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CGN 36 California Class

The mission of CALIFORNIA-class nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers was to operate offensively in the presence of air, surface, and subsurface threats. These actions may be performed independently or in support of sealift convoys, high-speed aircraft carrier task forces, or amphibious task forces. To accomplish its mission, these ships were equipped with the latest technology and equipment including the New Threat Upgrade modernization. With a fully integrated combat system, it had the capabilities to quickly detect modern threat platforms, perform high-speed data processing and employ powerful weaponry.

The initial response to the new Soviet challenges had been to design the nuclear-powered DLGN36s for air defense and the Spruance-class destroyers for antisubmarine warfare (ASW). These were both excellent platforms. Both warships absorbed a lot of manpower, with 603 crewmen on the DLGNs and 262 on the destroyer. The latter figure is deceptive, however, as planned upgrades eventually boosted that number to 346 crewmen. This cost was significant, as personnel absorbed more than half of every dollar spent on defense in the early 1970s, a sum projected to rise after 1973, with the all-volunteer force.

Before the Aegis system, California (DLGN36) was the most capable anti-air platform in the fleet. The DLGNs were in a class of their own, but the costabout $200 million apieceand high reactor maintenance requirements meant only six were ever built.

The nuclear-powered engineering plant allowed the cruiser to conduct operations over extended periods of time anywhere in the world. Two nuclear reactors provide all the energy required for the propulsion plant and electric generators. The two propulsion plants deliver 70,000 shaft horsepower, allowing sustained speeds in excess of 30 knots (nautical miles per hour) all over the world.

This was the first class of nuclear-propelled surface warships intended for series production. These double ended, flush-deck ships were essentially nuclear-propelled versions of the guided missile frigates proposed in the early 1960's with the Tartar D missile system vice the more capable Talos and Terrier missile systems of the cruiser conversions. The design used the earlier DLGN 35 (USS Truxtun) as a parent ship and, although Terrier/Tartar competition existed during the Feasibility Study phase, the decision favoring the Tartar system (MK 13) was firmed up early in the preliminary design phase. These ships were nuclear-propelled version of guided missile designs proposed in the early 1960s.

The resultant ship grew rather significantly over its parent ship e.g., about 30 feet in length, 2.5 feet in beam, and 900 tons in displacement, with essentially the same twin D2G pressurized water reactor propulsion plant improved to yield increased power and endurance. Of course, the gun and missile systems and the inclusion of many upgraded weapon controls drove the topside configuration. Other electronic systems affected the design and habitability standards were changed so that arrangements of CGN 36 were almost totally changed over those of CGN 35.

The Preliminary Design of this Class was begun in mid-FY 64 as Ship Characteristics Board (SCB) Project No. 241.66. These ships were intended to be the first nuclear ships for series production. Their construction was delayed because of opposition to nuclear ship construction by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the fiscal demands of the Vietnam War. In June 1968 Congress, despite administration objections, insisted on ordering two nuclear frigates, California (DLGN 36) and South Carolina (DLGN 37).

Originally, three ships were planned for and actually authorized; however, the third ship was built to a different design as CGN 38. Although a third ship was authorized as part of the fiscal 1968 budget, it was not built due to rising costs and the emergence of the more capable Virginia class design.

The CGN 36 design was started amid the turmoil of the 1960's that included the introduction of "Concept Formulation/Contract Definition" and "Total Package Procurement" to weapon system procurement. At the same time, this approach was being applied to the DX Program, which resulted in the DD 963 design. Subsequent to their Preliminary Design, these Nuclear Powered Guided Missile Frigates were re-designated as Nuclear Powered Guided Missile Cruisers on 30 June, 1975.

The Navy pursued the DLGN 36 design and it was planned to reap the advantages of nuclear power on a missile ship using the Tartar guided missile system, which was far less complex and bulky than the previous Terrier system and yet was considered a weapons system equal or more effective in providing area air defense. Congress had also stipulated that any combatant ship over 8,000 tons displacement had to be nuclear powered.

During the ship design, the 5-inch /54 (Mk 45) lightweight gun had not progressed far enough for it to be used aboard this ship, so the 5-inch /54 guns (Mk 42) was specified instead. This use of the heavier gun brought about a significant increase in crew since the lightweight version required only three men to operate. The gun location vis-à-vis the Mk 13 Tartar launchers and the superstructure, however, was a subject of debate until nearly the end of the preliminary design. While the class was under construction, the 5-inch /54 (Mk 45) lightweight gun was approved for service, so it was substituted for the heavier 5-inch/54 (Mk 42) that had been chosen in Preliminary Design.

The inability to perfect an ASROC missile that could be launched from a Mk 13 Launcher dictated the inclusion of a trainable Mk 16 ASROC box launcher. In order to provided reload capability and maintain clearance for reactor servicing, a distinctive structure, commonly termed the "Doghouse", was provided forward of the ASROC launcher close to gun mount No. 51.

These were unquestionably capable ships with a displacement of 10,000 tons. The missile launchers were located forward and aft from superstructure at a significant distance to allow excellent arcs of fire and access for refueling the nuclear plant. It was considered the most capable ship in the fleet even without AEGIS. As for its ASW capabilities, the ship mounted the SQS-26 sonar dome and was equipped with a quick reload ASROC launcher.

To aid in accomplishing their assigned tasks, these ships were equiped with an extensive array of weapons and sensors. They had the older SM-1 series SAM on single arm, Mk13 Mod 3 launchers (fore and aft), two of the new 5 inch Mk 45 gun mounts (fore and aft), anti-ship capability with Harpoon SSMs, the 20mm Close In Weapon System (CIWS) and USW capability with ASROCs.

The digital electronics suite was the most modern available, with SPS 48A 3-D air search radar and a missile guidance system capable of controlling four missiles simultaneously. Sensors included a 2D air search radar, an array of surface search radars and fire control radar systems. They were also equiped with passive electronic surveillance and jamming systems unequaled by any other cruiser in the Navy. These weapons and sensors gave them the ability to attack and defend against targets that are over 70 nautical miles away while being able to protect themselfs from close range attacks.

These ships were provided with a large helicopter-landing platform aft, but were not equipped with a hangar or maintenance facilities for helicopters.

These ships had anchor stowage integral with the keel to reduce excessive flare and prevent anchor fluke damage to the sonar dome. This installation followed the concept first introduced in the Knox-class Frigates (FF 1052) Class.

These did not carry TLAMs. It was planned to install Tomahawk missiles as an upgrade, but the project had to be canceled when it was determined that these ships could not sustain large increases in topside weights, which also prevented the use of the AEGIS system.

On the 04 September 1998 USS South Carolina completed her service to the active fleet of The United States Navy. Beginning the final Deactivation process, on 04 November 1998, the ship entered Drydock 4 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. As of 01 October 1998 CGN-36 California was in commission in Reserve (Stand Down) at Bremerton WA at the start of the inactivation cycle.

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