Virginia-class cruiser

The Virginia-class nuclear guided-missile cruisers, also known as the CGN-38 class, were a series of four double-ended (with missile armament carried both fore and aft) nuclear-powered guided-missile cruisers commissioned in the late 1970s to 1980,[1] which served in the United States Navy until the mid-to-late 1990s. They were the final class of nuclear-powered cruisers completed and the last ships ordered as Destroyer Leaders under the pre-1975 classification system.

USS Virginia
Class overview
Name: Virginia class
Builders: Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company
Operators:  United States Navy
Preceded by: California class
Succeeded by:
Cost: $675 million (1990 dollars)
Built: 1972–1980
In commission: 1976–1998
Planned: 11
Completed: 4
Cancelled: 7
Retired: 4
General characteristics
Type: Guided missile cruiser
  • Light displacement: 10,663 tons
  • Full displacement: 11,666 tons
Length: 586 ft (179 m) oa.
Beam: 63 ft (19 m) max.
Draft: 32 ft (9.8 m) max.
Propulsion: 2 General Electric D2G nuclear reactors, two shafts, 60,000 shp (45,000 kW)
Speed: over 30 kn (56 km/h; 35 mph)
Range: Unlimited
Complement: 39 officers, 540 enlisted
Sensors and
processing systems:
Electronic warfare
& decoys:
Armor: 1 in (25 mm) Kevlar plastic armor installed around combat information center, magazines, and machinery spaces
Aircraft carried:
  • As built: below-deck hangar for one SH-2F Seasprite helicopter
  • Flight deck occupied by Tomahawk missile storage & launcher after refitting

The ships had relatively short service lives. As with any nuclear-powered ship, they were expensive to operate. The class was just coming up for their mid-life reactor refuelings when the 1994 Defense Authorization Bill was being formulated, which would effect cuts of 38% to the Navy's budget, compared to the 1993 bill. The $300-million-plus cost of each refueling and other upgrades made the class easy targets for decommissioning. Each ship was therefore retired starting with Texas in July 1993 and ending with Arkansas in 1998; all went through the nuclear vessel decommissioning and recycling program.

Class description

The ships were derived from the earlier California-class nuclear cruiser (CGN-36 class). Three of the four Virginia-class ships were authorized as guided missile frigates (in the pre-1975 definition), and they were redesignated as cruisers either before commissioning or before their launching. The last warship, Arkansas, was authorized, laid down, launched, and commissioned as a guided-missile cruiser. A fifth warship, CGN-42, was canceled before being named or laid down.

With their nuclear power plants, and the resulting capability of steaming at high speeds for long periods of time, these were excellent escorts for the fast nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, such as the Nimitz class. They also had excellent flagship facilities. Their main mission was as air-defense ships, while they also had capabilities as anti-submarine (ASW) ships, surface-to-surface warfare (SSW) ships, and in gun and missile bombardment of shore targets. The Virginia class as designed carried two LAMPS helicopters, aft of the superstructure with a flight deck, and in a unique arrangement among the U.S. Navy the hangars were below-decks, an improvement over the preceding California class, which only had only a landing pad aft and basic refueling equipment.

It was found that, while it was possible to mass-produce nuclear-powered warships, the ships were less cost-efficient than conventionally powered warships. Also, the new gas turbine–powered ships then entering the fleet—the Spruance-class destroyers—required much less manpower. While eleven ships of the Virginia class were planned, only four were produced and the remainder were cancelled. Following the completion of the final member of the class, Arkansas, the U.S. Navy continued conventional destroyer/cruiser production, and it re-designated the DDG-47 class of guided missile destroyers as the CG-47 Ticonderoga-class cruisers.

Early decommissioning

All four vessels were decommissioned as part of the early 1990s "peace dividend" after the Cold War ended, considered by naval standards an early retirement. They were new, modern ships; given a New Threat Upgrade electronics overhaul, they would have been well-suited to modern threats. They had rapid-fire Mk 26 launchers that could fire the powerful Standard SM-2MR medium-range surface-to-air missile—earlier decommissioned cruisers used the slower-firing Mk-10 launchers, which required manual fitting of the missiles' fins prior to launch.

Nevertheless, the CGN-38-class cruisers, with their missile magazines and Mk-26 missile launchers, were incapable of carrying the SM-2ER long-range surface-to-air missile, being restricted to the SM-2MR medium-range surface-to-air missile. This was a significant limitation in their capabilities. Another weakness was the loss of LAMPS helicopters, due to the installation of Tomahawk cruise missile launchers.

In the end, what really doomed the Virginia nuclear-powered cruisers was a lack of resources, as the Navy and other branches of the U.S. military were downsizing after the Cold War. The ships of the class were coming due for their first nuclear refuelings, mid-life overhauls, and NTU refittings, which were all budgeted projects, together costing about half the price of a new ship. Further, they required relatively large crews, straining the operating budget. The 1996 Navy Visibility and Management of Operating and Support Costs (VAMOSC) study determined the annual operating cost of a Virginia-class cruiser at $40 million, compared to $28 million for a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, or $20 million for an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the latter two classes designed with the much more capable Aegis Combat System.[2] Given a lower requirement for cruisers, it was decided to retire these nuclear-powered ships as a money-saving measure, a decision made while Texas was in the middle of her refueling overhaul. The early Ticonderoga-class cruisers which lacked the Vertical Launch System had equally short careers, serving between 18 and 21 years.[3]

Ships in class

Name Hull no. Builder Ordered Laid down Launched Commissioned Decommissioned Fate NVR link
VirginiaCGN-38Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Newport News21 December 197119 August 197214 December 197411 September 197610 November 1994Disposed of through Ship-Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, 1999
TexasCGN-3918 August 19739 August 197510 September 197716 July 1993Disposed of through Ship-Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, 1999
MississippiCGN-4021 January 197222 February 197531 July 19765 August 197828 July 1997Disposed of through Ship-Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, 2004
Arkansas CGN-4131 January 197517 January 197721 October 197818 October 19807 July 1998Disposed of through Ship-Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, 1998
CGN-42N/AIntended nuclear-powered AEGIS cruiser; cancelled 1983

See also


  1. Sobocinski, Richard. "USS ARKANSAS (CGN-41) Deployments & History". USS Arkansas commissioned in Oct. 1980. Retrieved 2016-09-22.
  2. CG-47 Ticonderoga-class
  3. CG-51 - 18 years. CG-47 - 21 years.
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