In the 12 years since the Pentagon canceled the next-generation cruiser, the question seemed to have no good answer: How is the Navy going to replace its 22 Ticonderoga-class cruisers, the air defense ships that each pack 122 vertical-launching missile cells?
The ideas varied from cheap arsenal ships designed to pack scores of missile cells capable of remote firing, to a larger version of the Arleigh Burke able to support more than its current 96 more missile tubes, to today’s push for an unmanned surface vessel that can act as an adjunct missile magazine accompanying the fleet and that can be rotated out as it expends its payloads.
But each of those solutions has encountered problems, and all the while the cruisers keep getting older, more worn and closer to the day when maintenance costs outweigh the vessels’ benefits.
As it gears up for its 2022 budget battle, the Navy has signaled it is time to move on and phase out the cruisers to make room for the next-generation Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, even if it means shrinking the fleet in the near term. The Flight III doesn’t solve the Navy’s missile problem, but it does have enough space onboard (it’s about 400 tons heavier than its Flight IIA counterparts) to house the air warfare command role that currently belongs to the cruisers…
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