Cruisers; The Big Boys? Or Just Really Big Toys?

First published: 5th May 2011 | Dr. Alexander Clarke

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This might seem a strange topic for consideration, after all the total number of cruisers within the worlds navies are very small, in fact there is only one in service outside of the realm of the Superpowers – and even with this it is only the navies of Russian and United State which possess and operate them. The superpower cruisers are:

United States Navy:
• Twenty Two Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers.

Russian Navy:
• Two Kirov-class large missile cruisers (sometimes referred to as battle cruisers due to their size),
• Two Slava-class missile cruisers (further one at reduced readiness, further one under construction, transferred from Ukrainian Navy to Russian Navy),
• Two (one) Kara-class.

The only other navy;
Peruvian Navy: One De Zeven Provinciën-class cruiser, the world’s last operational gun cruiser.

Now in complete opposite to the list above, I will start off with Peru’s entry into the world of cruisers. Almirante Grau’s (formerly De Ruyterof the Royal Netherlands Navy), has not only the title of the largest weight of shot fired currently in the world it is also the most powerful mobile artillery unit in the world. The De Zeven Provinciën class (pictured below) was a fairly effective design of cruiser which was built by both sides but never finished in time to serve either during World War II, but upon reaching active service provided the command ship elements in many NATO deployments after hostilities were over.

The Almirante Grau has been updated with Otomat Surface to Surface Missiles (SSM) – which puts in front of the brand new Type 45 Daringclass destroyers of the Royal Navy; however I am still not going to examine to depth of the other classes, for one reason it is not fair as it is so much older, secondly it is really not the purpose of this entry to compare cruisers of World War II to cruisers of the modern era but to compare those of the modern era. It was though worthy of a mention.

Now for the beginning of the meat and bones of this entry; the KaraClass of Russian Navy. The ‘Kara’ class design is generally similar to that of the Kresta II cruisers which preceded them, but the Kara’s are longer and are powered by gas rather than steam turbines; which perhaps is an explanation for the Kresta’s rapid disappearance post-Cold War opposed to the slow continuance of Kara construction. Originally the Kara’s mounted two SA-N-3 launchers fore and aft, with their associated Head Lights fire-control systems; which are perhaps the most dominant feature of the ship to look at.

The large mainmast supports the very large Top Sail radar. As in the Kresta II there are four SS-N-15 launchers either side of the bridge – a similar configuration to the Sovremenny Class destroyers. Unusually for an escort the helicopter is raised to flight deck level by a lift; something which is more associated with carriers and amphibious ships than an escort. The guns mounted on the `Kara’ class include two twin main 76.2 mm guns. As in the earlier ships, however, these are cited at the waist and have an arc of fire of some 150o on the beam; different from that of Sovremenny and Udaloy class destroyers where they are mounted centreline; this may of course reflect Russian Naval doctrine on the purpose of cruisers within task groups; but it also seems a reflection of the fact that the guns are not of primary importance in these vessels. Similarly, the 30 mm CIWS turrets are sited in two pairs either side of the stack covering their respective beams, but unable to cover the forward or after arcs; although how significant this might seem in action depends on the ships ability to manoeuvre within the situation the attack finds it. RFS Kerch, which is the only vessel in a state of true active service, entered refit in the late 1980s, which included the installation of a Flat Screen radar, in place of the Top Sail. Whilst, it is logical that this would have been installed in other remaining ship, the Ochakov, however as far as I know this is not the case.

The missile armament is these ships, like all modern cruisers, is their reason for being; starting out they have 2 quad SS-N-14 Silex anti-submarine missiles, the same armament as is fitted the Udaloy class anti-submarine destroyers. Added to this is the fairly impressive by soviet standards SA-N-3 Goblet surface to air missile launchers – with 80 missiles reportedly carried they were in some ways the equivalent of the early Ticonderoga class cruisers – which will be discussed later, the similarity of the level of importance attached to the air defence role is the fact they also pack the SA-N-4 Gecko surface to air missile launchers – with reportedly 40 reloads. This all fits in with a fairly potent radar system (according to all reports, if anyone can actually tell me the definitive Russian name for them I would be most impressed and grateful – I am not putting Owl Screech in my blog entry – it sounds way to much like a Bill Oddie nature documentary).

