Monday, April 6, 2020

Virginia Class Cruisers

For no particular reason, ComNavOps has always had a fondness for the Virginia class nuclear powered cruisers, believing them to be one of the most attractive looking ships of the modern era.  For nostalgia sake, let’s take a closer look at them.  The class consisted of four ships, as shown below.  Note the very short service lives.  The class was the victim of the Cold War ‘peace dividend’ as their mid-life refueling was considered too costly for the time period given the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Service Life, years
Virginia, CGN-38
Texas, CGN-39
Mississippi, CGN-40
Arkansas, CGN-41

Virginia Class - As Built

The ships were 586 ft long (about 20 ft longer than the Ticonderoga class cruisers) with 11,666 tons full displacement and a crew of 579.  Wiki reports the construction cost as $675M (1990) which is $1.3B (2020) today.  Interestingly, these ships were initially classified as frigates/destroyer leaders before ultimately being labeled cruisers.

The class underwent refits in the 1980’s which resulted in the elimination of the helo and hangar in favor of Tomahawk armored box launchers.  Other additions included CIWS and Harpoon launchers.

The post-refit weapons fit was respectable for the time:
  • 2 × Mk 26 missile launchers for 68 missiles (SM-1/2MR, ASROC)
  • 8 × Tomahawk missile in 2 armored-box launchers
  • 8 × RGM-84 Harpoon in 2 Mk-141 quad launchers
  • 6 × Mk 32 triple torpedoe launchers
  • 2 × Mk-45 5-inch/54 caliber rapid-fire gun
  • 2 × 20 mm Phalanx CIWS
  • 2 × 25 mm Mk 38 chain guns

Let’s take a closer look at some aspects of the class.

Mk26 Launcher.  The Virginias had 2x rapid fire Mk 26 twin arm missile launchers mounted fore and aft.  A pair of missiles (one on each arm) could be launched every 9 seconds.  Thus, the ship’s overall firing rate was 4 missiles every 9 seconds – a respectable rate and quite adequate for almost any scenario.  Given the Navy’s typical shoot-shoot-look engagement sequence, this rate of fire seems perfectly adequate.  Today’s VLS really offers little in the way of an effective enhanced firing rate.  What VLS offers is that every missile is available for use as opposed to having to be selected and loaded.

While the drawback of the twin arm launcher is that it has to point at the target and thus is limited to certain firing arcs, the benefit of the launcher is that it can point at the target and there is no delay as there is for a vertically launched missile to ‘tip over’ and acquire its target.  Thus, the twin arm launcher can put a missile at the target faster than a VLS, if the launcher is not masked by the ship’s superstructure.

It’s an article of faith, today, that VLS systems are vastly superior to twin armed launchers but the reality is that they’re not.  They have a few advantages but they also have drawbacks.

ASW.  The ships carried bow mounted SQS-53A sonars and, as originally constructed, a below deck hangar and elevator for one Kaman SH-2 Seasprite LAMPS helicopter.  The hangar proved problematic and the Navy was never able to achieve a watertight fit of the horizontal hatch covers.  The helo and hangar were eliminated in the 1980’s refits in favor of Tomahawk armored box launchers.  Hangar problems aside, the idea of fitting out major warships with ASW capability is highly suspect.  ASW is not the responsibility of a capital ship and no sane commander is going to risk such a ship playing tag with submarines.  In addition, the fact that the ship carried only a single helo meant that its ASW capability was not all that great to begin with.  Elimination of the helo/hangar was a good idea.  Interestingly, a proposal was made to install a vertical launch system for Tomahawks in the vacated hangar space, however, the idea was eventually dropped.

Armor.  The ships reportedly had 1 in (25 mm) Kevlar armor around the combat information center, magazines, and machinery spaces.  I don’t know the hull steel thickness and type.

Radar.  The ship’s main radars were the AN/SPS-48A 3-D air search radar and AN/SPS-40B 2-D air search radar which constituted a typical fit for the period.  These were mechanically steered, rotating units.  Given the maintenance and alignment problems with the Aegis SPY-x fixed planar arrays through the years, ComNavOps has often wondered if modernized versions of these units might not be combat-superior.  But, I digress …

Note Tomahawk Armored Box Launchers On Stern

Now, let’s do a bit of speculation, just for fun.

Nuclear Strike Group.  With the planned 11 ships of the class plus the two California class cruisers and the Truxtun, the Navy was on its way to assembling entire nuclear powered carrier strike groups.  This would have offered some significant operational and tactical advantages.  The group would have required no refueling support and could have operated at high speed for extended periods thereby allowing for rapid repositioning.  A highly mobile and self-sufficient task force would have been a significant benefit.

NTU.  The New Threat Upgrade would have made the Virginias quite formidable.  NTU, when it first came out, was superior to Aegis which would spend quite some time working out its bugs.  Of course, the Navy sank the entire Spruance class to avoid the Spruance-NTU fleet from threatening the Aegis funding.  A Virginia-NTU would have been the most capable AAW ship afloat.

One can only imagine the altered path of ship development if the Virginia-NTU and Spruance-NTU had come to pass.  It is likely that the compromised Ticonderoga class would never have come about and the Burkes might have, initially, been designed as stealth-NTU AAW ships to complement the Spruances instead of replace them.  This could have given us two focused ship classes: the ASW Spruances and the AAW Burkes instead of trying to make the Burkes a do-everything design.  The successor cruiser to the Virginias would probably have been a new design with more anti-surface capability than the Ticonderogas.

