Budget reductions have forced the US Navy to consider reducing the number of surface warships. The cuts could include vessels devoted to missile defence – once a sacrosanct mission for the world’s most powerful navy.
Navy planners have drafted an alternative five-year budget that could go into effect if President Barack Obama and the US Congress decide to seek further spending reductions on top of the $40-billion-a-year savings agreed upon earlier this year.
The alternative plan would decommission nine 1980s vintage Ticonderoga-class cruisers from the current force of 22. The cuts would take effect in 2013 and 2014. With their 35 year service lives, the cruisers were originally planned to leave active service sometime in the 2020s.
The Ticonderogas, each 570 feet-long, are among the world’s most powerful warships. They are equipped with Aegis radar systems and up to 122 long-range missiles.
The radar-and-missile combination makes the Ticonderogas ideal missile defence platforms. With tweaks to their radars and software, the cruisers can fire SM-2 and SM-3 missiles capable of intercepting enemy ballistic missiles. The Navy stations missile defence-capable Ticonderogas in California and Japan and could include the cruisers when it begins deploying missile defence ships to Rota, Spain, starting in 2015.
The smaller Burke-class destroyers, of which the Navy is building at least 74, can also intercept ballistic missiles.
The Navy routinely prepares multiple plans to account for budget uncertainties. It’s possible the cruisers will remain in service. If vessels do decommission early, though, they could leave a gap in the United States’ still-evolving missile defences.