of roles, what could an independent surface group, centered around your version of independent cruiser, do that a similar size group of Burkes couldn't? While the Burke group would lack long-range gunfire, the other weapons and sensors are pretty much the same between the two. On the other hand, the Burke group would have more helicopters as your independent cruiser and AAW destroyer both lack aviation facilities. Granted, UAVs would pick up some of the slack of missing a helicopter.

    3. " in terms of roles, what could an independent surface group, centered around your version of independent cruiser, do that a similar size group of Burkes couldn't?"

      I'm not completely sure what you're asking but I'll try to answer. Cruisers, as I envision them, would provide the group with greatly enhanced situational awareness due to their UAV complement. This alone, enhances combat effectiveness (strike first with the most!). This cruiser also offers the ability to stay in a fight due to extensive armor and structural strength. The Burkes are likely one-hit mission kills due to their weak construction (they've had to add strengthening strakes just to cope with the stress of normal sailing, for crying out loud!), and almost total lack of armor. These cruisers offer unparalleled (well, by today's standards) large caliber anti-surface gun fire and shore bombardment.

      A cruiser surface group would be most useful conducting land attacks, both long range (Tomahawk) and short (large caliber gun) against enemy bases. I'm not talking about sailing a thousand miles through the heart of the Chinese A2/AD zone and striking the main Chinese base(s). I'm talking about complementing the aircraft carrier strike capability by hitting some of the more peripheral bases. This group would, at the same time be a potent anti-surface group for sweeping the area clear of enemy surface groups.

      Picture a group of, say, four such cruisers and several Burke escorts sweeping up along the southwestern side of the South China Sea, destroying artificial island bases, clearing the seas of surface groups, and threatening Hainan. That would provide a great diversion for carrier actions to the north and east and present China with multiple threat axes.

      Did that answer your question?

    4. For the most part, yes. I had considered a surface group based on your Fleet structure of 3-4 Independent Cruisers and 3-4 AAW Escorts and Destroyers versus a 6-8 Burkes. But, the Burke is pretty much the combination of your AAW Escort and Destroyer.

      UAVs are fine and provide some of the capabilities of a helicopter. But, I think unmanned surface vessels (USV) are needed to complement the UAVs. Several USVs, with passive sensors, could be sent out a few days ahead of surface group to scout a particular area or act as a picket protecting a surface group's flank. If armed, they could engage ships and aircraft that much sooner.

    5. "3-4 Independent Cruisers and 3-4 AAW Escorts and Destroyers "

      Even better! I cite Burkes only because they already exist. I don't particularly like them.

    6. Based on their descriptions, could your AAW Escort and Destroyer be built into a single platform? In other words, are these ships so different is size and displacement that two different designs are needed?

      And, conceptually speaking, if the Burke had more armor, another 5-in gun, and a couple of more SeaRAM/Phalanx's could it fullfill the roll of both the AAW Escort and Destroyer?

    7. "could your AAW Escort and Destroyer be built into a single platform?"

      Sure, but it would be a horrible idea. It would be, almost exactly, a Ticonderoga. Horrible idea.

      "if the Burke had more armor, another 5-in gun, and a couple of more SeaRAM/Phalanx's"

      And, if it had a flight deck, catapults, arresting gear, 16" guns, a well deck, troop accommodations, torpedo tubes, and ballast tanks it could be a one-ship navy.

      Come on, I've thoroughly covered the rationale behind small, cheap, single purpose ships. Review the archives and review history. This stuff isn't even debatable.

  8. Irish, good take. And THAT runs right back to the Skipper's contention that the concept of cruisers has been (my take on his take) bastardized, if you will. You may have sailed with Burke community. My deal was Naval Air and our "cruisers" were Aegis cruisers and they sailed with us in pairs. Strictly a screen. I don't think anyone should consider a carrier is safe in a modern-day missile environment even if protected by a dozen of them. I like the heavy cruiser concept right up until you consider the weapons arrayed against them. Adding yet another class of ship to the oddball, oughtta-be-mothballs collection of hardware out there today (LCS, Ford Class, F-35, to name just a couple of projects Skip has critiqued here on these pages)seems a bit out there. Surface ships are becoming obsolete in consideration of missiles. Carriers? Well, if someone puts a missile in one, at least you'll know where you stand, heh. But it makes no sense to me that we're creating classes of ships out of thin air (LCS for one) with no idea how to project power with those, nor how to protect them. Crazy, eh?

    1. "with no idea how to project power with those, nor how to protect them."

      As I've so often noted, that's what the CONOPS is for!

    2. @A6NimitsGuy:

      "Surface ships are becoming obsolete in consideration of missiles."

      Serious question, do you support having a navy at all?

