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CGN 9 Long Beach - Program

Built in Bethlehem Steel Company's Fore River Shipyard at Quincy, Massachusetts, the ship's keel was laid on December 2, 1957. The world's first nuclear-powered surface warship, the guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach got underway on nuclear power for the first time on the morning of July 5, 1961.

The Long Beach, now designated CGN 9, was commissioned at the Boston Navy Shipyard September 9, 1961, the same year as Enterprise, CVA(N) 65, the world's first nuclear carrier. Following commissioning, the ship was homeported in Norfolk until early 1966 when the ship was transferred to the Pacific Fleet.

Long Beach, the world’s first nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser, was commissioned in 1961, the same year as the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CVAN 65). With their nuclear-powered submarine counterparts already operating in the fleet and the nuclear-powered guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DLGN 25), to be commissioned the following year, they would join a community of ships whose increased range and combat capability were an important part of America’s growing deterrent capability. A pivotal incident occurred, affecting Long Beach as well as future CG/DLG designs, when the new frigate Dewey (DLG 14) was assigned to shoot down a propeller drone during a fleet review that was witnessed by President John Kennedy. Three Terrier missiles were fired at an approaching drone but all three missed their target. Kennedy was alarmed at this failure and personally ordered the new missile cruisers to be equipped with guns. A ship alteration in 1962-1963 added two 5-inch/38 single gun mounts. The 5-inch/38 guns in single mountings looked quite antiquated on such missile ships as Albany and Long Beach, but the old weapons did give some defense capability absent in the ship as completed.

In May 1964, Enterprise, Long Beach and Bainbridge joined together in the Mediterranean to form the first all-nuclear-powered task force (TF-1) and conducted Operation Sea Orbit. Sea Orbit was a throwback to President Teddy Roosevelt’s demonstration of the strategic mobility of the U.S. Navy: the Great White Fleet‘s cruise around the world from 1907 to 1909.

On July 31, 1964, USS Enterprise (CVN-65), USS Long Beach and USS Bainbridge (CGN-25) departed the Mediterranean Sea for a 65-day, 30,000-mile around-the-globe cruise to be carried out completely free from refueling or logistic support while operating at a normal tempo. But unlike the Great White Fleet, the TF-1 ports of call at Karachi, Pakistan; Melbourne, Australia; Wellington, New Zealand; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil weren’t for coal or provisions; they were to show the U.S. Navy’s nuclear powered innovation to foreign dignitaries and countless others.

The three ships, traveling under all kinds of weather conditions, made the 5,115-mile transit from Australia to Cape Horn, South Africa at an average speed of better than 25 knots--demonstrating the capability of nuclear-powered surface ships to reinforce quickly U.S. interests in remote areas and operate over great distance at high speeds without logistic support.

The combination of NTDS and Talos made Long Beach an effective Positive Identification Radar Advisory Zone (PIRAZ) ship during the Vietnam War. During May 1968, Long Beach was given clearance to fire on a North Vietnamese MiG. Although she missed one on 11 May, twelve days later she fired two Talos missiles two minutes apart at a pair of these enemy aircraft some 65 miles away. One MiG was destroyed by one missile and the second exploded among its debris. This was the first occasion in which a ship destroyed a hostile aircraft with guided missiles, and also the first time that nuclear surface warships had scored a missile hit against an enemy. In September 1968, Long Beach shot down a second MiG at 61 miles. However, many other Talos and Terrier shots missed.

In 1974, the Navy proposed a program for a nuclear powered strike cruiser (CSGN). During the Defense Systems Acquisition Review Council (DSARC) review, the Navy was asked to provide options for retrofit of the Aegis radar (based on a phased array proof of concept study conducted by JJMA) and to examine alternatives, both nuclear and conventional, for new construction ships. At one time Long Beach appeared to be a prime candidate for Aegis anti-air warfare system because she already carried phased array radars. But her radar was primitive compared to the Aegis SPY-1, and "conversion" would have been, in fact, reconstruction.