VLS Upgrade.  Had they continued to serve, the Virginias might have been upgraded to VLS at some point.  Given their size, it is likely they could have accommodated 128-160 VLS cells.  A truly powerful ship, indeed!

Note Harpoon Launchers In Front Of Superstructure


Aside from ComNavOps' personal affection for these ships, it is obvious that the Virginia class left a lot of untapped potential on the table when it was prematurely retired.  For all those naval observers and ship designers who constantly talk about extended ship service lives, this is yet another example of a prematurely retired ship class.  Premature retirement is the standard in the Navy, not the exception.  With this kind of history it is foolish to design for extended service lives.  As I’ve posted in the past, we should be designing for 15-20 year service lives because that’s all we typically get before we retire our ships.  All this planning for future growth is pure bilge droppings – it never happens!

The Virginias were wonderful ships and I wish they had been fully utilized by the Navy and had a longer service life for ComNavOps to enjoy and admire!


  1. They were beautiful ships... Some of the last with the classic "tower" profile, and an adherence to the Dunn Curve. Interesting that theyre nuclear, and come in at $1.3B... Very capable ships for the price, and its a shame they never saw the upgrades and full service lives!!!

  2. ComNavOps, regarding ASW capability on primarily AAW ships (like the Virginia, Ticonderoga, and Burke classes), isn't there value in having at least a hull mounted sonar and Mk 32 ASW torpedoes as part of the 'inner ring' of AAW ships around the carriers? Considering how difficult ASW is, and how ASW tends to form an outer ring some distance from capital ships, this secondary capability seems like a useful backup in case a sub makes it past the outside pickets. Having read your previous posts, it comes down to the degree this from the primary AAW mission as well as cost implications. A hull mounted sonar on most destroyers/frigates/cruisers makes sense to me.

    1. Without the dedicated ASW outer ring you're talking about, the inner ring multipurpose ships won't have the people with enough ASW experience. That is where we are at now.

    2. "isn't there value in having at least a hull mounted sonar and Mk 32 ASW torpedoes"

      There is! There's also value in having a flight deck for fixed wing aircraft, 16" guns, ballast tanks for submerging, etc. Whether something adds value isn't the issue. If it was, every ship we build would be a supercarrier with battleship guns and armor and capable of submerging. Instead, you answered your own question. Every item added to a ship costs money and means you can build fewer of them.

      Too many people (meaning everyone except ComNavOps) wants to add every capability possible to every ship design. The proper way to design ships is to identify a primary function and design the ship with the MINIMUM outfit required to perform the function, not the maximum. That's how you get effective ships in useful quantities.

      There is also the training issue. The primary function(s) of a Virginia, in this case, was AAW and strike. That's what they trained for and that's all they had time to train for. The ASW function would have been a meager checkbox in a pre-deployment workup using a simplistic, set-piece, scripted exercise. They would have no actual ASW expertise. You can only be good at what you constantly train for and you only constantly train for your primary function.

    3. I've read enough of this blog that I should have known better than to even suggest it.

      But I have to ask: What happens when a sub does get through the ASW screen? We've seen that in exercises. Without a sonar, would they even know if there were torpedoes in the water? Is having one or two ASW specialists among the predominantly AAW inner screen enough in this situation? To be fair, I don't know what the cost of adding a sonar, operators, and overhead are. But it might be cheaper and more effective to have 5 AAW escorts with sonars, that could all go active to quickly localize a close-in submarine threat if necessary, than to keep an ASW asset tied up close to the capital ship.

    4. Son, you're laboring under a few misconceptions. Let's see if I can shed some light.

      1. The old WWII days of a sub even wanting to get inside an ASW screen are largely over and done. With modern fire control and modern guided torpedoes, there's no need! A sub can safely sit well away and launch torpedoes with a very good chance of success.

      2. Inner ASW isn't provided by ships, today. It's provided by helos which are much more flexible and responsive than a ship.

      3. As far as exercises showing subs getting through screens - NO THEY DON'T! You see the one example and are led to believe, by the uninformed, that that's the routine result. What you don't see/hear/read about is the other 49 times when the sub didn't succeed. Remember, sub exercises are DESIGNED to produce a good submarine result because that's the point of the exercise! Think about it … to save days or weeks of searching, the sub and the target are positioned in close proximity to begin with. I can go on and on describing the degree of unreality in a subex but it should be obvious. Just like Top Gun was designed to let the student succeed so he could learn, the subex is designed to let the sub succeed.

      4. No AAW escort is going to be proficient at ASW because they'll rarely ever train for it. A sonar is not a magic box. It requires skill to extract useful data - skill that they don't train for.

      Okay, so you're the CNO of the Navy. You have a limited shipbuilding budget. Do you really want to spend it on adding equipment that will rarely be needed and that ships/crew that have it won't be proficient at using? And, if your answer is yes, which ship in your shipbuilding plan will you give up to provide the funds for the extra equipment?

      Did you read the recent Ford post about the program manager who acknowledged that he made a mistake by adding the Dual Band Radar to the Ford? What????? How could it be a mistake to add equipment that has value? Well, the manager and the post explained why it was a mistake and it's much the same concept, here.

      I'm going to keep hammering this theme: you pick a primary function and design in the MINIMUM capability necessary to accomplish it. That's how you get affordable ships in useful numbers. When you violate that design principle you get the Ford which is gold plated and is unaffordable.