      I often wonder that when I hear the line of thinking that you seem to be following.

    3. Of course we need the Navy. Strategically, carriers are the tripwire. Submarines are offensive in all sorts of ways and we're the best at it. Add in God knows what in terms of drones and we still have quite a Navy. But as composed, there are a lot of deficiencies that need to be addressed. And carriers have to lurk outside the range of cruise missiles and that makes it purely defensive because of lousy refueling capabilities. But it makes a dandy tripwire, always did. That's floating U.S. territory. Easy enough to hit, but you aren't going to appreciate the blow back from Uncle Sam.

      On another note, I believe Kirov cruisers from the old Soviets used to shadow us in the Med and Indian Ocean. Viewed from the water line, it's a good-looking ship.

    4. "Strategically, carriers are the tripwire."

      If that's the only value for a carrier then we should eliminate them. A $15B tripwire would be insane. A $20M Cyclone is just as effective as a tripwire, if we want it to be. If someone attacks a Cyclone (also floating U.S. territory) and we're willing to go to war over it then it's a perfectly good tripwire for a tiny fraction of the cost.

      Carriers are all about offense, either directly or indirectly (escorting Tomahawk shooters). If they aren't then they're useless or they're being misused.

      Also, your view of the vulnerability of carriers is somewhat skewed and incomplete. As you should know better than anyone, a carrier is a multi-layered, tough nut to crack. The carrier's defense starts with preventing an enemy from gaining targeting data. Without targeting data, that million mile cruise missile with the ten thousand pound warhead is absolutely useless. Carrier air wings should be protecting (denying targeting) carriers for hundreds of miles out. This was standard doctrine during the Cold War/Tomcat days. You know this. The carrier's inner layers (Ticos and Burkes) deal with whatever manages to get target data and get past the Tomcats (well, Hornets today - a poor substitute for Tomcats). Then there's today's ECM. And so on. I'm lecturing you about things you know all too well. The point is that carriers are the least vulnerable and best protected ships in the world. But you know this so I'm at a loss to understand your view.

      The Kirov's are one of my favorite ships from a purely appearance perspective. Awesome looking ships! They just look mean.

  9. The platform is rugged, but you don't need to sink it, just get a little something going on the flight deck. Doesn't take much to disable flight ops. A fire, get some ordinance cooking off. No flight ops, no carrier. Other than bombing third-world hellholes, it just can't operate like we want, with air wings as they are currently composed. But it's a big expensive tripwire with lots of boys and girls and hitting one changes everything. I feel like that's their value, or will be their use. They didn't train us in NBC protocols for nothing. I don't completely disagree as to what we want carriers to be, but the environment out there is in a terribly different time than 45 years back. Meh, I worry.

    1. "Doesn't take much to disable flight ops. A fire, get some ordinance cooking off."

      Look to the examples of the Enterprise and Forrestal conflagrations. Each suffered the equivalent of dozens of bomb hits and torrents of flaming fuel and yet reports suggest that each could have resumed flight ops in a matter of hours after the blazes were extinguished, had the been in combat. They weren't in combat so they made no effort to resume flight ops. Each was repaired in remarkably short time, too. So, I would say that it actually takes quite a bit to totally disable flight ops. You may be able to put a bit of a crimp in them with enough damage but totally cessation of flight ops is a tall order.

      For example, disabling launch capability is very difficult since carriers have both bow and waist cats. You'd have to tear up almost the entire flight deck to stop all launches. Landing is the weaker area. A giant hole in the deck in the landing area would be a problem.

    2. "just can't operate like we want, with air wings as they are currently composed."

      That's a somewhat valid concern but that says to change the air wing, not eliminate carriers.

      Looking at the Chinese/Pacific theater and noting our lack of land air bases, carriers may well be the only source of air power. They strike me as absolutely vital. Altering the air wing, as you point out, is also vital. We need a truly long range, air superiority fighter, some penetrating, stealth surveillance planes, lots of fixed wing ASW planes, and some stealthy Intruder-ish attack aircraft for shorter range strikes and anti-surface strikes.

  10. Is the environment worse now?

    I know that missiles have gotten better, but in the past was there even a way to intercept an incoming missile?

    I would think that the survivability of warships would have increased with gun and missile CIWS and radars to track incoming missiles and guide intercepting missiles.

    And adding armor to the ships should only help this problem.

    But I'm certainly no expert, I'm a little out of my element here.

    1. "I would think that the survivability of warships would have increased"

      You're correct. Anti-ship weapons have improved but so have defensive weapons. The other major defensive improvement is ECM which historical data (admittedly quite limited) says is far more effective than active defenses (missiles).