The Slava Class are different again, for starts the main guns have returned to the centreline, and its visual presence is dominated by the 16 (4 double launchers either sides of the main structure) for the P-500 Bazalt surface to surface missiles(SSMs) otherwise known as the SS-N-12 Sandbox missile. This system, the forerunner of the Shipwreck which is mounted on the Kirovs and will discussed later, is a system which is worthy of great respect. In the history of Russian made anti-ship missiles, this system has definite status. The reason for this status, I hear you ask? Simple, with a range in excess of 550km, a 950kg semi-armour-piercing high explosive warhead, and a speed measuring greater than 2.5 times the speed of sound – it is a weapon system which certainly puts the harpoon to shame, and doesn’t exactly cast the Exocet in a shining light. Added to this impressive system is the S-300F or as NATO calls it SA-N-6, its upgrade missile (compared to the land based version) with range extended to 90 km and maximum target speed of Mach 4; although it does have a more limited engagement altitude compared to its land counterpart, only 25-25,000 m. The radar system attached to this is the TOP PAIR – that is a TOP SAIL teamed with a BIG NET; a comprehensive system if not the technological equal of the of the American SPY Aegis system.

This system is itself further reinforced by the SA-N-4 Gecko system, as is also fitted in the Kara class; this system is aimed at far closer range system than the SA-N-6, only 15km, but it covers this range at 1020 m/s, so it is less than 15s from launch to maximum range – making it a useful system; although not quite on par with the British Seawolf. The missile systems on the Slava class are augmented by 1 twin AK-130 130mm/L70 dual purpose guns; as I have mentioned previously mounted centreline forward, this is supplement by 6 AK-630 close-in weapons systems. As is usually with Soviet era ships of this size it carries a comprehensive anti-submarine outfitting, 2 RBU-6000 anti-submarine mortars, and 10 (2 quin) 533mm torpedo tubes; along with a helicopter as well; although at current it seems to be whichever one can be found that works. There are not unsupported rumours that the final vessel of this class, which is still under construction in the Ukraine, will be sold to Chinese; surely a prospect they must be considering in light of their expressed desire to have 6 carrier groups in service by 2020; cruisers as the Russians, and the Americans acknowledge are important to such groups successful operations.

Undoubtedly, with this in mind, the Soviet navy commissioned the largest class of cruisers to ever be constructed, weighing in at 28,000 tons fully loaded, 4 of the class were completed and off these (Kirov) Admiral Ushakov has been inactive since the early 1990s; in fact slated for scrapping as of 2000, (Frunze) Admiral Lazarev has been laid up in Severomorsk, technically in reserve since 2004 – but is being worked on with a view to selling it to the Chinese, (Kalinin) Admiral Nakhimov has been undergoing repairs at Sevmash since 1999, but is not expected to rejoin the navy before 2012 if not 2015, and finally (Yuri Andropov) Pyotr Velikiy (pictured above) is active and serving as the flagship of the Northern fleet, something its namesake Peter the Great would have been proud off.

These goliaths of the escort world pack a very powerful punch centred on the massive P-700 Granit (SS-N-19 Shipwreck) AShM, 20 of which are carried. With a speed of 4.5x the speed of sound, a range of 625km, and capable of pulling manoeuvres of 16g; this is possibly the most dangerous anti-ship missile in the world; it packs the standard issue 750kg high explosive warhead, this is not a let down however as it is a very good warhead, and certainly can do what its intended. Of course however the real threat of this weapon is that like almost all soviet weapons it can have a nuclear warhead fitted – hence the NATO designation of Shipwreck is inappropriate it should ‘Carrier Battle group Wreck’ rather than mere shipwreck. It is role as Battle Group BFG (Big Freidly Giant – Ronald Dahl) it also carriers a very impressive, by any standard (and really it can afford to – it’s not lacking in space to put it) air defence arrangement. Working out in range from the ship, the SA-N-9 Gauntlet, which uses the same 9M330 missile as its land based version. They are stored within rotary VLS modules, the missiles are positioned in 4 clusters of launchers comprising of six modules, totalling 192 missiles (each module contains 8 missiles), and mounted flush to the deck. Fire control is handled by the 3R95 multi-channel FC system (Cross Swords). This system is comprised of two complimenting radar sets, a G-band target acquisition radar and a K-band target engagement radar. This gives the system a good degree of flexibility because the G-band is constantly scanning the area even when the K-band is focused on a target. To maintain its 360 degree view it the G-band part of the system is actually two mechanically scanned (so quite a slow system when compared to Aegis) parabolic mounted radars. However, the K-band is electronically scanned phased array reflection type antenna, which is closer to the Aegis, the best thing about this technology though is that it can track and guide eight missiles to four targets simultaneously. These missiles have a maximum range of 12km, but a speed of 850m/s, not as fast as some but with accuracy, the time it takes too travel this distance is about 14s, whilst not as fast the Seawolf or SMs it is not a system a pilot or an officer planning a missile strike can discount.

