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CGN-42 AEGIS Modified Virginia

The Navy originally planned to procure 11 ships of the Virginia (CGN-38) class. However, after four units of the Virginia class had been laid down, further orders were suspended while consideration was given to a Modified Virginia design fitted with the Aegis system.

During the late 1970s, two nuclear-powered cruiser options were considered for the new cruiser to mount the new Aegis defense system. The 17,200-ton nuclear- powered strike cruiser (CSGN) and the 12,100-ton CGN-42 [derivative of the CGN-38 class] were rejected in favor of a design that mounted the Aegis system on the smaller, conventionally powered Spruance (DD-963) class hull. The CSGN was estimated to have a unit procurement cost double the DD-963 option, while the CGN-42 was estimated to have a unit procurement cost 30% to 50% greater than the DD-963 option. It has been estimated by the Navy that a ship of this kind would cost about $1.43 billion for the lead ship and $1.23 billion for follow-on ships (fiscal year 1981 dollars). The DD-963 option became the 9,500-ton [light] Ticonderoga (CG-47) class Aegis cruiser, the first of which was procured in FY1978.

The CGN-42 was to have basically the same combat system as the CG-47. Being a substantially larger ship, however, it would have greater growth potential as well as the unlimited steaming endurance of nuclear power. The CGN-42 would thus represent a surface combatant with the best capabilities currently achievable.

A nuclear-powered warship employing the best weapons and sensors currently available, the CGN-42 would have the operational flexibility inherent to the unlimited steaming range of nuclear power. It would have the new, high-capability AEGIS AAW system, offensive cruise missiles, LAMPS III helicopters, a high-power active sonar and a towed-array passive sonar for antisubmarine warfare (ASW), a large missile capacity (122 missiles) in the new vertical launch system (VLS), and the latest in command, control, and communications equipment. All these features would give the ship excellent capabilities across a broad spectrum of naval missions.

The CGN-42 would be an expensive ship, with an acquisition cost of about $1.34 billion [1981 dollars], including nuclear fuel equivalent to about 3 million barrels of oil.

Although sympathetic to the need for more ships, the advocates of CGN-42 were skeptical of claims that capability compromises in the interest of cost reduction yield more overall fleet effectiveness. The advocate of CGN-42 believed that quality must govern, despite the fact that more ships could be bought at any given level of investment if some less expensive ships were procured. This option would produce sufficient ships, a total of 20 CGN-42s authorized between 1986 through 1995, to form six well protected two-carrier battle groups. There would not be enough ships, however, to form any surface action groups or to provide the number of escorts for amphibious groups, replenishment groups, and convoys recommended by the Navy in its 1980 testimony.

Nuclear-powered surface combatants were intended to be part of all nuclear-powered task forces, but this goal never materialized. In 1974, nuclear power seemed so promising that the Congress, in title VIII of the DOD Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1975, stated that as a matter of policy all future U.S. warships intended to serve with the strike forces should be nuclear-powered. Exceptions would require a presidential finding that providing nuclear power was not in the national interest.

On February 13, 1976, the President formally made a finding that constructing all nuclear surface combatants for the strike forces was not in the national interest. It was the Secretary of Defense's assessment that "the military value of an all nuclear-powered Aegis ship program does not warrant the increased costs or, alternatively, the reduced force levels." Further, he proposed a mixed propulsion program to provide nuclear-powered surface combatants, which could undertake crisis response and other operations in areas far from supply bases, and conventionally powered Aegis ships to supplement the nuclear-powered surface combatants in protection of high-value forces (including carriers) under conditions of sustained conflict. However, no more nuclear-powered surface combatants were acquired.

The fiscal year 1978 budget provided $180 million for advance procurement of nuclear components and engineering for the CGN-42, but no further work was authorized. The construction of the Modified Virginia cruisers was cancelled in January 1979, and the proposal was resurrected in March 1981 only to be cancelled once again (for the final time) in February 1983. All of these projects were abandoned in favor of the conventionally powered Ticonderoga (CG-47) class and for several decades thereafter there were no further plans for any further nuclear powered cruisers to be built.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:36:54 ZULU