    5. "I've read enough of this blog that I should have known better than to even suggest it."

      By all means, suggest things that make sense to you! That's what these comments are for. Just be prepared to defend it! Seriously, I encourage contrary opinions as long as they're supported with data and logic - the same standard I hold my own posts to. So, suggest away if you feel you have a good idea.

    6. I acknowledge that this is a late comment touching a few related topics, and I appreciate your patience.

      First, thanks for the encouragement. I'm a huge fan of this site, and your willingness to engage in differing opinions is part of the reason.

      Second, I now see the errors in my logic. The biggest holes are "even with a sonar, a cruiser is never going to focus or train enough on ASW to use it effectively" and if that's the case, why spend a penny on the equipment and associated 'taxes' of larger crew space, ship size, engines, etc.

      Something else to think about: group think and organizational inertia. As an avid reader of this blog (and related content), I consider myself to be someone who 'gets it.' And yet I fell into the same trap that you preach against on a constant basis: just one more capability, and then just one more... I can't imagine how hard it must be for Navy professionals to speak out against the accepted wisdom of concurrency, unmanned everything, unproven technology and a focus on budget battles. Eliminating half the admirals wouldn't just save money, but might also be just the kick in the pants needed to get people to think differently.

      Third, it also made me revisit the fantastic if somewhat hidden "Fleet Structure" tab. If only the Navy had this kind of logical and consistent vision! And it is here that I have a question:

      Shouldn't their be more point defenses listed, Phalanx and/or (Sea)RAM? I would expect that these would be as much a part of most ships as compartmentalization, life boats, and small arms. Again, I get the focus on specialization and affordability, but not having even a basic defense against what is likely the #1 threat in a peer conflict seems penny wise but pound foolish. This isn't adding an ASW mission to a cruiser, it's about making the fleet more survivable regardless of a ship's role.

      Finally, this whole thought process has raised two additional questions:

      - Assuming the Navy wants to test and learn their way with unmanned ships/subs towards what may some day be cost effective tools, do you have any views on where they will make sense first? Or does the need for connectivity and human support make them fatally flawed in the near term?

      - Why isn't there more interest in sensors on airships/blimps? Your focus on sensors and targeting as an underappreciated necessity is noted. (Tethered) blimps seem like a cost effective way to see over the horizon on an almost constant basis. If tethered, they could do so without wireless transmissions. They could be visual, IR, and/or radar. Unlike (expendable) drones, they could carry quality sensors. No need to carry fuel or crews on them, limited maintenance... I'm not trying to sell you one, or replace AWACS planes, just curious why the Navy doesn't explore this more.

      Thank you for your fantastic blog and for considering my comments!

    7. "just one more capability"

      I find this phenomenon to be amusing in the sense that most people will agree with me that adding endless 'one more capabilities' is wrong. Despite this, most people believe that THEIR 'one more capability' is vital even though everyone else's is not.

      The guiding principle should not be whether or not to add one more capability but, instead, to add the MINIMUM capability needed to execute the primary function. Then, debates about 'one more capability' are easily resolved - if the capability is REQUIRED to execute the primary function then add it. If not - and it almost never will be - then don't.

      "Shouldn't their be more point defenses listed"

      To keep the Fleet Structure page to a readable length, I listed only main capabilities. If I didn't list a particular weapon, like CIWS, it doesn't at all mean that I don't want it. I undoubtedly do! I was trying to convey main functions and main equipment, not list every item on every ship. So, with that understanding, was there a particular ship type you think deserves a bit more attention? I'm happy to make changes if it would help clarify the Fleet Structure. Please recognize that I have a certain amount of 'space' to work with and I have to ruthlessly edit what I do and don't present. I always tell people that the real challenge in post writing (or Fleet Structure presentation) is not in deciding what to include but in deciding what to EXCLUDE so that I don't wind up writing a book on every topic! Let me know if you have something specific you think I should add.

    8. "Why isn't there more interest in sensors on airships/blimps?"

      There's a great deal of interest from readers. This concept continually comes up. The problem with it, that no proponent has ever explained how to address, is that while an airship (of whatever sort) can raise a sensor, the airship, itself, constitutes a giant, blinking beacon above the host ship - a glaring neon sign saying 'here I am, come and sink me'. Remember, the airship is as non-stealthy as you can get and the active emissions can be sensed from much farther away by the enemy than the active sensor can see the enemy. So, the airship allows the enemy to pinpoint the host ship long before the airship can see the enemy. In fact, a smart enemy, seeing the airship, will make sure it stays out of active sensor range and will launch its attacks without us ever having seen the launch platforms.

      Does that make sense to you?

    9. "Thank you for your fantastic blog and for considering my comments!"

      You're most welcome and I'm happy to offer the blog for your edification and enjoyment!

    10. Do you have any articles that include information on tethered airships? We use them here in NM to monitor the border and I have read about their hundreds of miles range, ability to track air and land targets.
      I don't suggest your ideas are wrong but pulling these things with a USV would give an awesome capability. Even the missiles launched toward the USV would give a bullseye to send missiles back to -- their attack could be beneficial.
      I'm going through the articles and may not see your response here but hope to see more info on this in the future and I'll research on my side to have (hopefully) good ideas.
      Great job as always. You have made me miss a ship that I had heard little about until now.