      The major 'aid' to defending ships is that anti-ship missile ranges have grown far beyond the ability of the attacker to find and designate a target. A thousand mile missile is useless if you have a 20 mile sensor. The whole point of carrier defensive air (like the old Tomcat) is to deny the enemy targeting data. That's why the Tomcat was designed with such great range - to get way out and find and kill the targeting aircraft before they could get target data. We've abandoned that and no longer have an aircraft that can fill the Tomcat role. The Hornet was no bargain. It was fine for peacetime accounting and budgets but is ineffective for actual combat. It lacks sensors, range, and an effective long range missile although the more recent AMRAAM variants have made up for some of that lack.

  11. It seems to me the discussion of ship robustness / armoring / redundancy is somewhat orthogonal to the discussion of cruiser roles and designs. One might say robustness is a general issue for all USN combat ships, and not necessarily something to be "fixed" by bringing out a new class of cruisers

    On the topic of cruiser roles specifically:

    - it does appear VLS has blurred the old distinction between anti-air and anti-surface warfare. A fundamental problem, it seems to me, is that we don't have a decent anti-ship missile to put in the tubes. If we did have that weapon, a Burke-size VLS complement could potentially carry a lot of water in the anti-surface department, no?

    - the question of scouting is an interesting one. One could imagine, on the one hand, every surface ship carrying its own modest complement of UAVs. On the other extreme, we could perhaps have something like a 10,000 ton "UAV carrier" which would provide super-robust scout coverage for a non-CVN task force. Justifying cruisers on the basis of being superior UAV platforms to destroyers struck me as non-intuitive, although I continue to ponder it. Part of my aversion, perhaps, is that this kind of multi-role stuff feels like exactly the kind of thing the USN is most likely to screw up--like LCS modules.

    - I am somewhat skeptical of justifying cruisers on the basis of big-gun shore bombardment. I still don't feel I have enough of a handle on realistic modern naval tactics and scenarios to judge their utility of big-guns in a surface-combat scenario. My gut feel is that realistically, guns would not be likely to ever be used to attack enemy ships, but perhaps I'm wrong. Anyway, if the main "use case" for big guns is shore bombardment, then I feel like maybe that would be a situation where we would be better off building a small class of dedicated bombardment ships, something akin to the old "monitors" ?

    Just spit-balling of course.

    1. "If we did have that weapon, a Burke-size VLS complement could potentially carry a lot of water in the anti-surface department, no?"

      Yes and no. VLS is a zero-sum game. Every cell that you put a anti-ship missile into is a cell you take a anti-air missile away from. For a ship whose primary task is anti-air, you have to be very careful about the balance of missiles. So, yes and no.

    2. "Justifying cruisers on the basis of being superior UAV platforms to destroyers struck me as non-intuitive"

      Not sure what you're getting at, here. No one has attempted to justify a cruiser as a superior UAV platform although, just due to its size, it would make for a better UAV host.

    3. "I am somewhat skeptical of justifying cruisers on the basis of big-gun shore bombardment."

      You don't justify it on the basis of any one thing. You justify it on the basis of its overall usefulness within the context of the overall strategy and anticipated operations.

      A cruiser offers large caliber shore bombardment, independent surface groups, UAV scouting, long range land attack, and anti-surface, among other possible roles. If those are the kind of missions your strategy requires then the cruiser is justified. If those aren't the kinds of missions your strategy requires then the cruiser is not justified. Personally, I'd be hard pressed to envision a viable strategy that didn't require most of those missions.

  12. Speaking of cruisers, which, I guess are 10,000 + ton missile lobbing warships, no one has really explained to me why the Zumwalt can't be built, but without it's 155mm guns and feeder system, and have that space replaced with 2 x 64 cell mk 41 VLS's.

    The latest I've read online states that it can do most things, but they've a few sensor nodes bolted on, and the MK 57's still only fire ESSM's.

    I can only speculate they'll be able to fire all SM family missiles, tomahawks quite soon.

    And if so, the Zumwalt to go to go.

    So why can't the USN proceed with a Zumwalt 2.0 as their Tico replacement?


    1. "So why can't the USN proceed with a Zumwalt 2.0 as their Tico replacement?"

      The Navy is, indeed, looking at that option although I don't know how seriously.

      Some drawbacks for the Zumwalt as the basis of a future cruiser are:

      1. Cost - Even just counting the incremental production cost, the Zumwalts are $4B and counting. They'll likely be $5B before they're fully built with all combat systems, sensors, and weapons added.

      2. Hull stability - This hull form is known to have some instabilities in certain sea conditions. For an open ocean vessel, that's a problem. Also, from a damage control perspective, the buoyant area (wetted cross section) of the ship DECREASES as the ship settles in the water. This is opposite of all other ships and opposite of what you want for a ship that is settling/sinking. You want the wetted area to INCREASE to help you stay afloat. Major drawback!