In May 1975 Congressman Melvin Price, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, fired a salvo against OSD: "the committee tied the use of RDT&E funds for Aegis to your provision of a plan for a nuclear platform for Aegis .... As a start we expect to have Aegis installed promptly on the USS Long Beach". In June 1975, Senator Strom Thurmond, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked VADM Rickover to make his views public; Rickover responded by endorsing the House Armed Services Committee demand that Long Beach be converted and that future Aegis ships be nuclear-powered.

Converting Long Beach was estimated to cost nearly $800 million, more than the estimated price of a new conventionally-powered Aegis ship. But the Authorization Committees were dominated by advocates of nuclear power, so the pressure to convert Long Beach was strong.

In 1977 the Congressional debate over whether to fund Long Beach's conversion was greatly influenced by a dispute over whether to authorize a new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The Carter Administration had first proposed constructing a large conventionally-powered carrier, but Congressional critics, such as Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, favored construction of several smaller and cheaper "sea control ships" in its place. The authorization committees promoted a nuclear-powered version. Regardless, the Navy received almost $940 million for the construction of the first Aegis gas turbine ship in FY 78, and some money was even appropriated for further study of the nuclear-powered Aegis "strike cruiser."

In 1977 Long Beach underwent a major overhaul during which her armament was changed to include the ability to land, but not stow a helicopter. A conversion to the AEGIS system was contemplated, but not done due to the fact that her missile armament was obsolete and funds would have to be diverted from new construction ships such as the Ticonderoga Class (CG 47) and the Perry Class frigates. Talos was removed in 1979 along with the Mk 77 guided missile fire-control system and replaced with Harpoon canister launchers and Tomahawk armored box launchers.

From January to October 1985, the TOMAHAWK cruise missile system was installed onboard at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, replacing the previously removed TALOS system. The addition of Tomahawk ASM/LAM in the CGN-9 vastly complicated unit target planning for any potential enemy and returned an offensive strike role to the surface forces that seemed to have been lost to air power at Pearl Harbor. In July 1986 USS LONG BEACH was part of the first battleship battle group to deploy to the Western Pacific since the Korean War. The ships included replenishment oiler USS WABASH (AOR-5), destroyer USS MERRILL (DD-976), frigate USS GRAY (FF-1054), guided missile frigate USS THACH (FFG-43), nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser and the battleship USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62).

USS Long Beach was deactivated 02 July 1994 in ceremonies at Norfolk Naval Station. Prior to arrival in Norfolk, USS Long Beach was homeported in San Diego. A "plank owner" is an individual who was a member of the crew of a ship when that ship was placed in commission. As part of the vessel decommissioning and disposal process, the Navy formerly removed a small portion of the deck as a traditional reminder of the time when "wooden walls and iron men" were a key part of the Navy. The last major vessel known to have been fitted with a wooden deck was USS Long Beach (CGN-9), commissioned in 1961.

Since 1986, the US Navy has disposed of reactor compartments from deactivated nuclear-powered submarines at the Hanford Site in Washington state. Beginning in 1999, the Navy also began the disposal at Hanford of reactor compartments from nuclear-powered cruisers. These reductions in the nuclear fleet are the result of the retirement of aging weapon systems and cutbacks in the number of U.S. Navy ships in the post-Cold War era. The reactor compartments are prepared for disposal at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.

The Navy´s nine nuclear-powered cruisers had two reactor compartments each. Deactivation was similar to the submarines -- spent fuel is removed, fluids are drained and pipes are sealed. The compartments are then cut from the ship and sealed. Reactor compartments from U.S.S. Long Beach are larger and heavier than those from the other eight cruisers. The Long Beach compartments are rectangular -- about 37 by 38 feet on the sides and 42 feet high. They weigh about 2,250 tons. The other cruiser compartments are cylindrical, 37 feet high and 31 feet in diameter. They are similar in size to submarine reactor compartments. They weigh about 1,400 tons each.

Long Beach was the first nuclear-powered surface combatant and she was a technical success. But, she was too big, too slow, and too expensive. The nuclear frigates (later re-designated as cruisers) that would follow her were somewhat more affordable and better suited to task force defense. In 1957 the shipbuilding budget of the U.S. Navy was under severe assault with missile programs proving far more expensive than had been anticipated. Therefore, a repeat of the Long Beach, costing $187 million, was cancelled.

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Page last modified: 07-02-2016 19:42:00 ZULU