    11. Since seeing the aerostats here in NM monitoring the border, I started with the CPB. Some highlights:

      “Each sweep of the radar in the belly of a TARS detects all flying aircraft within the balloon's 200-mile range. Wireless transmitters send TARS radar data from each balloon into the Internet cloud, where it is combined with other TARS radar data, according to Brown. Radar data is downloaded from the cloud at the Air and Marine Operations Center, AMOC, in Riverside, California. Using the Air and Marine Operations Surveillance System, the AMOC can integrate more than 700 sensor feeds to simultaneously track 50,000 aircraft in flight over the U.S., Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America.”

      “Due to the efficiency of TARS and OAM enforcement, the number of unidentified aircraft flying over the border has dwindled from 8,500 to less than 10 per year.”

      It went on to describe finding ultralight aircraft and using video to watch and direct authorities to ground activity.

    12. “the airship, itself, constitutes a giant, blinking beacon above the host ship”
      “The hull is constructed of a lightweight polyurethane-coated or Tedlar fabric that weighs only eight ounces per yard.”

      I searched a great deal to find how this material reflects radar. The most that I could find was an article about weather balloons made of this material requiring radar reflectors on them to avoid them being hit by aircraft. On some pictures, I can see the sun shining through the aerostat. I’m not sure if this means that it would also be somewhat transparent to radar.

      The aerostats currently used contain their own diesel generators because they were designed to be self-contained. One company trying to sell these proposes running power up the tether to make them less expensive and have longer float times. A USV could tow and power the units. A really crazy idea that I have is launching one from a large UUV; launch from the surface and resubmerge…

      Of course, the radar could be seen. This is a problem. It could also be a way to keep the enemy looking at this “beacon” while the real ships are moving somewhere else. Heck, even stick a cheap jamming device on it.

    13. REAP (Rapidly Elevated Aerostat Platform)

      “The REAP aerostat, built by ISL's Bosch Aerospace Division, is specifically designed for quick deployment. The whole system, including the deflated blimp, is transported in a container on top of a vehicle (HMMWV in the Army application). After attaching the payload to the tether line, an automatic sequence can be started, which inflates the aerostat and releases the tether until a preselected altitude has been reached. The whole procedure takes only around five minutes. The Army's standard REAP payload consists of electro-optical (day time) and night vision cameras, which have an effective surveillance radius of about 33 km (18 nm) at the blimp's operating altitude of 90 m (300 ft).”

      Beyond USV surveillance, perhaps an updated type of these could be put onto ships and, when stealth is needed, used instead of the ship’s radars since the Video/IR range is (I think) out to the horizon. It didn’t say the dimensions, but judging by the people below it, it’s not very big.

    14. MARTS (Marine Airborne Re-Transmission System)

      “The MARTS aerostat is equipped with transponders for AN/PRC-113, AN/PRC-117, AN/PRC-119 (SINCGARS) and EPLRS (Enhanced Position Locating and Reporting System) radios, and provides a 24/7 relay with a radius of 125 km (80 miles) for up to 15 days (when the helium supply has to be refilled). The blimp is designed to survive winds up to 85 km/h (50 knots), lightning strikes, and small arms fire from the ground. The first MARTS system was moved to Iraq in early 2005, and current plans call for the acquistion of a total of six systems.”

      To provide good radio communication coverage, Marines could just launch their own aerostat. 80 miles away a ship could rebroadcast to another 80 miles away and etc.

    15. Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS)

      This is probably what people are talking about when discussing towed aerostats.

      “The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System or JLENS consists of two large, unmanned, helium-filled aerostats that carry a radar system designed to detect and track threats such as cruise missiles, drones, aircraft, large caliber rockets, vehicles, and maritime surface vessels. The JLENS aerostats can float up to 10,000 feet and provide 360 degree coverage for an area approximately the size of Texas. It can also detect threats over the horizon, up to 340 miles away, and can stay airborne for up to 30 days providing 24/7 continual protection. [1] JLENS also integrates with defensive systems such as the Patriot missile defense system, the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) employed by Aegis BMD systems, Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), and the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), as well as other command and control and defensive systems.”
      “Radar can detect aircraft within a 340-mile radius, or an area of about 363,000 miles.”
      “Vehicles on the ground can be detected within a 140-mile radius, an area of 62,000 miles.”

      Clearly, a fleet could not sneak up on anybody when this is deployed. However, in the thick of battle, when both fleets are located, raising one of these and using it to direct SM-6 at airborne targets several hundred miles away and weapons at surface targets over one hundred miles away would be a battle-winning option. This is not a disposable aerostat and I would NOT put one on a USV. Rather, I would mount one on a Destroyer instead of the helicopter(s) and defend it rigorously.

    16. "There's a great deal of interest from readers. This concept continually comes up."

      I hope that you will consider these comments and write an article about it.

    17. I sure hope I'm not just being annoying with all of this but here is another item that may be related. The article is about "UFO" stuff but it is the Balloon Drone idea that interested me.

      "U.S. Patent #7341224B1, which was filed in 2004 and awarded in 2008, describes a Miniature Robot Surveillance Balloon that has thrusters to control its flightpath and can carry an electrical-powered payload aloft."

      "A miniature surveillance balloon system is described that can be used in military and public safety situations for real-time observations. They are low-cost and expendable, and typically are deployed in clusters. Balloons may act individually or alternately clusters may act robotically (in unison) without command input at times. Balloon systems may be deployed by dropping from aircraft or by some form of artillery or rocket launch mechanism."

