No Cruisers in NATO by 2028: U.S. Navy to Retire All 22 Ticonderoga Class Ships in Five Years

The U.S. Navy’s latest 30 year shipbuilding plan has indicated that all Ticonderoga Class cruisers will be retired within five years, which comes as the the U.S. military has accelerated efforts to retire older hardware and thus lower operational expenses in the face of growing strain on its budgets. Other examples of retirements to reduce operational costs have notably included B-1B bombers and F-22 fighters, as well as Littoral Combat Ships which are being removed from the fleet several decades ahead of original plans. 22 Ticonderoga Class cruisers are currently in service, which represent the only surface combatants larger than a destroyer in service in any Western country. Built from 1980 to 1994, the ships were the first to use the AEGIS combat system and first entered service in 1983. Cuts to the fleet have been proposed since 2011, and the growing sophistication of Chinese surface combatants and anti ship weapons have left the large non stealthy American cruisers increasingly obsolete. A portion of the cruisers have continued to be modernised with a particular focus on anti ballistic missile capabilities, although in December 2021 the House of Representatives approved a bill to retire five of the cruisers two short of the Navy’s request to retire seven. Development of a next generation destroyer to replace the Arleigh Burke Class is thought to have motivated the more recent decision to accelerate the Ticonderoga’s retirement. 

Displacing 9800 tons each, the Ticonderoga Class were long considered heavier counterparts to the Arleigh Burke Class destroyers and carry 122 vertical launch cells each – making them the only Western surface combatants with comparable firepower to the Chinese Type 055 Class or South Korean Sejong the Great Class destroyers which are currently considered the most capable in the world. No destroyer in any Western navy has a comparable level of firepower, which made the cruisers highly prized assets. The Arleigh Burke Class by contrast deploys 96 launch cells, with older variants having only 90 while European destroyers carry only 48. The retirement of the Ticonderoga without replacement by a similarly sized ship comes as Western navies increasingly struggle to afford fielding large surface ship classes, a notable other example being the possible phasing out of destroyers from the British Royal Navy as the troubled Type 045 Class is retired without replacement. Where nothing of the size of the Ticonderoga Class is expected to be fielded in the Western world after its retirement, China’s Type 055 Class remains in production and future ships of similar or greater size are expected, while South Korea may also eventually develop a cruiser sized successor to the Sejong the Great Class destroyers.