In the late 1970s, the United States was faced with an interesting problem in their Cold War with the USSR - that of overwhelmingly massive guided missile attack. While a single conventional-tipped cruise missile couldn't destroy an entire battle group, sixty of them certainly could. This sort of massed air assault could be countered by shooting down the incoming missiles with SAMs - but, there was no fire control system capable of handling that sort of target set. The answer that the US Navy devised was a system called AEGIS. The problem was, there was no ship available to carry it. The Spruance-class destroyers and California-class nuclear cruisers simply didn't have the space, and while the Iowa-class battleships did, they lacked the anti-air armament to make the expensive refit worth anyone's time. Compounding the problem was the fact that Russia had just built the first of the big Kirov-class cruisers, a massive and modern surface combatant that the USN just didn't have a good answer for.
Enter the enterprising design boys at NAVSEA. They proposed a design for an AEGIS-equipped cruiser, armed with two Standard Missile launchers, anti-submarine torpedoes, two SH-60B Seahawk helicopters, Tomahawk anti-ship missiles (these don't exist anymore), and to top it all off, a new-style 203mm naval gun, plus nuclear power. The Nuclear Strike Cruiser, or CSGN, as they called it, was to be America's answer to Kirov. The problem is, it was just too bloody expensive - they wanted more Nimitz-class carriers too. But, the need for an AEGIS escort was undeniable. So, back to the drawing board went NAVSEA, with an eye toward cutting costs
The new design was based on a lengthened Spruance-class hull, with the AEGIS fire control computers and associated radars mounted in a huge, hulking superstructure. Gone were CSGN's nuclear reactors, opting for cheaper (and easier to operate) LM2500 gas turbines instead. Also gone was the ambitious but troublesome 203mm gun, replaced with two of the tested and well-liked Mk. 45 127mm/54 caliber medium guns used in the
Spruance-class. The big Tomahawk armored box launchers were replaced with a smaller octuple X launcher for Harpoon antiship missiles, and the four Phalanx CIWS mounts were reduced to two. However, the helicopters, torpedo launchers and twin-arm Standard launchers were retained. They tagged this new, lower-cost AEGIS warship as a guided missile destroyer (DDG). Congress looked at the design, and authorized the building of three such vessels, starting with USS Ticonderoga, DDG-47.
It was quickly realized that the armament of the Ticonderoga-class outclassed any other destroyer afloat. Consequently they were redesignated as guided missile cruisers (CG). The three already under construction were reclassified, and the next two were ordered as cruisers from the get-go. No other changes were made at this juncture except to replace the SH-2 Seasprite helos on Ticonderoga with SH-60 Seahawks.
However, shortly after CG-51 USS Thomas S. Gates was ordered, weapons designers came up with something new - the Mk. 41 Vertical Launch System, a large box launcher for missiles. This had three key advantages. For one, the maximum missile capacity increased from 88 with the twin-arm launchers to 122. Second, the launchers could now accomodate Tomahawk missiles and Vertical Launch ASROC, as well as the Standard Missiles carried up to now. Third, there was no longer a launcher to reload between shots. The vertical launch system could fire one missile per two seconds from each launch cluster. This was simply too good an improvement to ignore, and so the next 21 cruisers, from the CG-52 USS Bunker Hill through the CG-73 USS Port Royal, were designed with this new missile system. The result was a ship more capable than most any other surface combatant afloat.
These ships are popularly known as the AEGIS-class due to the prominence of the AEGIS combat system in their design. However, this is not only technically incorrect, but misleading - they aren't the only ships with AEGIS. Nowadays the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers have it, as do their Japanese clones, the Kongo-class, and the Spanish Alvaro de Bazan-class frigates.
General characteristics, CG-52 Bunker Hill variant
- Crew: 358 (nominally, most units ship out with a few less)
- Displacement: 9,500 tons approximate
- Length: 172.8 meters (567 feet)
- Beam: 16.8 meters (55 feet)
- Draught: 9.5 meters (31 feet)
- Unclassified maximum speed: more than 30 knots
- Range: 6,000 miles
- Fire control system: Aegis combat system
- Guns: 2x BAE Mk. 45 Mod 3 127mm/54 automatic lightweight guns (AAW/ASuW/NGFS). 2x Bushmaster Mk. 38 25mm autocannon. 4-8 Browning M2 or GAU/19A 12.7x99mm NATO HMG (GAU/16 tri-barreled 12.7mm Gatling guns in some units). 2x Mk. 15 Phalanx CIWS
- Missile launchers: 2x Mk. 41 VLS, 61 cells each. Reloading cranes have been removed from some units for a total of 64 cells per launcher. Mk. 43 RAM to replace Phalanx on some units.
- Surface-to-surface missiles: 8x RGM-84D Harpoon anti-ship missiles (with auxiliary land-attack mode) in most units. Up to 128 RGM-109 Tactical Tomahawk land-attack missiles (with some anti-ship capability). VLS-launched missiles can be carried in any combination.
- Anti-aircraft missiles: RIM-66/RIM-156 Standard Block IIIb and/or Block IVA. RIM-161 SM3 ABM. Evolved Sea Sparrow missile in quadpacks (4 missiles per VLS cell (maximum 512 rounds). RIM-116 RAM to be installed on some units. Both Standard and ESSM have anti-surface modes. ESSM is far smaller, useful in this regard only against FACs or corvettes, while Standard is a threat to even the largest surface combatants.
- Anti-submarine missiles: RUM-139A Vertical Launch ASROC (inertial guidance) with Mk. 46 Neartip or Mk. 50 homing torpedo warhead.
- Torpedo tubes: 2x triple 324mm ASW tubes, Mk. 46, Mk. 50 or Mk. 54 torpedoes.
- Countermeasures: SRBOC chaff, TORCH infrared decoys, soids, Nulka multi-mode decoys, AN/SLQ-25 Nixie towed torpedo decoys, AN/SLQ-32 ECM unit.
- Power Plant: 4x GE LM2500 (20,000 HP variant) gas turbine engines, 80,000 total shaft horsepower. 2x controllable pitch propellers.