    18. If you look at the sketch, I think you'll agree on the implications. Imagine a Standard Missile or a DeepStrike popping such balloon drones out over an enemy fleet...

      With solar cells on the bag harness, they could power for some time, float for a long time and dodge around if someone wants to waste expensive weapons to get rid of them.

    19. Here is a patent from 1949!

      I can picture drone ships popping this out, essentially leaving a "cloud" of long-lasting chaff between our incoming aircraft and the enemy.

      Also, UAV's leaving these above enemy locations as beacons to fire missiles at. I think lighter-than-air is a long-lost capability who's time has come!

  3. If you use the 10.7% interest rate Rand found for US built surface combatants from 1950-2000 in their 2006 report, applied to the 83 million purchase price of the Arkansas in 1975 to year 2020 it more like 10 billion. Given the SSBNX actual cost I'm not saying I'm close, but I suspect somewhere out between us is the truth.

    1. I used the US govt inflation calculator. That's the truth. I never said we could build a Virginia for $1.3B. I merely reported the actual cost in today's inflation adjusted dollars for comparison purposes.

      Regarding the 'inflation' in the cost of ships, very little of it is due to actual inflation. Most of it is due to idiotic decisions like regulating our shipbuilding capability and capacity nearly out of existence, building fewer ships which means spreading the builder's overhead over much fewer ships, designing in unnecessary gold plating, and so on. That doesn't change reality but it does mean that it doesn't have to be. We could, if we wanted, build ships much cheaper if we were willing to rethink how we approach the entire process.

    2. The CPI, used in most inflation calculator, isn't a good measure for the cost growth in naval warships.

      From the same RAND document, the DDG-51 class exhibited a 3.4% average annual cost growth. Using that metric, the Virginia would cost $1.8B today. Not too bad. Of course to get that rate, you'd have to build at DDG-51-levels of consistency and numbers, which seems unlikely.

      And this doesn't account for life cycle costs, reactor refuels and disposal.

  4. Pretty good example of a ship optimized for sea control. Just think of what we could do with it and other optimized ships.

    I like the Burke's in spite of their do everything builds. If we wanted them to be truly effective we need more purpose built ships. One, the purpose built ships allow more ships per buck. Two, being specialized forces them to train at a smaller set of tasks, making proficiency more likely. When the proficient sailors and officers come to the Burkes, they can bring their A game with them.

    This makes the Burkes more useful for independent operations like the cruisers of old. Of coarse, most of the independent operations (antipiracy/ show the flag) we do could be done more cheaply done by an up armed merchant man.

  5. Love the clean lines of this ship, and I think the navy could use a true cruiser for the AAW role. I'm thinking something like a modern version of the Atlanta class anti-aircraft cruisers during WW2.

    I would start building the next AAW cruisers to fulfill that mission immediately and start adding them to the fleet to complement (and eventually replace) the Burkes.

    They would be conventionally powered and built on a Cleveland class hull.
    The Cleveland class hull would give this ship 3.25"-5" belt, 5" bulkhead, and 2" deck armor. This would protect the ship against shrapnel, near misses, and missile debris.

    The ships had a speed of 32+ knots as well.

    It would be big enough to accommodate plenty of weaponry with a length of 600' and a beam of 66'. The Clevelands displaced about 14,000 tons, but this would be less without the 4 x triple 6" gun turrets.

    The radar could be Aegis, or a more robust equivalent, but must be able to handle managing the AAW battle for the fleet. I don't have a particular one in mind.

    It should also have robust ECM abilities.

    With its size it should be ABM capable and provide this capability to the fleet.

    It should have plenty of deck space to accommodate 200 VLS cells complemented by a dozen CIWS in a SeaRAM/Phalanx/Goalkeeper mix.

    It should also have at least one 5" gun for general purpose uses (possibly a twin mount).

    It would not waste any space, personnel, or focus on ASW, leaving that to ships that make that their primary mission.

    Any ASuW capability could be added by utilizing a very limited number of VLS cells for self-defense purposes, and the 5" guns.

    If it could be styled like the Virginia class, all the better. :)

    I wonder what a ship like that would cost?

    1. I did some homebrew engineering on just such a ship for this blog a while back!! Removed the AA, 6 and 5in guns, barbettes, etc, as well as boilers n associated machinery. Thinned the internal bulkheads by half and cut 100ft off the length. Then put all the modern Burke guts back in our stripped hull, and ended up with an armored ship that was only a couple hundred tons more displacement than a FLT III Burke, and more range to boot!!

  6. The British experience in the Falklands showed the problem of launchers that need line of sight.

    Of course those where single ended ships not double ended like these.

    But it was an issue especially when ships where operating close together and the threat was low altitude attack.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Oh Also surely the Ticonderoga classes 26-34 years of service and that 30 of the Burke class is now 20-29 years old show that very early retirement isn't as widespread as during the massive de-armament for the end of the cold war?

    3. "early retirement isn't as widespread as during the massive de-armament for the end of the cold war?"

      The Spruance, Los Angeles, Tarawa, Newport, Charleston, Osprey, and much of the Perry classes have all been retired early. In addition, the Navy has tried for several years to early retire the Ticonderoga class only to be slapped down by Congress and wound up laying up 6 in idle state. Further, the Navy has attempted to early retire a couple of carriers at their mid-life refueling points but been thwarted by Congress.