The next envelope out from this is that created by the constant throughout these Russian cruisers, the SA-N-6 Grumble, however the Kirov’s got a special version, or rather RFS Pytor Velikiy did – the others will probably be upgrade, in the fullness of time, with full consideration of all economic strictures and work labour contexts. This is the S-300FM Fort-M sometimes referred to as SA-N-20, it introduced the new 48N6 missile. This has a speed of Mach 6, compared to Mach 4.5 of the original, and is capable of a maximum engagement speed of up to Mach 8.5. Added to this the warhead size has been increased to 150 kg; most importantly though the maximum engagement range was increased to 150 km as well as opening the altitude envelope to 10m-27 km; time therefore from launch to maximum range is 72.5s. Another advantage of the upgrade missiles was that they introduced the best so far track-via-missile guidance method, which brought with it the ability to intercept short-range ballistic missiles.
However, this system would be useless with bad information, therefore it is combined with the TOMB STONE MOD radar, rather than TOP DOME radar used in the previous. As an added layer of insurance both naval versions of this system are believed to include a secondary infrared terminal seeker, similar to the newer US Standard missile system, probably to reduce the system’s vulnerability to saturation. This would also have the theoretical capability of allowing the missile to be used to engage contacts over the radar horizon, such as warships or sea-skimming anti-ship missiles – although there have been no reports of this being the case.

Added to all this, RFS Pytor Velikiy, and one must presume the others of the class once they are back in service. Like all large Soviet designed ships, and something which has carried on into the new Russian navy, the anti-submarine armament is almost over the top; they mount the SS-N-15 Starfish rocket torpedo, 2x RBU-1000 305 mm ASW rocket launchers, 2x RBU-12000 (Udav-1) 254 mm ASW rocket launchers, and 10 533 mm ASW/ASuW torpedo tubes. Centreline aft, overlooking the helicopter deck is a twin AK-130 130 mm/L70 dual purpose gun.

The level of CIWS varies between the vessels, for example Nakhimov & Pytor Velikiy have 6 separate CADS-N-1 Kashtan missile/gun system whilst Lazarev, the one apparently destined for the Chinese mounts 8 of the AK-630 hex Gatling 30 mm/L60 PD guns. Both these systems are fairly comprehensive in the cover they afford their vessels, however the Kashtan system is considered to be a very innovative and effective design by all whom have come in close contact with it.

The last class to be considered is that which makes up almost 75% of the cruisers in the world, this class is of course the almost ubiquitous (as far as their presence in conflict goes) Ticonderoga class of US Navy.

They were revolutionary when they were first launched with SPY-1 electronically scanned phased array radar; although originally they were classified as destroyers, it was only after the capability of the Aegis combat system was realised that the class was reclassified as cruisers. In addition to the added radar capability, the Ticonderoga class built after the 5th in class, Thomas S. Gates, are outfitted with two then revolutionary VLS. Theses allow the ship to have 122 launch tubes that can carry a wide variety of missiles, including the Tomahawk cruise missile, the Standard surface-to-air missile(SM-1 & 2, and apparently the future 3 & 6), the Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile, and the ASROC anti-submarine missile. More importantly, the VLS enables all missiles to be on full stand-by at any given time, shortening the ship’s response time. The original five ships, including the Thomas S. Gates, had MK. 26 twin arm launchers which limited their missile capacity to a total of 88 missiles, and could not fire the Tomahawk missile. After the end of the Cold War, the lower capabilities of the original five ships limited them to home-waters duties. The classes rather overcrowded superstructure (in fact it is a very ‘fiddly’ design), inherited from the Spruance class destroyers, required two of the radar transceivers to be mounted on a special pallet on the portside aft corner of the superstructure, with the other two mounted on the forward starboard corner. This meant that the weight of the ships, 1,500 tons heavier than the Spruance’s, and more importantly the position of the weight in the vessel; resulted in a highly-stressed hull and some structural problems in early service, although these were mostly corrected before the 1st Gulf War. Due to the differences between the first 5 of the class and the rest, they are sometimes treated as almost separate classes the Mark 26 (or just 26), and the Mark 41 (or just 41). For the purposes of this blog I will also treat them thus, with the intent of using their differences to examine further the role of the cruiser in the modern naval force.

The 26’s had to Mk26 double arm missile launchers, and carried a total of 88 SM-2 reloads, added to this impressive air defence capability, and against the decisions of the British MOD 20 years later, they were also fitted with two quad launchers of RGM-84 Harpoons. To supplement the missile armament the type 21s were also fitted with 2 single mounting deck guns Mark 45 5 in / 54 cal lightweight gun (fore and aft), 4 .50cal guns, and 2 Phalanx CIWS all situated to provide converging fields of fire in the event that the SM2s failed to intercept. Finally an addition any soviet designed would have been proud of 2 triple torpedo launchers mount MK32 ASW torpedoes.

