Out of the eight classes of ships that make up the Naval Surface Force, one of the most well known types is the guided-missile cruiser, known simply as cruiser, or CG. From their original functions in blockade enforcement, commerce raiding, scouting, and sea-denial, to their current role as carrier strike group offense and protection, cruisers have long filled critical mission roles in the surface force.
Often thought of in conjunction with U.S. Navy destroyers for their close working ties, cruisers are large multi-mission surface combatants. While powerful and capable enough to operate on their own, cruisers are often referred to as “support vessels” because of the important role they play in Navy operations – being primarily deployed in battle groups, cruisers are near- and far-striking ships with multiple and mission-specific roles.
At 567 feet long, cruisers can reach impressive speeds of over 30 knots via four gas turbine engines while being operated by a crew of 24 officers and 340 enlisted Sailors. With sophisticated guided-missile systems, these agile surface warfare ships can take out virtually any target in the air, the sea, beneath the waves or on the shore as needed to lead a strike or protect the fleet against aircraft, submarines, and other ships.
They can operate as Air Warfare (AW), Undersea Warfare (USW), Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS), and Surface Warfare (SUW) surface combatants, capable of supporting carrier battle groups, amphibious forces, flagships or surface action groups, or be tasked with independent missions.
Cruisers are armed with a Mark 41 (MK 41) vertical launching system, Standard Missile (MR); Vertical Launch Anti-Submarine Rocket (ASROC) (VLA); Tomahawk Cruise Missile giving them additional long range Strike Warfare (STRW); Six MK-46 torpedoes (from two triple mounts); Two MK 45 5-inch/54 caliber lightweight guns; Two Phalanx Close-In-Weapons Systems and two SH-60 Seahawk (LAMPS III) helicopters. Some cruisers have also been outfitted with Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) capability.
While a number of the earliest Ticonderoga class cruisers have been decommissioned, others are set to undergo a structured modernization over the course of the next several years to upgrade them to ensure they serve the fleet effectively through the year 2030 when they are projected to reach their 35-year service life. The Cruiser Modernization program aims to improve ships by modernizing the computing and display infrastructure, and the Hull, Mechanical and Electrical (HM&E) systems. Weapons and sensor sets will also be improved in order to upgrade ships’ anti-submarine capabilities and add short-range electro-optical systems that can monitor the ship’s surroundings without the use of radar emissions. Additionally, they’ll receive routine machinery upgrades to improve all areas of ship functionality.
With their lightning-quick communications, space-based radar systems, precision weapons and advanced engineering systems, U.S. Navy cruisers will continue to be lethal, mission flexible warships, capable of fulfilling both carrier strike group offense and protection, as well as other critical roles in the surface force, for many years to come.