Nuclear Burke Cruisers?

USS Bainbridge (CG 25) Firing Harpoon

USS Bainbridge (CG 25) firing a Harpoon missile in 1992.

UPDATE April 2009: Lots of folks are coming here looking for an image of the USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) because of the pirates story. The USS Bainbridge in this post is an older ship that was decommissioned in 1996. For an image of the new USS Bainbridge, go HERE.

Could a nuclear-powered version of the venerable Arleigh Burke DDG 51-class destroyer become the next missile cruiser for the U.S. Navy?



Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., chairman of the seapower subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, said March 6 he is seeking to add money to the 2009 request to fund an effort to build a nuclear-powered warship that would supplant construction of the DDG 1000 destroyers.

The new ship would be a slightly larger version of the 9,200-ton DDG 51s, powered by one nuclear reactor of the type developed for the new Gerald R. Ford CVN 78-class aircraft carriers.

Taylor said he would end the DDG 1000 Zumwalt class at the two ships already ordered and cancel plans to build a total of seven of the ships.

There’s not a lot of reason to be a major fan of the DDG-51s, but the DDG-1000s are one of the most compelling. At $3.3 billion (with a ‘B’) apiece, they threaten to derail the already-fragile shipbuilding plan if they go over budget or over schedule. And you know that they will be both way over budget and over schedule.

Compounding this concern is the fact that the Navy seems to be convinced that a larger DDG-1000 is the way to go for the CG(X) program, the class of ships that will replace the CG-47 Ticonderoga cruisers.

“There’s a significant challenge in and of itself of going nuclear on any surface combatant,” Navy Secretary Donald Winter told reporters following the hearing. “To be able to do that within fiscal constraints on an existing platform that was never designed to accommodate a nuclear reactor further complicates the matter. Never say never – I’m sure there’s somebody someplace who will figure out how to do it. The question is, does that wind up being a cost-effective solution?”

Now, I realize that there are all sorts of factors working against putting a nuclear reactor into a DDG-51. But to hear someone use “fiscal constraints” as an argument against it and questioning the “cost-effectiveness” of it while simultaneously supporting the DDG-1000 is surreal at best.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, who, as a commander, commissioned the second Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, doubted a reactor could be placed in the DDG 51 hull.

“I built one, crawled all through it,” Roughead told reporters. “I’m not a marine engineer, but to put a nuclear power plant in that hull, even if you scale it up – I question whether you can do it.”

Again, there would no doubt be many challenges. And I’m not really arguing in favor of it. But let’s not forget the USS Bainbridge (CGN 25), built at the end of the 1950s. Before she was the CGN 25, she was the DLGN 25, a guided missile destroyer leader. In the 1975 ship reclassification, she was redesignated a cruiser.

Here’s a comparison of the Bainbridge to the Burke, with the USS Leahy (CG 16) tossed in because the Bainbridge was a modified Leahy-class ship, much like some are proposing to modify the Burke-class design for nukes:


I don’t know by how much, but today’s nuclear reactors are significantly smaller than those of 1961. The Burke’s smaller crew would help, though there would likely be some additions due to the power plant.


  1. Oh goody, lets place a nuclear reactor in a ship design that has ready been proven to be flawed. Personally I was embarrassed for the Navy. Last week, as show of strength the Navy sent the USS Cole off the coast of Lebanon – but they were sure to point out that it was over the horizon, so no one would see it or take pot shots at it. Now when the New Jersey showed up off the coast, that was a show of force. With the 3-5 billion for a DD(X), why not throw a nuclear reactor in the New Jersey.

  2. That makes even more sense. James, stop it! 🙂 Personally I would build ships like I build software – KISS. Stick to what works and then build on top of that, rather than try to come up with some kind of new ‘wondership’ which will never actually get built.

  3. I want to be clear that I don’t necessarily think nuclear Burkes are the right way to go. In fact, I’ve never been much of a fan of the Burkes at all. Not as our primary surface ship, anyway. But given the choice between a next-gen Burke and the DDG-1000, I’ll take the next-gen Burke. Let’s tweak an existing system rather than break the bank on a concept that is troubled at best. Upsize and strengthen the Burke hull for a nuclear power plant and the DDG-1000’s 155mm AGS. Incorporate some of the automation and other new stuff developed for the DDG-1000 and we’ll come out far ahead of the current plan to put all the eggs in the DD(X)/CG(X) basket. As you all should know by now, I’d really like to see a return to hulls more like the WW2-era ships with some real guns (even one 8′ turret) paired with AEGIS, VLS, and modern systems. Add in a 2010 version of the FFG-7s and we’d be a lot better off than we’re going to be. I’m not anti-LCS, though at the current price they’re beyond pushing it. Pare down the LCS to operate quietly near the shore under the direction of a ship over the horizon performing the AWACS role and we’d have all the surface stealth we’d really need. The concept of a ‘stealth ship’ radiating everything a modern ship radiates is simply ludicrous. Dumping almost the entire budget into the program is disastrous.

  4. And what was the most revolutionary surface combatant of the 20th century? The HMS Dreadnought. How revolutionary was she, though? Did the Brits dump most of what they knew and pile in a hundred new and untested systems into a new and untested hull? No. They just took what they knew worked, ditched what didn’t, and made a few incremental steps forward like any other new class of ship.

  5. Actually, Murdoc, the Dreadnaught combined at least two major innovations: the all-big-gun armament, skipping the intermediate battery, and turbine propulsion. It was also longer and bigger than its contemporary, the Lord Nelsons, meaning it was a huge investment could have been a major disaster for the British. As it was, it did have one serious design flaw: the forward exhaust stack was situated in front of the lookout platform, meaning that at full power the platform was nearly uninhabitable from the smoke. J.

  6. Sure, ‘all big guns’ was what really set the Dreadnought apart. But there was nothing revolutionary about the guns. Simply a matter of taking something already in use and tweaking the way it was used. The machinery was definitely a big step up, but it wasn’t a truly ground-breaking change that could be considered ‘revolutionary.’ When the Navy first put a nuclear power plant in a sub, it used a more or less standard design for the rest of the boat. Same for the first nuclear carriers. Neither the Dreadnought, nor the Nautilus, nor the Enterprise broke as much new ground as the Navy is trying to do with the Zumwalt. A lack of large shipbuilding budget has helped force all the new technologies into one class of ship, but that move is breaking the budget and jeopardizing the future of the fleet.

  7. Talk about lack of shipbuilding industry- no American yard today could produce any superdimensional fortress. No budget for manufacturing plant, what about budget for new robotech and shadowtech research and applications? Or are we just going to outsource every future SDF to the Robotech Masters?

  8. Basically it’s either that or we dredge up an old WW2 battleship and refit it as a space cruiser. If we go that route, let’s get one of the big ones.

  9. I don’t know what kind of spaces you need to support a hyperspace fold generator and reflex furnace(s), but I should think monsters like the Iowas would do. You know, if the Yamato doesn’t turn up.