The mark 41 cruisers differ only slightly on the surface, but majorly in capability. The primary difference is the use of this blogs old favourite, the Type 41 VLS, it carries in fact to 61 cell VLS, which carry any combination of RIM-66 SMs, TIM-162 ESSMs, BGM-109 Tomahawk, or RUM-139 VL-ASROC (I will explain these in further detail a bit further on). Again, like the 26s, they are fitted with the 2 quad Harpoon launchers, and have a similar gun and torpedo outfit, the only difference being the addition of 2 single 25mm cannon.

The missile systems are extensive on the Type 41, but I will start with looking at the Standard Missile or SM-2/3/6. SM-2 is the originally SAM fitted to these vessels and has a long history, so long in fact I could very easily write another blog entry on it alone, but for reasons of not wanting to make this piece to long, I will just examine a few of the variants. The first one, is the now truly ‘standard’ standard missile; the SM-2 Medium Range Block IIIB or RIM-66M, with a range of about 160km, it has more advanced targeting system than the previous versions, which included a dual semi-active/infrared seek for terminal guidance; a system which is optimised to cope with the high levels of jamming, and decoying used by modern combat aircraft. Combined with all this technology is a speed of Mach 3.5, and an unspecified G capability; but it’s probably not that low. Unfortunately though, this missile system good though it is does not even begin to take full advantage of the Aegis’s radar capability. The RIM-156 SM-2 Extended Range (SM-2ER) Block IV has an extended range of 185.2km, something which will built on again by the SM-6 generation of missiles (even though this will probably be classified as MR, compared the next).

The SM-3 (pictured left launch from USS Lake Erie to destroy the statelite), is the fullest development of the Aegis system, with operational range of 500km, and ceiling of 250km, the SM-3 is not only a ship based anti-ballistic missile, an anti-satellite weapon (as long as they are in a low earth orbit), it is also a very capable, typically American, Surface to Air Missile. This system makes all previous weapons mounted by Aegis ships look like the really were, an average weapon attached to a very much above average detection system.

The Ticonderoga cruisers do of course not only stop aircraft, unlike the Royal Navy’s Type 45 Daring class destroyers, they also stop ships, and for this they use they primarily use Harpoon, although of course the Type 41s can use Tomahawks – but I will get those in a second. Both the 26s and the 41s mount the Harpoon, with a speed of 850km/h or 236m/s, a range of 75km, and warhead of 221kg, it hardly matches up to the Shipwreck, but it is a capability, and Harpoon has proved itself a reliable and capable weapon.

The Type 41s of course gain to weapons with their Type 41 VLS, the Tomahawk and the Asroc. The Asroc or more precisely the RUM-139 VL-ASROC, which carries a Type 46 torpedo – it has a range of 28kms, and provides a measure of extended support the vessels ASW helicopters; something which the Russians had always done, and the Americans perfected. The party piece that practically everyone knows about, thanks in large part to the prolific way the Americans wage war, is the Tomahawk, possibly the best know cruise missile ever made. Its rasin d’etra is that it has a range of 2,500km, and all though its not fast (only 30km/h faster than the Harpoon), the range combined with the accuracy had made it a war winner. A note which I am adding, in contrast to what the Wikipedia entry for the Tomahawk claims, the Sylver A70 launcher can carry the new French cruise missile, the Daring class mount the Sylver A50 which can’t, none of the Sylver launchers can accommodate the Tomahawk.

This weaponry is, as is usual, dependent on that which sees for it, unfortunately I am not able to talk much about it, as not much is available for certain (and I prefer to report facts as a rule). What is known is the AN/SPY-1 is primarily a phased array 3D Air-search radar transmitting an S band frequency, with a detection range well in excess of a hundred nautical miles, and is considered the most powerful radar afloat.

So cruisers, the weapons suggest that they are multi-role combatants, and this is true, they are often the pickets or core ships of naval task force; they are big escorts which support all others, in the cases of the Kirov and Ticonderoga classes, they mobile ABM weapon platforms, something for which their size and the power systems it can accommodate are necessary. The range of weaponry they carry also shows, the range of wartime roles they will fill – picket and core ship sounds so limiting, compared to primary strike co-ordinator, principle air-warfare vessel, command ship, and my personal favourite lone ranger. That cruisers are useful is beyond doubt that China and maybe other nations will consider joining this at the moment very exclusive band is beyond doubt; the more important question to my mind, is why wouldn’t a nation which is building every other component of a naval force build a cruiser? It would seem to my humble mind a error of judgement to do so.

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