Another TICONDEROGA retires

USS Vincennes Decommissions

vincennes.jpgThe USS VINCENNES, probably best-known for accidentally shooting down an Iranian airliner on July 3rd, 1988, is going into reserve. She’s the fourth TICONDEROGA-class cruiser to be decommissioned since last August.

For a transcript of Ted Koppel’s 1992 piece on the investigation of the Iranian Air incident, see this page.

These ships had originally been scheduled to be retired beginning in 2018 or so, but plans change. The first five ships (Baseline 0 and Baseline 1) were not equipped with VLS (vertical launch system) and still carried an early version of the AEGIS air defense system, and instead of upgrading them as planned, it was decided to retire the ships.

From an article on the retiring of the TICONDEROGA herself:

Much like with a maintenance availability when a ship is in a shipyard, contractor personnel are responsible for much of the heavy maintenance work.

Contracted personnel are responsible for removing pieces of equipment too large for ship’s crew to maneuver or which have to be physically cut or unbolted from the ship’s structure. Additionally the area responsible for ensuring all the sea valves are closed, sealed with a blank flange, and wired shut. The Ticonderoga has 95 major sea valves.

Contracted personnel are also responsible for preparing the ship for towing, and ensuring the ship is airtight, sealing off all ventilation shafts, and any other shaft or system where air or water could possibly get into the ship.

The Navy will recapitalize the equipment being removed from the Ticonderoga. The radar antenna, other antennas from the ship’s mast, weapons systems illuminators, and much of the engineering equipment have already been removed and are being redistributed to other ships in the Navy as needed.

The last of the five ships marked for early retirement, the USS THOMAS S. GATES, will be decommissioned later this year.

With the DD(X) program in doubt, some may wonder why not upgrade these cruisers to modern specs instead of building new destroyers with multi-billion dollar pricetags. Well, the secret is that the TICONDEROGA cruisers are built with the hulls and propulsion of destroyers. In fact, the TICONDEROGAs were originally classed as destroyers. The SPRUANCE-class destroyers, upon which the TICONDEROGAs are based, have a length of 564 feet and a displacement of 9,200 tons. The TICONDEROGAs have a length of 567 feet and a displacement of 9,600 tons.

So while the SPRUANCEs might be a bit big for destroyers, the TICONDEROGAs are certainly small for cruisers. By comparison, the BOSTON-class cruisers, which were the first to be modified from WW2 BALTIMORE-class heavy cruisers to missile cruisers, were 673 feet long and displaced 17,500 tons. Maybe they should have split the difference and at least called both the SPRUANCEs and the TICONDEROGAs ‘light cruisers’. The CLEVELAND-class light cruisers of WW2 were 610 feet long and displaced 10,000 tons.

This means that the ships are crowded. And, as I’ve noted previously, top-heavy. And the hulls have a tendency to crack slightly.

Though they’ve served well, the early TICONDEROGAs won’t really be missed much. And their size (or lack of) means that they can’t really be upgraded to utilize the Advanced Gun System, one of the new weapons developed for the DD(X) program.


  1. I wonder if it would be so hard to upgrade a BB with AGS? They certainly shouldn’t have a problem, size-wise. As a bonus, not only will the hull be very well armored to start with, you could put a lot of armor on the gun turrents too and the mountings and hull should be able to take it just fine. In addition, you could relocate the ship command inside the hull (thanks to all that nice space) and leave the superstructure for sensors and communications (radar, cameras, antennae, etc.) making the ship able to fight through a fierce engagement. While you’re at it, might as well upgrade the propulsion to nuclear and install a bunch of VLS tubes if they aren’t already there. Then stick some RAM missile launchers and high-rate-of-fire cannons around the edges. When you’re finished you’d have a very tough, fast-moving surface-to-surface/surface-to-air gun/missile platform. Surely that has to be easier than building a whole new fleet of ships? What’s more it would be a proof-of-concept of the other systems which would eventually get their own ship. I think the military can take a lesson from Bob: Baby Steps. Instead of trying to come up with 20 new technologies all at once and get them working together, why not take an existing platform and upgrade it piecemeal? You get to find out what works, what doesn’t, and what’s over-budget. You get to iron out all the bugs. I guess, what do I know…

  2. Nicholas: You have some good ideas, but there are a few problems. 1: The AGS system has not been proven to work. 2: Even if the AGS works as advertised, upgrading the existing 16 inch ammo and cannons will deliver greater range, while having a greater yield. You can do a lot with a 16 inch gun. 3: 16 inch gun aside, if the AGS is proven to work, I would not be put out if someone decided to mount multipl AGS in place of some of the BB 5 inch guns. (2) AGS per side sounds right. 4: The BB’s do not have vls, but you could replace each existing 5 inch guns with a 16 round VLS. For a total of 96 rounds. 5: Nuclear power? Not going to happen. That would be a huge undertanking, that would require you to litterally take apart the ship. That said, you could install a high power fuel cell in some of the freed spaces. In short, your idea, has been one that has been kicked around for some time. The main driver is the BB’s armor and the power of the 16 inch guns. Perhapse we can get lucky and have McCain, force the navy to upgrade teh BB’s and ditch the DD(X) Of course if you believe that will happen, I have bridge you might be interested in buying.