      So, yeah, I'd say early retirement is quite common.

    4. Charleston and all but 2 Newport's where decommissioned at the end of the cold war.

      The Tarawa's where much older than 20 years.

      The rest especially the Spruance-class and Los Angeles class was so very stupid.

      But still most lasted longer than what you said

      "As I’ve posted in the past, we should be designing for 15-20 year service lives because that’s all we typically get before we retire our ships"

      Actually what do you thing would be cheaper faster replacement cycles say your 20 years and then replace or extensive refit?

      Looking at past US ship classes refits seem the worst idea as even when they happen they go over budget and only extend a ships life by a decade or less.

    5. Ships used to be designed for much shorter service lives. It's only relatively recently, as ship costs have ballooned, that we've tried to design for ridiculously long service lives. I've posted on what our design philosophy should be. The first, and key, aspect is that you don't design for any future tech. If you're only keeping the ship for 15-20 years, you don't need future tech. By the time future tech comes, you're ready to build another ship and you can incorporate it. The Ford/Zumwalt/LCS fiascos illustrate the concept nicely.

      The Navy also has a very bad habit of not conducting maintenance on ships. For a 35-40 year ship life, that's a major problem. If your ship is only intended to last 15-20 years then reduced maintenance is not as big a problem.

    6. One of the reasons for the mass retirements was that the USN wanted to get rid of as many non-nuke steam turbine ships as possible. Gas turbines as far easier to maintain.

    7. But that doesn't really explain SinkExing the Spruances. Then again, nothing does.

    8. I've rather liked the Japanese approach to shipbuilding. They build ships for a thirty year lifespan, and stage their builds so that by the time they decommission a ship, its replacement is commissioning.

      Of course, that requires a degree of forward thinking that seems to have eluded the Pentagon.

  7. Nothing really to add, great looking ship and the weapons fit is just incredible compared to today, those were the days USA knew how to build them good looking and armed.

    Don't want to imagine what a Virginia like ship would cost today, just look at the Zumwalt fiasco....

    1. New Burkes aren't really less well armed 96 VLS vs the 68 missiles in the Mk 26 and 8 Tomahawks.

      Both have the torp launchers and the Burkes get 2 helo's for ASW.

      Losing one phalanx when you have quad pack ESSM's and SeaRAM replacing the second phalanx.

      Harpoon's is a loss though when LRASM gets in the VLS that's still 12 more missiles (excluding quad packed ESSM's)than a Virginia carried.

    2. Burkes also have one less 5" gun. The real disappointment is the Zumwalt with a grand total of 80 VLS and 2 30 mm machine guns.

    3. Many online commenters including myself have commented that we dont understand why the Zumwalt basic design can't be kept, but remove the 155mm guns and system, and put in 2 x 64VLS cells, keeping the Mk 57's. The only answer I get is" the ship was built around the 155mm gun system".

      What does that mean?

      Is it really so difficult to design the hull without the 155mm system, and put in the VLS?


    4. "Is it really so difficult to design the hull without the 155mm system, and put in the VLS?"

      And... "the ship was built around the 155mm gun system"

      Is precisely the issue CNOps points out most, as well as the obsolete CONOPS (but at least not nonexistent in the design phase). The VLS-only arsenal Zumwalt not only suffers from a weak CONOPS, but also cost; the "simple" 155mm to 64x VLS conversion has to haul out the ammo handling system and magazines which span the length of the ship, deep in the lower decks. This is very technically challenging to do as an overhaul (like battleship powerplant overhauls), and a costly redesign is also required for an overhaul or a new build incorporating 1x mk45, 1x 64 VLS, required combat systems, and a survivable self defense suite.

      The latter might be a decent ship, but it probably isn't worth building new ones, especially compared to CNOps' cruisers or the Navy's Large Surface Combatant. It is even less worthwhile to dig out the AGS from the current Zumwalts.

    5. "Is it really so difficult to design the hull without the 155mm system, and put in the VLS?"

      The Zumwalt IS the gun system. That said, VLS systems could certainly be installed and the portions of the gun system that are in the way can be removed. It would be very expensive, of course, since you'd have to cut open large portions of the ship.

      People think it's just a case of dropping a VLS module into a hole in the deck but there's all the other changes that need to be made to the ship to provide the 'utilities' (electric, water, computer control space, physical access, etc.) that the VLS requires.

      There's also the matter of the combat system. The reason that the Zumwalt is currently limited in what missiles it can effectively launch and control is that it does not have the Aegis software combat system. In fact, the Zumwalt's missiles have had to be specially modified to provide an alternate guidance link. You can read about it in the GAO annual reports. So, an entire new combat control system would have to be installed along with new computers and control stations - essentially rebuilding whatever Zumwalt uses for its combat control room.

      After you did all that - and paid for all that! - you'd still have a ship that has no point defense (no CIWS or RAM/SeaRAM) and has only half of a dual band radar system. So, you'd almost certainly want/need to upgrade the radar to the current AMDR.

      So, yes, VLS could be installed but it's not simple or straightforward, it would be insanely expensive, and you'd still wind up with a ship with no point defense. Most people don't think it's worth doing.

      Did that answer your question?

    6. "Is it really so difficult to design the hull without the 155mm system, and put in the VLS?"

