This post is a result of a suggestion from reader ‘Lonfo’ in the recent November open post and I thank him for the idea.
As best I can tell, it appears that around half the Ticonderoga fleet is sitting, rotting, pier side – retired and scrapped in all but name and the Navy has proposed officially retiring 7 Ticonderogas in 2022 with the remainder of the class being retired as quickly after that as the Navy thinks they can get Congress to allow.
While the reasonable supposition would be that the Ticonderogas would be replaced by a new cruiser class, the Navy has suggested that a Ticonderoga replacement may be a family of vessels (and UAVs or manned aircraft?) rather than a single ship. It’s also possible that there may never be a true replacement and that the less capable Burke Flt III may be the semi-replacement.
Beyond vague, speculative articles on the Internet, there’s no real information about a Ticonderoga replacement so let’s speculate using the Navy’s single, vague statement about a family of platforms, the known push by the Navy towards smaller, unmanned vessels, and the Navy’s general desire to move towards unmanned or minimally manned vessels and see where that takes us regarding a Ticonderoga replacement.
|Ticonderoga Class Cruiser|
The key is to recognize the Navy’s driving forces for ship design:
Minimal Manning – This not only means manned with a minimal crew but also unmanned. In other words, the Navy wants to operate platforms with as few people as possible with the Holy Grail being entirely unmanned platforms and an unmanned navy.
Cost – The Navy continually attempts to design and build ‘cheap’ ships and continually fails spectacularly. Despite the constant failure, they still keep trying to achieve ‘cheap’.
Numbers – The Navy has a myopic focus on hull numbers – AS LONG AS THEY’RE NEW HULLS – and don’t really care whether those hulls offer any useful combat capability – witness the LCS and Zumwalt. In an apparent contradiction, the Navy has no interest in maintaining and upgrading older hulls so as to increase numbers – only new hulls matter in the Navy’s eyes.
Technology – The Navy is obsessed with new, cutting edge technology which, to them, means artificial intelligence, networking, data, and centralized command and control. It is vital to note that firepower is not among the valued technology elements.
So, having considered the driving forces for Navy ship design, what kind of cruiser replacement design does that lead us to?
The obvious conclusion is that the Navy will do exactly as they have stated and replace the Ticonderoga class with a family of unmanned or minimally manned vessels. That being the case, what would a family of cruiser replacements be?
To answer that, we have to recognize the functions that the Navy wants a cruiser to perform:
With that in mind, what are the ‘breakdowns’ of a cruiser’s functions that could be distributed to a family of platforms?
Weapons – This would be a floating VLS barge, in essence; a missile magazine.
Sensors – This would be a dedicated radar platform. Given the need for endurance on the order of weeks and 24/7 persistence, this has to be a ship. In concept, the vessel would be a blockhouse with 3-4 radar faces spaced around the structure. As such, it could be quite small. The Burke’s radar arrays are contained within an approximate 60 ft square superstructure. This would lead to a very small vessel even allowing for engine space and other requirements.
Command – This would be a small vessel whose purpose is to communicate with, and control, the various components of the cruiser ‘family’. Thus, this would be a network ship with command functions.
Aviation – Aviation facilities, meaning flight deck, hangar, workshops, magazines, etc., are extremely inefficient in the sense that the same function(s) are repeated for every helo-capable ship. The more logical and cheaper approach would be to condense several aviation facilities into a single ship … a helo/UAV carrier. This does not have to be, and should not be, a giant amphibious ship like the current LHAs and the like. Instead, this should be a moderate size vessel whose only function is aviation and would carry around six or so helos and a dozen small to medium size UAVs.
We should note that the Navy has already begun the process of producing a large displacement unmanned surface vessel that will essentially be a missile barge – an unmanned mini-arsenal ship. Several ships are already budgeted. In addition, the Navy has also begun the process of producing a smaller displacement, unmanned, sensor (ISR) vessel.
There you have it. We can envision four separate unmanned or lightly manned vessels that would make up the family of a cruiser function. Of course, none of the individual components would be as capable as the function contained within the parent Ticonderoga cruiser. I really hope someone is gaming this out in a realistic fashion because this is a path that will be difficult to come back from.