  3. Well obviously it would be better to have long range 16′ guns than long range 155mm guns, except for from the ammunition storage standpoint – although you obviously need less of the bigger ammo for the same effect. I imagine, since 16′ projectiles are so much bigger than 155mm, it would be easier to build rocket-assisted/base bleed/ramjet-powered rounds for it and they could go further/carry more. So, if these ships and guns exist, why not develop better rounds for them rather than trying to develop whole new ships with whole new guns? But like I said, what do I know..

  4. Good points…One interesting tid bit, is that the Iowa class battleships can only carry 1200 or so 16 inch shells. Current 16 inch shells developed APC Mark 8 – 2,700 lbs. (1,225 kg) HC Mark 13 – 1,900 lbs. (862 kg) HE-CVT Mark 143 HC shell with Controlled Variable Time (CVT) fuze. Nuclear Mark 23 – 1,900 lbs. (862 kg) [Only the Iowa, New Jersey & Wisconsin were upgraded to carry nuclear shells. Yield 20KT) Anti-Personnel Mark 144 Modified Mark 13 shell body, designed to dispense anti-personnel submunitions after a shell burst. Considered exceptionally effective against personnel, aircraft and other ‘soft’ targets. Carried 400 M43A1 anti-personnel ‘Bouncing Betty’ grenades with time-fuzes. Anti-Personnel Mark 146 (Planned) Similar to Mark 143, but contained 666 M42/M46/M77 SADARM bomblets with time-fuzes. Does not appear to have entered service. HE-ER Mark 148 (Planned) Sub-caliber 13 in (33 cm) extended-range projectile with sabot. ET-fuzed with a payload of submunitions. These were experimented with in the 1980s, but this projectile was cancelled in FY91 when the battleships were decommissioned. IMO, the battleships 16inch gun has it all over the AGS. The only exception is the rate of fire. That said, rate of fire is not a big issue as the 16inch rounds are so much more capable. Other point: Active Defenses. A 155mm shell is much more vulnerable to active defenses (Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems) then a 16 inch round. One key point about the DD(X) is that its all electric power system generates a huge surplus of power. Power that could be used to power lasers and the like. A DD(X) power output is about 75 MW. Note this power is for everything, propulsion, sensors, weapons… So diverting power to weapons, results in a ship not moveing. A battleship generates 10 MW of free electrical power. With any upgrade, it should not stretch things to much to upgrade the powerplants to produce 20 to 30 MW of power.

  5. The USS Constitution is still a commissioned US Navy warship. Perhaps we could backfit a VLS to it. Old Ironsides is a proven warship; in addition it’s stealthy, requires no fuel, and relatively few personnel compared to a Iowa class battleship. Of course, launching a missile from an amidships VLS would probably light the sails on fire.

  6. Buckethead: Good idea but not quite on the mark. The US Navy is keeping the USS Constitution as its secret weapon. Its heavy armor(compared to modern ships) and inherit resistance to EMP weapons is the key. You see when the US is attacked by waves of small stealthy ships wielding swarms of cruise missiles… we are going to EMP them then at the proper moment we are going to unleash the full broadsides of the USS Constitution on the weakened enemy ships.

  7. One of the more worrisome aspects of our military power is the incredible degree to which we are dependent on technology. The vast advances in lethality we’ve made over the last quarter century are almost solely the result of space and computer technology. The guns, planes, ships that we use are largely the same as they were in 1980. What is different is communications, guidance and intelligence. If by some evil magic all electronics were destroyed, we would be so screwed. The Russkies and the Chicoms would have the upper hand.

  8. If by some evil magic all electronics were destroyed, we would be so screwed. The Russkies and the Chicoms would have the upper hand.’ Nah, I would not even worry about the Russkies and Chicoms, as US as a nation would be over in about 2 weeks, and the bulk of the population dead in about 7 weeks.

  9. The Constitution is impervious to mines, torpedoes and missles. It can employ the state of the art carronade with grape shot and knipple salvos. She can be installed with the latest telecommunications gear, the can and the string. She can launch marines in her ultra quiet and fast rowed dingy for deep strikes. The 150mm rounds from the Chinese Sovremmenies would just bounce off her ‘Old Iron Sides’ just like they did against the French 200 yrs ago. We can recommission the original Constellation to go with her (I think the historic society only needs 20k dollars) and we can replace both Iowa BBs with a real force multiplyer that the Constitution brings to the modern age (a museum).