In the late 1960s, the US Navy sought to build a new class of destroyer which would serve principally as an anti-submarine platform which could escort carrier battle groups. The hull was a completely new design, breaking completely from past designs. The design was given a very substantial growth margin. They were the first US Navy warships to have gas turbine propulsion. From 1970 to 1979, thirty-one Spruance (DD-963) class destroyers were authorized by Congress. At 563 feet in length, they were as large as contemporary cruiser designs but lacked the armament necessary to obtain the designation "cruiser". Built entirely at Ingalls Shipbuilding, they commissioned 1975-83.
The initial response to the new Soviet challenges had been to design the nuclear-powered DLGN–36s 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.
The Spruances, with the new SQS–56 sonar, extensive quieting, and space for a passive towed array, were impressive ASW ships. Unfortunately, these platforms suffered from the usual cost escalation experienced by cutting-edge warships and were very expensive. The lead Spruance, initially proposed as a “modest escort vessel,” went through numerous design alterations, and the new missile and sonar systems helped increase her size to 8,040 tons full load—the largest destroyer ever built to that point. Follow-on destroyers ran about $80 million each in FY 1968.
Confronted with declining budgets on the one hand and cost escalation in warship construction on the other, Zumwalt scrapped most of the obsolete escorts in the Reserve Fleet—which dropped from 267 ships to 70 — to free up money for new procurement. Even with these measures, the Navy still could not replace the old escorts with new Spruances on a one-for-one basis.
The DD-963 (Spruance Class) Program was originally planned to provide fifty new ASW destroyers, with additional gunfire support mission capability. Thirty were eventually approved and a contract awarded to Litton Systems, Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi on 23 June 1970.
Thirty-one SPRUANCE-class destroyers were developed for the primary mission of anti-submarine warfare, including operations as an integral part of attack carrier forces. Spruance-class destroyers have excellent strike and antisubmarine mission capabilities, but they are limited to self-defense against a narrow range of air threats. They completed a long-term modernization program during which they received SH-60B helicopters, Tomahawk missiles, and Phalanx. Adding the Tomahawk has greatly expanded their role in strike warfare. The Spruance class ships were more than twice as large as a World War II destroyer and as large as a World War II cruiser.
At 7,800 tons displacement, the DD-963 was substantially larger than earlier destroyer types and had over twice the displacement of the 3,600-ton FFG-7-class frigates. Despite its size, cost, and general-purpose ("DD") designation, this class was often criticized as being deficient in overall combat capability. It was designed primarily as an ASW ship, using the SQS-53 sonar and ASROC sensor-weapon combination, and is widely acknowledged to be an excellent platform for active-sonar ASW. These ships were backfitted with the SQR-19 towed-array sonar and the LAMPS III helicopter, which further improved their ASW capability. As initially outfitted, however, they had only a short-range, self-defense AAW system, and their surface engagement weapons were limited to two five-inch guns. This very modest AAW and ASuW capability was the basis of much of the criticism of these ships. The Navy increased the AAW and ASuW capabilities of the DD-963 class by installing a new-design AAW system and a Tomahawk missile launch capability in a mid-life upgrade in the 1980s.
The primary radar was the SPS-40 2D air search radar. Mk91 missile control system was provided for Mk25 BPDMS Sea Sparrow missile launcher which was originally fitted in the class. Later this system was replaced by Mk29 NATO Sea Sparrow. SQS-53B bow sonar was introduced in the lead ships; later ships had SQS-53C. They were able to deploy towed array sonars; most recently the SQR-19. In the 1980s, the SQQ-89 anti-submarine combat system was installed which combined the bow array, towed array, and sonobuoy data processing making them even more effective at their primary ASW task. Complete facilities were provided for two SH-60B Seahawk helicopters (LAMPS III) including hangar and RASTsystem.
