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Surface Forces: The Last Of Its Kind
   Next Article → MEXICO: Sending In The Marines
December 15, 2010: The U.S. Navy's 22 cruisers are cracking up. Over 3,000 cracks have been found in these ships, mainly in the aluminum superstructure and deck plates. For most of the decade, the cracks were just noted, and a year or more later, when it was time for the next shipyard overhaul, repairs were made. But now, some of the cracks are so bad, that ships have to be sent back to a port for repairs. The navy has been using this type of aluminum, which is an alloy containing five percent magnesium, since 1958. The problem was that eventually, the magnesium leaches out of the aluminum, which is now weaker and more subject to corrosion. Not a lot weaker, but enough. That's because steel will flex a bit to handle the stress of rough seas, while the aluminum won't, and eventually develops cracks. Lots of cracks. Meanwhile, the navy has a problem, as these cruisers are supposed to remain in service for at least another decade. The navy believes it can keep these cruisers in good repair, at an affordable cost, so they can remain in service. That's nice, because these are the last naval cruisers to remain in service. The Ticonderoga is the end of an era. No one else uses them anymore.

You could see this coming four years ago, when the United States sent its last all-gun cruiser, the USS Des Moines, to be broken up for scrap. The Des Moines was ordered during World War II, but did not enter service until 1948. It's displacement of over 17,000 tons, and armament of nine 8 inch guns, made it as powerful as some of the first modern battleships of 40 years earlier. The Des Moines class ships were the largest cruisers ever built. Russia has built some battle cruisers, carrying lots of large anti-ship missiles, and helicopters, rather than large cannon. But these are not traditional cruisers, and the Russians don't call them cruisers.

The modern cruiser was developed in the late 19th century, as a sort of "battleship lite." Cruisers were meant to maintain order in out-of-the way places, where hostile battleships were not present. Large and powerful enough to defeat any local warships, cruisers also became escorts for battleships, and later aircraft carriers, in the 20th century. But by the 1950s, missiles began to replace guns as the major weapons on warships.

The original cruisers displaced less than 10,000 tons, but by World War II, that had increased by 50 percent. Destroyers, which a century ago were small ships, displacing about 1,000 tons, grew to about 3,500 tons during World War II, and nearly 10,000 tons today. This weight inflation got so out of hand that, two decades ago, the U.S. Navy reclassified it's Ticonderoga class destroyers, which eventually displaced 10,000 tons, as cruisers. For a while, the U.S. wanted build a new class of 32 destroyers, the DD(X) (later called the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyer), that displaced 14,000 tons. These ships are 180 meters (600 feet) long and 24.6 meters (81 feet) wide. A crew of 140 sailors operate a variety of weapons, including two 155mm guns, two 40mm automatic cannon for close in defense, 80 Vertical Launch Tubes (containing either anti-ship, cruise or anti-aircraft missiles), six torpedo tubes, a helicopter and three helicopter UAVs. At least one of these ships will be built, and maybe three. Costing over $3 billion each, they are just too expensive,

To put all this in perspective, consider that, a century ago, a Mississippi class battleship displaced 14,400 tons, was 124 meters (382 feet) long and 25 meters (77 feet) wide. A crew of 800 operated a variety of weapons, including four 12 inch, eight 8 inch, eight 7 inch, twelve 3 inch, twelve 47mm and four 37mm guns, plus four 7.62mm machine-guns. There were also four torpedo tubes. The Mississippi had a top speed of 31 kilometers an hour, versus 54 for DD(X). But the Mississippi had one thing DD(X) lacked, armor. Along the side there was a belt of 23 cm (9 inch) armor, and the main turrets had 30.5 cm (12 inch) thick armor. The Mississippi had radio, but the DD(X) has radio, GPS, sonar, radar and electronic warfare equipment.

The DD(X) would make quick work of the Mississippi, spotting the slower battleship by radar or helicopter, and dispatching her with a few missiles. The Mississippi's 12 inch guns had a maximum range of 18 kilometers, versus 130 kilometers for the Harpoon anti-ship missile. There has always been some debate if modern anti-ship missiles could really take down a battleship, what with all that armor and plenty of sailors for damage control work. We'll never know, but few warships have armor these days. The only exceptions are some large American aircraft carriers.

