California-class cruiser

The California class of cruisers were a set of two nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers operated by the United States Navy between 1974 and 1998. Other than their nuclear power supply and lack of helicopter hangars, ships of the California class were comparable to other guided missile cruisers of their era, such as the Belknap class. The class was built as a follow-up to the nuclear-powered Long Beach, Bainbridge, and Truxtun classes. Like all of the nuclear cruisers, which could steam for years between refuelings, the California class was designed in part to provide high endurance escort for the navy's nuclear aircraft carriers, which were often limited in range due to their conventionally powered escorts continuously needing to be refueled.

USS California underway
Class overview
Builders: Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company
Operators:  United States Navy
Preceded by:
Succeeded by: Virginia class
Built: 19701974
In commission: 19741999
Completed: 2
General characteristics
Type: Guided missile cruiser
Displacement: 10,600 long tons (10,800 t)
Length: 587 ft (179 m)
Beam: 61 ft (19 m)
Draft: 31 ft 6 in (9.60 m)
Propulsion: 2 × General Electric D2G reactors generating 60,000 shp (45,000 kW)
Speed: In excess of 30 knots (56 km/h)
Complement: 40 officers and 544 enlisted
Sensors and
processing systems:
Electronic warfare
& decoys:
Aviation facilities: Helicopter deck aft able to accommodate SH-2 Seasprite LAMPS Mk1, SH-3 Sea King, and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. No hangar facility.


USS California (CGN-36) was the fourth nuclear-powered cruiser in the US Navy; the previous three were USS Long Beach, USS Bainbridge and USS Truxtun. The second California-class cruiser, USS South Carolina (CGN-37), was the fifth nuclear-powered cruiser in the US Navy. Other than the four ships of the Soviet Navy's Kirov class, which were actually built with a combination of nuclear and fossil-fuel propulsion, no other country has launched nuclear-powered cruisers.

Only two ships of the class were built, California and South Carolina, and both were decommissioned in the late 1999. These ships were followed on by the four nuclear-powered cruisers of the Virginia class. These cruisers were named for states because they were seen as quite large, powerful, capable, and survivable ships. Also, in the meantime, the names of cities had been given to the nuclear submarines in the very large Los Angeles class, which eventually expanded to 62 boats, all (but one) named for American cities.

USS California and her sister ship, USS South Carolina, were equipped with two Mk 13 launchers, fore and aft, capable of firing the Standard SM-1MR or SM-2MR surface-to-air missiles, one Mk 112 launcher for ASROC missiles, and eight Mk-141 launch tubes for Harpoon missiles. They were equipped with two Mk 45 5-inch rapid-fire guns, fore and aft. Four 12.75-inch torpedo launchers (two on each side, protruding from their magazine space on the main deck) were fitted for light weight anti-submarine torpedoes. Two Mk 15 Phalanx 20 mm gun systems were fitted in the 1980s.

The ships were originally designed to carry and launch the Mark 48 torpedo from a large space beneath the flight deck aft. Although a surface-launched version of the Mk 48 was never produced, the ships retained this large magazine space until their retirement.

Both ships underwent a mid-life refueling overhaul in the early 1990s to give them a further 18 years active service. This modernization upgraded their two 150 MW D2G reactor plants with new 165 MW D2W reactor cores, installed the New Threat Upgrade (NTU) to improve their AAW capability, and removed their ASW capability, which involved disabling their SQS-26 sonar and removing their ASROC anti-submarine weapons, though the two triple Mk 32 ASW torpedo launchers were retained. External differences resulting from this modernization included the removal of the ASROC launcher and the large deckhouse forward of it that served as the ASROC magazine, replacement of the SPS-40 radar antenna with the SPS-49 antenna, and replacement of the SPS-48C with the larger SPS-48E antenna. Both ships retained the bulbous sonar domes at the forefoot (beneath the waterline) until retirement, even after their sonar systems were disabled. While the ships were as modernized as much as possible, and were capable of service until 2010; they still were only capable of firing SM-2MR missiles from their Mk-13 launchers, and their high cost of operation made them targets for early retirement, and were both decommissioned in 1999.

Ships in class

ShipHull NumberKeel laidLaunchedCommissionedDecommissionedFate
CaliforniaCGN-36 23 January 197022 September 197116 February 19749 July 1999Disposed of through Ship-Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, 2000
South CarolinaCGN-37 1 December 19701 July 197225 January 197530 July 1999Disposed of through Ship-Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, 2007

See also

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