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CGN 9 Long Beach (ex-CGN 160, CLGN 160)

USS LONG BEACH (CGN-9) was the first nuclear powered cruiser and first large combatant in the US Navy with its main battery consisting of guided missiles. She was also the first American cruiser since the end of World War II to built entirely new from the keel, up, and, when completed, boasted the highest bridge in the world. She was also the last American warship to be fitted with teakwood decks.

With the introduction of the Forrestal class supercarriers starting in 1955, aircraft carriers had reached such a size that weather hardly slowed them down and steaming endurance was far greater than could be provided for their escorts. This created inherent logistic problems for the Fleet. One possible solution was to use nuclear power in the escorts, since nuclear fuel lasts a number of years. Although nuclear propulsion had been successful in the submarine Nautilus (1954), no suitable nuclear plant was available to power destroyers and cruisers.

Informal work had been underway at the Bureau of Ships on a nuclear cruiser (CLGN-160), but it was not until Admiral Arleigh Burke became CNO (1955) that the nuclear cruiser program was given focus. He wanted to investigate the feasibility of a nuclear cruiser capable of operating independently as well as supporting a nuclear carrier. With shipbuilding money at a premium in the late 1950's, it was felt that a nuclear cruiser should have both ASW and AAW capabilities and the Long Beach was provided an SQS-23 sonar.

A problem, however, was the limited horsepower of the nuclear plants; the ship would have problems meeting a 30-knot design requirement. As the ship design evolved, the deficiency in power became more evident and the ship length grew to provide a better speed-length ratio for reduced wave-making resistance to facilitate a 30-knot speed. The increased length allowed additional weapons systems to be accommodated including a RAT (rocket-assisted torpedo, replaced in the final design by ASROC) and the Regulus surface-to-surface cruise missile. After Regulus was canceled, a Polaris missile armament located in eight silos amidships was proposed as alternate but was never installed.

An issue of continuing debate during the design period was the mix of missiles and guns in the design. The Ship Characteristics Board wanted to retain the 5-inch/54 single mount (Mk 42) gun since it was believed that a missile-defense armament would be ineffective for close-range fire. The type of missile armament was also debated. The Talos missile ship was more desirable, since these had longer ranges than the Terrier missiles, but it resulted in a larger and more expensive ship. However, more Terrier missiles could be carried than in the Talos version because missile stowage for the latter had to be horizontal, requiring a compartment 36 feet long.

It was finally decided to provide two Terrier missile launchers forward and one Talos missile launcher aft to give this nuclear cruiser maximum antiaircraft capability. With the missiles and electronics specified, they could engage four air targets simultaneously. As with several of the missile cruiser conversions, no guns were provided; however, as recounted later, this changed in service.

Special fixed-array radars, designated the SPS-32/33, were fitted on the sides of the superstructure. With steerable beams, the distinctive flat-faced antennas could track automatically six medium and long-range targets simultaneously. The great merit of electronic scanning is that no mechanical inertia is involved and high data rates are possible. For the first time these radars were also integrated into a weapons direction system that was connected to the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS). However, radar technology on Long Beach was in 1961 ahead of its time and suffered from a significant failure rate and very high cost. The SPS 32/33 appeared on only one other ship, the carrier Enterprise.

The USS Long Beach (CGN-9) was a ship of firsts and lasts for the US Navy. She was the first nuclear-powered surface warship in the world, the first cruiser since the end of WWII designed and built new from the keel up, and was the first US Navy ship equipped with guided missiles as the main armament. The two five-inch guns were added at the request of President John F. Kennedy after he visited the ship in 1962. The ship, when completed, possessed the tallest bridge in the world, and she was the third US Navy ship to carry the name “Long Beach.” She was the last warship to be fitted with teakwood decks, and future cruisers would be built on the platforms of destroyers and frigates.

When the Navy formally implemented its hull number system in July 1920, it redesignated thirteen scout cruisers (three completed in 1908, plus ten new ships which were still under construction) as "Light Cruisers" (CL). All subsequent US Navy light and heavy cruisers were numbered in the same series, which ultimately encompassed 160 ships. In early 1952, as the US Navy was beginning to convert the heavy cruisers Boston (CA-69) and Canberra (CA-70) to carry anti-aircraft guided missiles, it also began a new cruiser hull number series for this new type of warship. Since both retained some of their original eight-inch guns, they were redesignated guided missile heavy cruisers (CAG-1 and CAG-2). In 1957, six light cruisers were redesignated as CLG-3 through CLG-8, though the first of these briefly retained her original number (as CLG-93).

The final number in the "Light Cruisers" (CL) series (CLGN-160) was briefly assigned to the new nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser Long Beach during 1956-57, before she was laid down. The new construction nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser Long Beach was then designated CGN-160 in early 1957, before receiving her definitive designation (CGN-9) in mid-1957. No further ships have been built in the CL/CA series, and its few surviving members are now in museum status, so the designation can be safely considered extinct.

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