The designation "destroyer" has actually gone out of favor in most nations. Part of this is political correctness. Ships that, for a century, had been called "destroyers", are now usually called "frigates." Most American "destroyers" for the last few decades would be classified as "cruisers" for most of the last century. The proposed DD(X) is a 30 meters (100 feet) longer and 6 meters (20) feet wider than the current Arleigh Burke class destroyers. And with 50 percent greater displacement, weigh as much of World War II cruisers, and battleships of a century ago.

Moreover, the DD(X) will have half the crew of the Arleigh Burke destroyers it replaces. This will mean a lot more comfortable living conditions for the crew. This marks another major difference from 14,000 ton ships of a century ago. The Mississippi had most of the sailors sleeping in hammocks, tying them up during the day so there was room to sit down and eat. The Mississippi also had trough type urinals and unwalled johns in the heads, and salt water showers. Sailors spent a lot of time cleaning the ship, including scrubbing the deck and polishing and painting. The DD(X) accommodations will be more like what you would find in a cruise ship, and be built for low maintenance (including a stainless steel hull.)

DD(X) has four guns, the Mississippi had 48. But the Mississippi represented another milestone, it was the last of the "pre-Dreadnought" battleships. Warship designers in Britain and the United States had concluded that technology (longer range guns and better fire control) made it obvious that the next generation of battleships should put most of their firepower into the maximum number of the largest guns a ship could carry. While the British put their Dreadnought battleship into commission first (1906), the American USS Michigan, an 18,000 ton ship, was the first to be laid down. With eight 305mm (12 inch) guns and a top speed of 33 kilometers an hour, this type of battleship was the most powerful thing afloat until World War II, when aircraft carriers made battleships obsolete.

The DD(X) is still "pre" whatever the next dominant type of warship will be. But it's ironic that a hundred years later, the descendent of the 14,000 ton Mississippi is a 14,000 ton surface ship that has more firepower, a longer reach and the ability to see targets hundreds of kilometers away, and is called a destroyer. And what kind of destroyers escorted the Mississippi? They were ships of under a thousand tons displacement, with crews of about a hundred sailors. Armed with a few 76mm (3 inch) guns and some torpedoes, no one at the time expected them to evolve into a 14,000 ton warship.

What killed the DD(X) was size (too large) and cost (ditto). Today, the "battleship" is the aircraft carrier, and only a half a dozen countries can afford them. In fact, most of the world's aircraft carriers are possessed by one navy, that of the United States. For all other navies, their "battleship" is what the United States calls a "guided missile ship" (of either the destroyer or frigate variety.) The DD(X) is seen as a ship without a purpose, just as the Des Moines was. Thus the ship classes that evolved a century ago are fading away, to be replaced by something else. What exactly those new ships are is still unclear. It takes a war to decide such questions, and there have been very few naval wars since World War II.

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Skylark       12/16/2010 5:45:35 AM
     Cruisers were never meant to fight battleships, something the British learned the hard way at Jutland when Beatty's Battle Cruisers came up against the German High Seas Fleet Battleships.  A Cruiser was built with an emphasis on speed and range, with just enough firepower to deal with older warships, and just enough dash to run away from more powerful battleships.  The most important feature of the Cruiser, was the need for good sea keeping ability and sufficient range to be independent for long voyages.  This meant that Cruisers built around 1900 were typically larger than many contemporary battleships, with large crews being necessary to operate them.  The trade off to get this range was thinner armor and smaller guns, which limited their ability to stand in the line of battle, but made them very useful in more subtle ways. 
 
     The best use of the Cruiser, at least through WWI was commerce raiding as these ships were capable of vanishing into open ocean without the need to constantly call on ports to repair and refuel.  The best example of this was probably SMS Emden, just 3,300 tons and armed with 4 inch guns she managed to capture some 17 merchant ships before she was caught and destroyed by the larger and more capable HMAS Sydney armed with 6 inch guns.  Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were also effective, being famous for defeating a British Cruiser squadron, outgunning and sinking HMS Good Hope and Monmouth in the battle of Coronel, off the coast of Chile.  In time, these two German Cruisers were sunk by the much more powerful battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible, but the amount of effort and firepower required to deal with these threats were a good deal for the Germans, even though the damage was more a matter of prestige than economic or strategic. 
 
