While the Navy’s long range cruiser program is still in flux, the modernization effort for the Navy’s Ticonderoga-class (CG-47) guided missile cruisers has begun with USS Cowpens (CG-63) and USS Gettysburg (CG-64), the service told USNI News this week.
The $350 million-per-hull effort, paid for by a fund Congress established last year, will upgrade the ship’s hull, mechanical and engineering spaces, improve some aspects of the crew’s quarters, upgrade the cruisers to operate in the Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) concept and field Raytheon’s Standard Missile (SM) 6.
Work has already begun on Gettysburg and work on Cowpens is scheduled for next year.
The upgrades are the service’s first step in its controversial plan to modernize and preserve up to 11 cruisers and keep Ticonderogas well into the 2040s.
“The ships would be minimally manned while in that reduced status and, as the other 11 active cruisers reach the end of their service life, cruisers in lay-up would be modernized and returned to operational status,” read a recent description of the program from the Congressional Budget Office.
“Using that approach, the Navy would be able to maintain at least 11 operationally active cruisers (1 for each of the Navy’s planned 11 carrier strike groups) through 2034, with the last cruiser retiring in 2044.”
Absent a new large surface combatant capable of handling the air defense commander role for the carrier strike group, the service has reiterated over the course of the year.
“We need an air defense commander with deploying battle groups,” Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA), told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces in a July hearing.
“11 carriers, 11 carrier battle groups, 11 air defense commanders.”
The Navy had planned to include a position for the air defense commander on a planned Flight IV version of its Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer (DDG-51) but shelved those plans due to the looming costs of the Ohio-replacement nuclear ballistic missile submarine program.
As part of the recently passed Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress decided to allow the service to move ahead with the plan and has adopted a wait-and-see attitude moving further deliberation into the debate over the FY 2016 Navy budget.
“They can stand down two this year but [the bill] doesn’t address what they do in future years,” a legislative staffer told reporters last month.
USNI News understands the Navy is still formulating how it wants to proceed with cruiser modernization after the respite from the 2015 NDAA.