      3. Size - The ship seems vastly oversized for what weapons and sensors it contains or would contain. Your proposal of 2x64 VLS puts it at about the same VLS as a Tico but vastly larger and more expensive.

      4. Stealth - This is an unknown. It was sold as a stealth ship but I've seen no data and have severe doubts. Depending on the angle relative to the searching radar, the signature might be immense! From the surface, the ship is likely fairly stealthy. From the air, which is how a cruiser-Zumwalt would be detected, it is likely non-stealthy in the extreme.

      5. Wetness - From what I've seen, the ship is very wet with seas easily washing over the decks. This may limit helo ops. Again, an unknown but suspect issue.

    2. I can see the point about cost. For $5bn, there are a lot of other options: 1.5 subs, 1.7 Flt III AB's, 5 FFG(X)'s, 5000 x $1m missiles, upgrading a dry dock.Quite a list.

      btw, when I said 2 x 64 VLS, I meant in addition to the 80 MK 57's, giving a total of just over 200 cells.

      If it's just 128, you might as well just copy the Sejong the Great class, which is a subclass of the AB.

      Perhaps StG class is all the USN really needs, unless longer range is required.


  13. "A cruiser offers large caliber shore bombardment, independent surface groups, UAV scouting, long range land attack, and anti-surface, among other possible roles. If those are the kind of missions your strategy requires then the cruiser is justified."

    I guess I'm still not entirely convinced a cruiser is the best way to fulfill those missions.

    First off, as I mentioned, shore bombardment is a relatively rare and specialized job. So, let's posit creating a few dedicated monitors for that. (Don't suppose there are still any 8" guns in mothballs that we could slap onto a hull?)

    Second, let's suppose the Navy follows a distributed UAV strategy so all ships host some of them. This seems like a reasonable guess for how things will develop in future.

    Third, let's assume the Navy gets a better VLS-capable naval SSM. This is simply a desperate need regardless of any other considerations.

    Given those three assumptions, the surface group function could plausibly be covered by a group of Burkes with the appropriate mix of missiles (plus attached bombardment monitor if that is the mission)

    Points 2 & 3, arguably, should be done anyway, so the real question mark is point #1.

    Or, to put it another way, does creating a new cruiser which "wraps in" the bombardment function, while hosting somewhat-more-than-destroyer VLS and definitely-more-than-destroyer UAVs provide a better cost/benefit advantage than building a few monitors plus more destroyers? Not sure, but it doesn't seem like a slam dunk to me...

    1. You've also ignored the survivability - fight hurt - aspect that a heavy cruiser would provide. If you go sending a bunch of Burkes into a war zone you're going to quickly have a bunch of mission killed (or actually sunk) Burkes. They have no ability to take damage and continue to fight.

      You also doubt the need (frequency) for shore bombardment. Is the current lack of need due to lack of need or due to lack of capability? In other words, is the lack of shore bombardment a self-fulfilling prophecy? If I have no shore bombardment capability (such as the Navy, today) then I certainly won't plan for it, use it, or claim to have any need for it, will I? On the other hand, if I have a robust, large caliber shore bombardment capability, I'll likely use it, plan to use it, and want more of it!

      I look at all those artificial islands, lots of Chinese merchant shipping, the entire coast/ports of Vietnam (as an example of a country China might invade and that we'd choose to engage over), Hainan, dozens and dozens of Chinese ports and bases along their coast, the entire coastal area of NKorea, every Iranian coastal port and base, Iranian boats and corvette/frigates (that armor sounds good, now!), Russian ships and ports/bases, etc. and I see more than enough opportunities to make excellent use of a cruiser's large caliber guns.

      Although the least on my list of justifications, a peacetime cruiser would also be excellent for forward presence and some good old fashioned gunboat diplomacy.

      All that said, if you can accomplish all the tasks with some other mix of assets, great! I see a cruiser as a very good way of going about it. A monitor, for example, is the epitome of a single function vessel - slow, limited range, literally only one function.

      Let me ask you to ponder something … Why did the US Navy continue to build cruisers in WWII even though they had destroyers and battleships which, between them, covered all the requirements? If you can answer that, you can probably see why cruisers are a good idea today, too.

  14. frankly after the work that went into the Zumwalt class, and one that can be made larger as well, that platform looks to have the most growth ability in order to make a large ship with the ability to have larger VLS capacity (180-220) in a lengthened frame and power to generate the new weapon systems, such as lasers. Talk of making 30 more Burkes sounds like a great way to keep certain places happy, but not to replace the Ticonderoga class. Need something that can shoot down just about anything, a "Killer Wagon". In an attrition battle, he with the most arrows in the quiver certainly has the best chance of still sailing at the end...


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