     By WWII, the Cruiser was more of a support ship, filling a niche between the Destroyer and the Battleship, while postwar Cruisers were frequently just gun types converted to missile Cruisers.  The Ticonderoga class Cruiser, for all intent and purposes is really just an over-weight Spruance class Destroyer, packed with a lot of advanced (for the day.) electronics, but armed and engined pretty much the same.  A modern Arleigh Burke Destroyer is every bit as capable as the 80's era Ticonderogas, so it would not surprise me if these Cruisers were retired sooner rather than later as a cost cutting move. 
 
     I don't know if the end of the Ticonderogas will mean the end of the definition of Cruiser.  Personally, I would define a modern Cruiser as any warship capable of mounting an attack and capable of  defending itself without the need for supporting vessels, the best examples probably being the ex-Soviet Sovremennys and the ex US Navy Kidds, though both being classed as Destroyers, actually fit the Cruiser definition better IMO.  Perhaps its more a matter of the Cruiser title becoming obsolete more than the ship itself.
 
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MarkR       12/16/2010 12:41:01 PM
"It's displacement of over 17,000 tons, and armament of nine 8 inch guns, made it as powerful as some of the first modern battleships of 40 years earlier. The Des Moines class ships were the largest cruisers ever built. "
 
We're the Alaska CB Class cruisers the largest cruiser class ever built? Displacing 30,000 tons, a main armament of 9-12 inch/50 cal guns, and a speed of 31 kts, the Alaska Class seems to be the largest US class of cruisers.
 
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Newton       12/16/2010 12:48:36 PM
I disagree with the author's statement that the effectiveness of modern anti ship missiles against batleships remains unknown when in fact it is clearly understood.  During naval evaluations of the Exocet ASM during the Falklands conflict, the navy calculated that an Exocet impact on the main belt of one of the Battleships still in the inventory at that time would at most cause the belt to crack slightly, with no internal damage whatsoever.
 
Witness the damage caused by 2 Exocets to the USS Stark - a small lightweight frigate with no armor whatsoever, yet the Stark survived and was returned to service following repairs.
 
A 1940s era battleship would require a large number of solid ASM hits before her fighting capacity was reduced, and with effective damage control action, it's doubtful that a battleship could actually be sunk by modern ASMs, for that you would need to use heavy air dropped weapons, i.e. bombs - the weapon that signalled the demise of these mighty ships in the first place.  Anti ship missiles were designed to counter modern, lighter vessels - not battleships, the DDX versus battleship encounter would be an interesting one.
 
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AThousandYoung       12/16/2010 3:30:48 PM
So many names for surface combatants...
 
Torpedo/missile boat
Destroyer
Cruiser
Corvette
Battleship
Battlecruiser
Frigate
 
Am I missing any?
 
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YelliChink       12/16/2010 4:38:47 PM

I disagree with the author's statement that the effectiveness of modern anti ship missiles against batleships remains unknown when in fact it is clearly understood.  During naval evaluations of the Exocet ASM during the Falklands conflict, the navy calculated that an Exocet impact on the main belt of one of the Battleships still in the inventory at that time would at most cause the belt to crack slightly, with no internal damage whatsoever.

 
Don't forget the carrier-killers developed by USSR, namely P-500, P-700 and 3M54.
 
 
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WarNerd       12/17/2010 1:06:29 AM

So many names for surface combatants...

Torpedo/missile boat
Destroyer
Cruiser
Corvette
Battleship
Battlecruiser
Frigate

Am I missing any?

Sure, but how many different historic periods do you want to include?
 
For openers you forgot (going back to WWI):
aircraft carrier
armored cruiser
destroyer escort
mine layer
mine sweeper
gunboat
monitor
 I assume you do not want to go crazy and include iron clad, razee, galleon, and trireme.
 
