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The New Cruisers

March 2, 2008

“Where are the Cruisers?” asks the blogger over at Information Dissemination. Since the Second World War and the dawn of the airpower age, the navy cruiser has been forced to reject its traditional role in sea warfare and huddle under the protective wings of the aircraft carrier. Here’s how Wikipedia defines the vessel:

“Historically a cruiser was not a type of ship but a warship role. Cruisers were ships—often frigates or smaller vessels—which were assigned a role largely independent from the fleet. Typically this might involve missions such as raiding enemy merchant shipping. In the late 19th century the term ‘cruiser’ came to mean ships designed to fulfill such a role, and from the 1890s to the 1950s a ‘cruiser’ was a warship larger than a destroyer but smaller than a battleship.”

If we took the historical definition then that cruiser means a ship’s role in sea combat, this then is where the modern submarine comes in. During the same time period that the traditional cruisers were increasingly tied to the carrier task forces, the US Navy was deploying what they termed as “cruiser submarines“. These long-legged warships saw the role forced upon them as the surface ship faced increased threats against its previously independent role, and naval leaders saw the advantage of the undersea boat’s built-in stealth qualities.
As well as devastating the Japanese merchant fleet in its new role, the submarine also performed many other traditional cruiser duties, which included long-range scouting, and surveillance missions. On occasion small landing parties were also off loaded for short raids. Into the Cold War these same missions became the norm, and a new role of anti-submarine warfare was also bequeathed, just as another cruiser was once considered the antidote to an enemy cruiser.

The advent of smooth hulls, and the higher speeds garnered from nuclear energy only enhanced the cruiser capabilities of the submarine. During the 1960’s and 70’s the idea of the surface cruiser operating independent of naval airpower made a brief comeback. The Soviets began the trend with powerful new guided missile cruisers, especially the giant Kirov and Kiev classes. Each possessed a vast missile battery of anti-ship and anti-air weapons. In the case of the Kiev, a flight deck for attack vertol airplanes actually supplemented its main missile armament.

The Americans responded with a less radical innovation. 4 antique but still serviceable Iowa class battleships were refurbished with cruise missiles and formed into so-called “Surface Action Groups” which also included guided missile cruisers and destroyers. There were never any serious plans to operate such squadrons very long without the protective cover of airpower, however.

If the old surface cruisers couldn’t face the new challenge posed by naval bombers at sea, how much less can it continue its independent role In the age of supersonic and hypersonic missiles. Such a mission would be disastrous in concept.this makes the cruiser submarine even more vital for its ability to stay safely submerged out of harms way against the new advanced weapons.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 6, 2008 12:02 am

    Sounds fascinating, Rick. Hope you can keep us informed of any more little known facts such as these!

  2. rickusn permalink
    March 5, 2008 10:15 pm

    My pleasure to be sure.

    There are many misconceptions about the USN during the Cold war.

    Dont even get me started on the whole “Convoy” issue or the “ASW” issue or the “WWII-built destroyer replacement” issue.

    All interconnected and very much misunderstood IMHO.

    In particular the Knox and Perry classes.

    Or for that matter the much ballyhooed 600 ship Fleet which again was more a symbol than an actual dire need.

    As the USN was never very far away from that total in the first place.

    Sorry to be so long.

    But history has to be seen correctly to put the present in proper perspective and to adeqautely chart a course for the future.

    Itr amy not seem like events of 20/30/40/50/60 years ago are relevant.

    But in an organization where change comes slowly if at all I find it imperative that the post-WW II era be seen in a much more seamless whole than it is.

    It may at first seem a daunting proposition but in reality isnt.

    MY starting point is the quest to replace the 250 WWII destroyers in service at the end of the Korean War.

    Along with a constant requirement for a 16 carrier force.

    Looking at USN programs and initiatives with that as a focus.

    USN decisions become far clearer.

    Of course IMHO.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 5, 2008 2:09 pm

    I honestly didn’t know that about the SAG’s preceding the Iowas. Thanks for pointing this out, Rick!

    For the time period, I think the reactivation was a great strategy, more as a symbol than a weapon of war. If we had to fight a real war at sea, i might have been worried.

    I no longer support the reactivation of the remaining BB’s as some do, because of the increased proliferation of d/e submarines with cruise missiles in the littoral environment these ships would be used. Not to mentioned the intensive manning they’d require, which just ain’t there no more! Also, I think the JDAM has finally sunk the need for battleships as Marine fire support. Gone but not forgotten.

  4. rickusn permalink
    March 5, 2008 4:37 am

    “The Americans responded with a less radical innovation. 4 antique but still serviceable Iowa class battleships were refurbished with cruise missiles and formed into so-called “Surface Action Groups” which also included guided missile cruisers and destroyers.”

    Actually “Surface Action Groups” were already formed in the USNs Conceptual Formations plans.

    See page 11 of document. Page 39 of acrobat reader.

    After Reagan was elected President the BBs were reactivated by a rather hasty decision and tacked on to these existing formations.

    Somehow many people forget this apparently in an attempt to portray the battleship reactivations as something more than what they were.

    Which was as a 1) symbol of renewed conmmittment to a strong navy, 2) a hedge until enough new carriers entered service(ie 15 deployable***),3) a relatively cheap and quick way to get Tomahawk to sea sooner and 4) a way to appease those concerned with a lack of NGFS for the USMC.

    Im neither pro- or anti- BB.

    They simply are/were another tool but certainly were no panacea.

    The fact that their Phase II upgrades were quickly shelved(before the last even began reactivation) is testimony to the limited amd temporary measure the reactivations were seen as by the USN.

    *** With a carrier always envisioned to be in SLEP/RCOH this meant 16 Total in order for 15 to be considered deployable.

  5. Galrahn permalink
    March 2, 2008 8:56 pm

    Thanks for responding.

    As usual I have a retort for ya brother.


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