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The Navy’s First Aegis Warship USS Ticonderoga Is Being Scrapped

The first-in-class guided-missile cruiser USS Ticonderoga recently arrived in the Port of Brownsville in Texas where it will be scrapped. The U.S. Navy decommissioned this ship, the first of the service’s operational warships to be equipped with the Aegis combat system, in 2004 after just over two decades in service.

The ex-Ticonderoga arrived at International Shipbreaking Limited’s yard in Brownsville in September, according to a report from the Valley Morning Star newspaper in Texas. International Shipbreaking is a subsidiary of the EMR Group, which describes its work as “marine recycling,” rather than scrapping.

The retired Navy cruiser will be broken down in a “safe, respectful and responsible manner,” International Shipbreaking Senior Manager Chris Green told the Valley Morning Star. The “recycling” process will certainly bring a final end to Ticonderoga‘s significant and distinguished history.

Ticonderoga was laid down in 1980 in Ingalls Shipbuilding’s yard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The development of this class of ships had begun in the 1970s using a derivative of the hullform from the existing Spruance class guided-missile destroyer. The Navy determined that leveraging the existing design would be cheaper than acquiring an all-new ship design to accommodate the then-new Aegis combat system and the associated AN/SPY-1 radar. These ships were also the first for the Navy to be built in distinct vertical modules that were then linked together, rather than entirely from the hull up, a process also meant to save time and money.

It is worth noting that the decision to use the Spruance class hullform as a starting place also resulted in notably overloaded ships that suffer to this day from persistent cracking in their aluminum superstructures, which is both time-consuming and costly to repair. 

With their Spruance DNA, these ships were originally categorized as guided-missile destroyers, rather than cruisers. However, the powerful combination of Aegis and the AN/SPY-1 radars, as well as the addition of other then-state-of-the-art systems into the ship’s design, led the Navy to determine it could serve as a flagship for surface action groups and it would become a key air warfare battle management nerve center for Carrier Strike Groups, roles you can read about in more detail in this past War Zone piece. In turn, the service then decided to re-categorize them as cruisers to reflect their broader capabilities.

The first five Ticonderoga class ships, one of which, the USS Thomas S. Gates, was built at Bath Iron Works in Maine, were commissioned between 1983 and 1987. The other three ships in this initial group were the USS Yorktown, USS Vincennes, and USS Valley Forge.

The main armament of these ships consisted of a pair of twin-rail Mk 26 missile launchers and two five-inch guns, one of each at the bow and at the stern, as well as two four-round launchers for Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles on the fantail. The Mk 26s were capable of firing the Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) surface to air missile and the RUR-5 Anti-Submarine Rocket (ASROC). These cruisers also had deck-mounted torpedo tubes and a pair of Phalanx Close-in Weapon Systems (CIWS).

Starting in 1984, Ingalls and Bath Iron Works began building subvariants of the Ticonderoga class that replaced each of the Mk 26s with a 61-cell Mk 41 Vertical Launch System array, allowing them to employ a much wider array of weapons more reliably and rapidly, including the Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile. These two yards ultimately built 22 more of the cruisers in this much more capable, multi-mission configuration.

Still, the Navy made good use of the Ticonderoga and the other four initial cruisers in the class. The USS Ticonderoga, as well as her sister ship USS Vincennes, took part in the Tanker War sideshow to the Iran-Iraq War in the Persian Gulf in the late 1980s. It was during those operations that Vincennes became infamously responsible for the tragic shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 in 1985. Ticonderoga also supported the Persian Gulf War between 1991 and 1992.

After more than a decade of continued service, the Navy decommissioned Ticonderoga in 2004. The service also decommissioned Yorktown and Valley Forge that year. Vincennes and Thomas S. Gates followed them into mothballs the next year. Retired ships destined for the scrap yard will first go through a process to remove any sensitive equipment, as well as salvage any items that could be reused on other Navy ships. 

Of the original five Ticonderoga class cruisers, only the lead ship and the ex-Yorktown are still with us, for now. The former Vincennes and Thomas S. Gates have already been scrapped. The Navy sunk the former Valley Forge off the coast of Hawai as part of a SINKEX in 2006.

The beginning of the end of the ex-Ticonderoga comes as the Navy is again pushing to retire more of its older warships, potentially including some of the remaining cruisers in this class, as part of a new push to modernize and expand the service’s fleets. Past attempts to retire Ticonderoga class ships have been met with pushback from members of Congress and it remains to be seen what parts, if any, of this new naval force structure plan will become a reality.

No matter what, the first ship of this class, which ushered in numerous firsts in the U.S. Navy, is now finally at the hands of the scrapper’s torch.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com


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