Built with future growth in mind, their design is modular in nature, allowing for easy installation of entire subsystems within the ship. Space and power reservations have been made to accommodate future weapons and electronics systems as they are developed. DD 986 lacked most of the updates given other units of the class; she acts as "Smart Ship'' cost-reduction trials ship for the Pacific Fleet.
Originally developed as Anti-Submarine (ASW) destroyers, in the 1980s and 90s twenty-four ships of this class were upgraded with the installation of a 61 cell Vertical Launch Missile System (VLS) capable of launching Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles. The VLS missile systems replaced the Mk16 ASROC launcher. In 1998, seven Spruance class ships without VLS were decommissioned and placed in reserve. An eighth ship was decommissioned in October 2000. The remaining ships had undergone gradual modernization; some of received RAM missile mounts though variations within the class were wide.
Displacements had risen considerably as equipment has been added; they were originally intended to displace under 7,000 tons full load. DD 997, with additional Kevlar armor, displaced 8,250 tons full load as completed, and Kevlar plastic armor was added later to all units of the class to inside vital spaces, beginning with four ships under FY 81; the entire class had been equipped by 1986. The superstructure is aluminum, welded to the hull via bimetallic strips.
Radar cross-section reduction measures were instituted, including radar-absorbent materials being added to the superstructure and masts and alterations to the antenna installations. DD 968 was given a new Ingalls-built Advanced Enclosed Mast/Sensor System (AEM/S) composite-construction replacement mainmast during FY 97 refit. The hullform was designed to minimize rolling and pitching; there are no fin stabilizers. DD 985 conducted successful trials with a rudder roll-reduction system during 1988. DD 969 was employed 1994-95 in successful trials of a topside coating intended to reduce the formation of ice.
As of mid-2000 the Navy planned to decommission 11 ships in this class between 2001 and 2005 and the remaining 13 ships between 2006 and 2009. Navy destroyers have historically been retired by 30 years of service. By 2009 the oldest unit of this class would have been in commission for 26 years. A plan to decommission four ships prematurely during FY 95 was canceled, but in 1997 it was recommended that those units which had not been backfitted with vertical launchers be retired. In 1998 the seven Spruance-class destroyers which did not receive the Tomahawk VLS upgrade (DD 974, 976, 979, 983, 984, 986, 990) were decommissioned after only two decades of service, to accomodate the introduction of the improved AEGIS-capable Arleigh Burke destroyers. During the year 2001 the ships Caron [DD 970] and Moosbrugger [DD 980] were decommissioned. All decommissioned ships were scheduled to be scrapped.
As of early 2002 the Navy had decided to decommission the 19 remaining Spruance-class destroyers by fiscal year 2006. The USS David R. Ray was decommissioned in February 2002 in Everett, Wash.
The DD 963 Class was expensive to maintain because of its large crew size and age and provides only marginal warfighting capability due to the ship's older and more focused mission combat system. These ships had an earlier modernization with the introduction of the Vertical Launch System (VLS), which extended the combat system relevant life beyond the historical 20 years. However, while the ships still provided some warfighting capability with two 5' 54" guns and an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) suite, the higher manning requirements and operational costs did not justify additional funds for further modification or extended service life. New DDG 51 Class ships being introduced to the fleet provided substantially more capability and an ample number of VLS tubes to support current Tomahawk inventory. It was not cost effective to keep the DD 963 Class in the inventory. The decommissioning schedule saved the Navy about $1.25 billion over the Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) that can be applied to transformational efforts such as electric drive, advanced networks and stealth technology which will bring new warfighting capabilities to the fleet.
On April 19, 2004 a report in the Taipei Times indicated that the Taiwan military was considering a plan to buy decommissioned Spruance class destroyers from the United States to replace aging Knox class frigates. Reports indicate that Taiwan would have to buy about four ships to replace eight Knox ships.
USS Cushing (DD 985), the last Spruance-class destroyer, decommissioned in San Diego on 21 September 2005.
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