      Just as a point of historical interest, you'll note that the first five Ticonderoga class cruisers were built with Mk26 twin arm missile launchers instead of VLS and yet the Navy retired them early instead of replacing the Mk26 with VLS. That would have seemed like an obvious VLS replacement upgrade candidate and yet it didn't happen. To the best of my knowledge, the Navy never even gave it any serious consideration. I assume the reason was cost, as described in my previous comment.

    7. Wait what happened to AMDR i thought it was ready?

    8. Also I still want my mk-71 8in for the Zumwalt

    9. Thanks Darth Anubis and CNO for the more detailed answers. I really did think it was easy to design and build a new Zumwalt by essentially cutting a big rectangular box shape fore, for the VLS. and doing the same for the 3 already built.

      And I knew the Zuwalt was limited to SM2's currently, but had no idea why it was. Now I do.

      I'm really disappointed in the Zumwalt now.


    10. "build a new Zumwalt"

      Now that's a bit different than trying to refit an existing ship. If you started with a purpose-designed Zumwalt with VLS then that would be a reasonable approach. Of course, as described in the comments, by the time you made all the required and desired changes you'd have a totally different ship that had only the outer hull/shell in common with the original Zumwalt. Unless you were going to build a series of them, it would be a one-off 'prototype' and insanely expensive. The original cost around $5B (excluding developmental costs) and I would guess you could add $2B-$3B to that to get your one-off.

      There would still be the issue of point defense. If you add CIWS/RAM/SeaRAM you not only add more cost but you worsen the stealth signature by adding 'bumps' to the ship.

      So, is a new build VLS-Zumwalt worth it? I leave it to you to decide that.

    11. "I'm really disappointed in the Zumwalt now."

      The Zumwalt was really a design enigma. A 155 mm gun that couldn't fire standard 155 mm rounds? Really? A combat system that required specially modified missiles? Really? A ship with no point defense? Really? And so on. The design decisions are real head-scratchers.

      This is what frustrates me about the Navy. These were just horrible decisions that were obvious from the start. It's one thing to have an unanticipated problem emerge but when you deliberately design in problems that's just dumb. Why, Navy? Why? Every person associated with the Zumwalt design should be fired.

  8. CNO,

    Your mention of a group which could move at high speed without refueling made me think of the current trend of OPV's having slower speed.

    Many in the last 5, perhaps 10 years, have speeds of only 20-22 the Arafura Class of Australia (20 knots), the recently delivered BRP Gabriela Silang (OPV-8301) of the Philippines( 22 knots) (wiki says it's the longest aluminum hulled OPV in the world at 84m).

    Is the reason because patrolling needs less high speed, and fuel economy is more important? Any high speed chases can be done with easily disembarked RHIB's? Seems kinda slow to me. What if there's a rescue mission?


    1. You pretty much answered your own question! Yes, range and endurance are more important than speed for the patrol mission. Also, aircraft are generally available from land bases to supplement/support offshore patrol ships.

    2. The 'rule of thumb' is that to increase ship's speed by 4 knots you need double the power, to go from 20 knots say with 10,000 shp to 32 knots would require ~ 80,000 shp, its very costly, not sure the rule would hold true for such an extreme example.

      With the FFG(X) Navy original spec was 28 knots at 80% MCR, since relaxed spec to max speed, threshold now 26 knots with an objective 28 knots to keep costs under control.

    3. I've always found it fascinating that WW2 ships tend have significantly more engine power then modern ships with similar displacements.

      Take for example the Burke vs a Mogami crusier. Nearly 50k more HP.

      Just a observation.

    4. "WW2 ships tend have significantly more engine power then modern ships with similar displacements."

      Just to clarify, the Burke has 4x LM2500 turbines that each produce 33,600 shp for a total of 134,400 shp. The Mogami generated 152,000 shp for a net increase of 17,600 shp.

      The Mogami is also 150 ft or so longer than a Burke. I'm not enough of a naval engineer to know how that enters into the engine power requirement, if at all.

    5. Good catch, wikipedia is still using the numbers for the older LM2500.

      As to the Mogami, it also weighs 800 tons more, but it is closet in tonnage to the Burke that I could think of.

      To be fair to the Burke, Mogami is a outliner in regards to HP.

    6. Thanks everyone for your comments and answers :)

      Stay safe


  9. The Virginia's, being limited to a MR SAM, would eventually have been outclassed by tbe Ticos and Burkes, which due to their VLS cells could fire SM-2 ERs. Therefore, a VLS upgrade would have been necessary to make them an effective AAW platform. And, with potentially a 160 cells, it would have been a heck of a platform. And, I would have included a couple of SeaRAM launchers as part of any upgrade.

    1. "eventually have been outclassed by tbe Ticos"

      Of course, you recall that the first several Ticos were built with Mk26 arm launchers, identical to the Virginias!

    2. True. But, without a VLS upgrade, the Virginia's were limited to a MR SAM, which would have made them less of an AAW platform compared to the Ticos and Burkes.

      Given the midlife refueling and upgrades were to cost $300+ each (per Wiki) and costly to operate (each had a crew of nearly 600) combined with the number Ticos and Burkes being built, would it have made sense then to upgrade and keep them? I'm thinking not.

    3. "less of an AAW platform compared to the Ticos and Burkes."

      Maybe, maybe not.

      Certainly the VLS allows larger missiles but does that automatically translate to a better AAW platform? I've posted about AAW engagements and concluded that most (nearly all!) are going to be horizon range engagements which are better conducted with ESSM. Presumably, ESSM could have been launched from arm launchers.