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WarNerd       12/17/2010 1:53:22 AM

We're the Alaska CB Class cruisers the largest cruiser class ever built? Displacing 30,000 tons, a main armament of 9-12 inch/50 cal guns, and a speed of 31 kts, the Alaska Class seems to be the largest US class of cruisers.

Only the US Navy called the Alaska Class a 'cruiser'.  By everyone elses standards they were battlecruisers, and called such.  The reason appears to be to emphasis their role as cruiser destroyers, and discourage anyone from thinking that they could go against battleships.
 
The design was supposed to have been conceived to hunt down the German Deutschland class pocket battleships and was close to the Scharnhorst class battleships in capabilities.
 
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heraldabc       12/19/2010 1:52:58 AM

Lots of mistakes...

Skylark       12/16/2010 5:45:35 AM

http://www.strategypage.com/CuteSoft_Client/CuteEditor/Images/anchor.gif" alt="" />     Cruisers were never meant to fight battleships, something the British learned the hard way at Jutland when Beatty's Battle Cruisers came up against the German High Seas Fleet Battleships.  A Cruiser was built with an emphasis on speed and range, with just enough firepower to deal with older warships, and just enough dash to run away from more powerful battleships.  The most important feature of the Cruiser, was the need for good sea keeping ability and sufficient range to be independent for long voyages.  This meant that Cruisers built around 1900 were typically larger than many contemporary battleships, with large crews being necessary to operate them.  The trade off to get this range was thinner armor and smaller guns, which limited their ability to stand in the line of battle, but made them very useful in more subtle ways. 


Depends on the navy. It was true for the French Marine to 1906 and for the US Navy, and the Russians until 1895. After Mahan things changed.

 

     The best use of the Cruiser, at least through WWI was commerce raiding as these ships were capable of vanishing into open ocean without the need to constantly call on ports to repair and refuel.  The best example of this was probably SMS Emden, just 3,300 tons and armed with 4 inch guns she managed to capture some 17 merchant ships before she was caught and destroyed by the larger and more capable HMAS Sydney armed with 6 inch guns.  Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were also effective, being famous for defeating a British Cruiser squadron, outgunning and sinking HMS Good Hope and Monmouth in the battle of Coronel, off the coast of Chile.  In time, these two German Cruisers were sunk by the much more powerful battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible, but the amount of effort and firepower required to deal with these threats were a good deal for the Germans, even though the damage was more a matter of prestige than economic or strategic. 

 

Cruisers were also commerce protection.


     By WWII, the Cruiser was more of a support ship, filling a niche between the Destroyer and the Battleship, while postwar Cruisers were frequently just gun types converted to missile Cruisers.  The Ticonderoga class Cruiser, for all intent and purposes is really just an over-weight Spruance class Destroyer, packed with a lot of advanced (for the day.) electronics, but armed and engined pretty much the same.  A modern Arleigh Burke Destroyer is every bit as capable as the 80's era Ticonderogas, so it would not surprise me if these Cruisers were retired sooner rather than later as a cost cutting move. 


Cruisers maintained their WW I roles as scouts and as raiders and commerce protectors in WW II. In the US and Japanese navies they became carrier escorts and the default line of battle ships. In the US Navy this was because our old battle-line was too slow to fight the speedy Japanese destroyers and cruisers in a surface action and because most of our damaged battle-line was being rebuilt. Even as the old battle-line was rebuilt, the cruiser was a better companion for the carrier until the fast battleship made her appearance.

 

     I don't know if the end of the Ticonderogas will mean the end of the definition of Cruiser.  Personally, I would define a modern Cruiser as any warship capable of mounting an attack and capable of  defending itself without the need for supporting vessels, the best examples probably being the ex-Soviet Sovremennys a

 
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sTEVEct9    names of warships   1/9/2011 6:01:47 PM
sloop of war, armored cruiser, gunboat, LCS, all riverine craft, rowboat :) I AM a wise ass.
 
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sTEVEct9    names of warships   1/9/2011 6:02:54 PM
I believe the two Alaska class ships were, at least at one point, were called battle cruisers.
 
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