Sea-Air-Space 2021 Prequel: Cruisers’ Combat Systems Lagging Behind Threat, CNO Says

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday (from left) speaks with Naval Undersea Warfare Center Headquarters Director of Undersea Warfare Eugene Hackney Jr. as Christopher DelMastro, head, Division Newport’s Platform and Payload Integration Department, listens, during a visit to the Division on June 28, 2021. U.S. NAVY

ARLINGTON, Va.—The U.S. Navy’s 2022 budget proposal to decommission seven guided-missile cruisers is not just based on the age and material condition of the ships. According to the chief of naval operations (CNO), the lethality of the cruisers’ combat system is lagging behind the developing threat capabilities.

CNO Adm. Michael Gilday, speaking in a prerecorded webinar of the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Prequel, noted that the seven Ticonderoga-class cruisers are equipped with the SPY-1A or early SPY-1B radars, which are the oldest radars that are the main sensor of the Aegis Combat System. The SPY-1A is an analog system, increasingly anachronistic in the Digital Age.

The radars “are approaching obsolescence … and they have difficulty actually seeing the threat, based on the speed and the profiles that we see threat missiles flying at these days.”

Gilday said the cost to own and operate the seven CGs over the five-year Future Years Defense Plan would come to $5 billion.

“These ships on average right now are 32 years old,” he said. “We are seeing cracks. We are seeing challenges in the material condition of these ships that are, to a certain degree, unpredictable. So, they’re ‘unknown unknown.’ When we tried to deploy a ship most recently [USS Vella Gulf] and had to bring it back twice because of fuel tank cracks, is an example of something we just couldn’t predict that we have to react to, and it does have an impact on reliability. We need to be able to provide the secretary of defense reliable assets that they can count on to do the nation’s business.”

The CNO said the above factors “really came into play from a realistic standpoint in terms of making the argument for the best of those cruisers. The cost alone with respect to cruiser modernization is running tens of millions of dollars above what we had originally estimated, largely due to the unknowns that come into play with hulls that are over three decades old.”

The seven cruisers marked for decommissioning are USS San Jacinto (CG 56), USS Lake Champlain (CG 57), USS Monterey (CG 61), USS Hue City (CG 66), USS Anzio (CG 68), USS Vella Gulf (CG 72), and USS Port Royal (CG 73).