      The Navy's pursuit of ever longer range Standard missiles is predicated on the assumption that you can 'see' and target at very long ranges and this simply doesn't appear to be true. Aircraft are not going to obligingly cruise along at 30,000 ft squawking their IFF so that you can detect and target them two hundred miles away. Most modern missiles use flight profiles that get steadily lower as they approach their targets. Again, they aren't going to obligingly cruise at high altitudes inside our Standard weapons range. Thus, all engagements are going to be radar horizon range.

      That being the case, a Virginia with ESSM would be just fine for AAW.

      "Given the midlife refueling and upgrades were to cost $300+ each ... would it have made sense then to upgrade and keep them? I'm thinking not."

      Well, it depends on what your objectives are. $300M is still a lot cheaper than a $2B new Burke. Also, if fleet size matters (and it does!) then keeping more ships in the fleet, for the cost of an upgrade, would be a good move.

      As far as operating costs, crew size is what it is but the non-crew operating costs would be cheaper than for a new Burke because the nuclear plant was already paid for and the subsequent fuel cost would be $0 per year compared to the fuel bill for a conventional Burke. So, non-crew operating costs, post-refit, for a Virginia would be less than for a Burke!

    4. "Presumably, ESSM could have been launched from arm launchers."

      ESSMs and Sea Sparrows were box launched. To be rail-launched, they need some sort of sabot (for lack of a better term) to be compatible with missile handling equipment. Fitting a couple of box launchers might be easier to do.

      According to Wiki, the SPS-48E 3D air-search radar had a range of 250 miles, so a longer range SAM should be compatible.

    5. "Sea Sparrows were box launched."

      They were. Is there some reason you think it would have violated the laws of physics to adapt them to arm launchers? Standard missiles, ASROC, and Harpoons were all arm launched without sabot assistance or any other extraordinary measures. Why would ESSM not be easily adapted if we had stuck with arm launchers instead of VLS?

    6. The Harpoon has a body diameter of 13.5 inches. The SM-2 has a body diameter of 13.5 inches too. ESSM has a body diameter of 10 inches. Sea Sparrow is smaller at 8 inches. ASROC is larger at 16.6 inches.

      It comes down to what body diameter the missile handling equipment is designed to handle. A smaller body missile might need a shell or sabot to make it compatible with the missile handling equipment.

      The Navy has operated the Sea Sparrow since 1976 and ESSM since 2004. Back then, the Navy operated lots of ships with rail launchers. If ESSM/Sea Sparrow were easily adaptable, why wasn't it done back then?

      Doing so could have extended the life of the Perry-class when their missiles were removed about a decade ago. Then again, the Navy could have done what the Australians did and fit them with an 8-cell VLS instead which would have made more sense.

    7. Funny thing though. If you look at the layout and fitout, the Ticonderogas essentially have a pretty similar kitout to the Virginias.

      IMO the Virginias would have been fine for the 90s and 00s, but by the 10s I'd strongly argue the twin-arm launcher is too limiting for a horizon range engagement. A supersonic seaskimmer traveling at Mach 2 will cross the radar horizon in 17 seconds, which gives you barely enough time to get three salvos off, if you've already got missiles on the launcher ready to fire. The USN's move to the active homing ESSM Block 2 and the JMSDF's development of XRIM-4 is a recognition that SARH guidance isn't going to work for a massed missile salvo - especially given that if you're playing in Chinese waters, China has the aircraft numbers to generate large missile salvos.

    8. Recognition's the wrong word there. I think it's more accurate to say that previously the USN was banking on the accuracy of interceptor missiles guided by Aegis, but now is attempting to mitigate the problem of more missiles to intercept than a DDG has guidance channels, so you counter enemy missile spam with your own missile spam.

    9. "A smaller body missile might need a shell or sabot"

      Or, it might not. Let me know if you find any definitive information.

      "If ESSM/Sea Sparrow were easily adaptable, why wasn't it done back then?"

      Because it wasn't needed. They had launchers so why take up Mk26 missile magazine space when they already had their own launchers? It just wasn't necessary or even desirable at that time.

      "Doing so could have extended the life of the Perry-class"

      The Navy was determined to get rid of the Perrys since they represented a budget threat to the LCS (just like the Navy determined to get rid of the Spruances because they represented a budget threat to Aegis). So, the Navy removed the missile launcher and proclaimed that Perrys couldn't use SM-2s - which the Australians proved was a lie. Perry upgrades, or lack thereof, had nothing to do with combat effectiveness and everything to do with the LCS.

  10. Even when the Ticos switched to VLS they couldn't fit the Sm2ER. The NTU Belknap/Leahy were a more lethal AAW platform until their post Cold War decommissionings.
    Took some years before they shrunk the SM2ER down to fit VLS tubes.
    Virginia with NTU would have been a powerful platform indeed.

    And no, I don't understand the Spruance and Kidd class decommissionings either.

  11. I remember when these first arrived, they were criticized for being under armed when compared to the soviet ships of the day. IIRC they didn't even have any SSM when first delivered. Definitely agree that nuclear powered AAW escorts make a lot of sense for the CVN.

  12. Too bad the Navy didn't proceed with CGN-42. There is a value in having nuclear powered escorts. After forty years you would think they would have developed a more affordable nuclear power plant.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.