Procurement: Frankenships Shunned By All

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October 9, 2006: The U.S. Navy has decommissioned all 31 of its Spruance class destroyers. An interesting sidelight to that is that the U.S. tried to give away some of these ships, and there were no takers. The United States offered some of them, free, in a "hot transfer." That sort of arrangement is a pretty good deal, because the new owner gets a ship that is still in service, in good shape, and has an American crew that can show the foreign sailors just how to operate their new destroyer. With a "cold transfer", you get a ship that has been decommissioned and left in "reserve" somewhere for years. To get one of these ships back in service, millions of dollars must be spent.
Why did no one want a free Spruance? There were several reasons. First of all, the Spruances were expensive to operate, costing the U.S. Navy about $34 million a year each. This compared to $19 million for a Perry class frigate (a smaller warship), $26 million for a Burke class destroyer (the successor to the Spruance) and $35 million for a Ticonderoga class cruiser (a slightly larger ship built on a lengthened Spruance hull). The Spruances were a radical new destroyer design. For one thing, they were huge, some displaced 9,000 tons (three times the size of World War II destroyers), and crew size was about 330. There were some differences among the 31 Spruances put into service between 1975 and 1983, but all were unusual ships, too big to be a traditional destroyer, too small to be a cruiser. The last Spruance was decommissioned in 2005.
The Spruances were so large that, when it was decided to build a new class of cruisers (the Ticonderogas), the Spruance design was simply lengthened and filled out a bit to produce a 10,000 ton ship (only 11 percent larger than the Spruance.) During World War II, cruisers tended to be 2-3 times the size of destroyers, and displace about 10,000 tons. That size had been considered optimal for cruisers for several generations.
There also a number of problems with operating a Spruance. Nothing major, but they all added up. Foreign navies, when looking at a free Spruance, noted all of these things, and turned down the offer. For most navies, the Spruances were simply too big, troublesome and expensive to operate.
There was, however, a variant on the Spruances, the Kidd class, that Taiwan was willing to take. In late 2005, Taiwan took delivery of two of the four Kidd-Class destroyers, and renamed them Keelung and Suao. Displacing 9,700 tons and with a length of 563 feet, these destroyers are armed with two SM2 MR surface-to-air missile launchers, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, ASROC anti-submarine missiles, Mk46 anti-submarine weapons, two 5inch naval guns, two 20mm Phalanx anti-missile guns, and a flight deck for up to two helicopters.
The Kidd class were originally ordered by Iran in the late 1970s. But while still under construction, there was an Iranian revolution, which lead to the new Islamic Republic. That got the orders canceled. The U.S. Navy acquired these ships, leading to their nickname 'the Ayatollah Class'. These destroyers are actually cruisers, in terms of size and weapons and equipment carried. Like the following Ticonderoga Class AEGIS cruisers, the Kidds were built on a modified Spruance hull, and the class was originally designed for the littoral conditions of the Persian Gulf. While the Kidds lack the VLS missile systems of most recently modified Spruance class ships, they were outfitted with better anti-aircraft capabilities. This was what appealed to the Taiwanese, who face Chinese ships and aircraft in the Taiwan Straits.
The average Spruance had two five inch guns, a 61 cell VLS (vertical launch system) for launching Tomahawk and anti-aircraft missiles. There are also eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles, six anti-submarine torpedoes and two 20mm anti-missile gun systems. There are also two anti-submarine helicopters and radar and sonar systems.
The Burke Class, which first entered service in 1991, and is still under construction, has more anti-air capability (because of its Aegis radar system), than the Spruance, and is cheaper and easier to operate, even though it is about the same size in terms of displacement and crew.

 


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