The Republic Navies: The Last Cruiser...Probably

By Normal Polmar

Sea trials began in the summer of 1996. The ship suffered an accident while on trials on 27 October, as she was steaming in rough seas in the Baltic. A steam line under high pressure broke, killing one man and injuring several more, four of whom subsequently died. 

Nuclear-Propelled Surface Combatants

United States


Long Beach

Comm. 1961



Comm. 1962



Comm. 1967



Comm. 1974


South Carolina

Comm. 1975



Comm. 1976



Comm. 1977



Comm. 1978



Comm. 1980

Soviet Union/Russia


Admiral Ushakov (ex-Kirov)

Comm. 1980


Admiral Lazarev (ex-Frunze)

Comm. 1984


Admiral Nakhimov (ex-Kalinin)

Comm. 1988


Petr Velikiy (ex-Yuri Andropov)

Comm. 1997

*Hull numbers are given for U.S. ships; project numbers for Soviet/Russian ships.

After repairs and the loading of stores, on 16 November the giant cruiser left the naval base at Baltiysk, near Kaliningrad, and sailed through the Baltic Sea. Out into the North Sea, she set course for Severomorsk, the main base of the Russian Northern Fleet, on the Kola Peninsula. From keel-laying to completion, the Petr Velikiy is taking more than ten years, compared to six to seven years for her three predecessors.

Under current plans, the ship eventually will be transferred to the Pacific Fleet. There she will replace the similar Admiral Lazarev, which is no longer operational, although she was completed in 1984. The Northern Fleet has the nuclear cruiser Admiral Nakhimov of this class in service; the earlier Admiral Ushakov —the first of the class—apparently no longer is operational.

Thus, two nuclear-propelled cruisers probably will be active in the Russian Navy at the turn of the century. No additional ships of this class will be built, and it now seems unlikely that Russia will build cruisers of any kind in the future.

By comparison, the U.S. Navy has built nine nuclear-propelled cruisers. These ships—all smaller than the Kirovs —will be discarded by the year 2000. Three currently are in commission: the California (CGN-36), South Carolina (CGN-37), and Arkansas (CGN-41). However, these three—and five of the CGNs already taken out of service—are not truly cruisers, having been designed (and most built) as large destroyer-type ships, then called guided-missile frigates (DLGNs). They were reclassified as cruisers in 1975.

The only U.S. warship constructed in the past 50 years as a true cruiser—with cruiser lines, armor, etc.—was the Long Beach (CGN-9). Completed in 1961, the Long Beach was the world's first nuclear-propelled surface warship. Originally ordered as a light cruiser (CLGN-160), she had a full load displacement of 16,250 tons and was completed with an all-missile armament. 3

Nine cruiser/destroyer-type ships were completed for the U.S. Navy from 1961 to 1980. Admiral H. G. Rickover had obtained congressional legislation (Title X, U.S. Code) that directed all major surface combatants to be nuclear-propelled. Under his proposals there were to be 4 nuclear cruisers to operate with each of 12 carriers—a grandiose plan for some 48 nuclear screening ships. Fiscal constraints as well as sound judgment led the Navy to cancel further DLGN/CGN construction, and only the nine nuclear surface combatants were built. Further, except for their propulsion plant, the later nuclear ships were significantly inferior in combat capabilities to their oil-burning contemporaries.

Beyond the three soon-to-be-discarded nuclear cruisers, the U.S. Navy has 27 ships of the Ticonderoga (CG-47) class in service. Originally guided-missile destroyers, these gas-turbine ships were reclassified CG in 1980, to reflect their capabilities and cost. 4 Accordingly, no ships of cruiser design remain in U.S. service.

Led by the Kirov , Soviet/Russian battle cruisers had their beginning in the mid-1960s, developed as Project 1144 for "long-term uninterrupted search for enemy nuclear submarines with the goal of striking against them, shortly after the beginning of combat operations." 5 The Ki r ov design—undertaken by the Northern Design Bureau under chief designer B. I. Kypyenski and later V. A. Peryevalov—initially was envisioned as a nuclear-propelled ship of some 9,000 tons standard displacement. However, additional systems were added to the design, and in August 1971 the decision was made to merge Project 1165, a cruiser to have long-range (SS-N-20) antiship missiles, with Project 1144, primarily an antisubmarine ship.

The combined capabilities warship would have a standard displacement of 24,000 tons and about 26,000 tons full load. (This full load displacement is about 10,000 tons greater than that of the Long Beach .) Nuclear propulsion would provide a speed of more than 30 knots, with a virtually unlimited cruising range. In an unusual arrangement, the Kirov has steam turbines with two nuclear reactors augmented by oil-fired superheaters to achieve maximum speeds with 140,000 shaft horsepower. Maximum high-speed endurance is limited by the fuel oil carried for the superheater.

Significantly, the Kirov design incorporates a high degree of automation, with the ships having a complement of about 700 men. The Long Beach , when fully operational as a missile cruiser, had more than 1,000 men on board. (In general terms, the "weight" of missile firepower of the Kirov is far greater than that of the Long Beach , with the Soviet ship also having a major gun battery and facilities for three helicopters.)

The Kirov went to sea in 1980, being described by the U.S. intelligence community as carrying "an array of weapons that makes it one of the most powerfully armed surface warships in the world." 6 After providing an overview of the ship's combat capabilities, the assessment noted: " Kirov -class ships probably also will be used in peacetime `naval presence' operations in areas such as the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean."

The Russian Navy of the early 21st century will be much smaller than the Soviet fleet at the end of the Cold War. With the single aircraft carrier expected to be in Russian service, the Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov , the nuclear battle cruisers Admiral Nakhimov and Petr Velikiy will be the largest and most impressive surface warships of Russian Navy.

1 All four cruisers originally were named for Bolshevik leaders; they were renamed, three for admirals and one for the father of the Russian Navy, in 1992.

2 Subsequently. the Russian Navy's first full-deck carrier was renamed for Admiral Kuznetsov, who had twice served as head of the Soviet Navy.

3 The Soviet icebreaker Lenin, completed in September 1959, was the world's first nuclear-propelled surface ship.

4 The Ticonderoga design was a modification of the Spruance (DD-963) design.

5 Shipbuilding in the Postwar Period, 1946-1991, vol. 5 of The History of Native Shipbuilding (St. Petersburg: Sudostronyie, 1996), p. 328.

6 Central Intelligence Agency, Characteristics of the Kirov Nuclear-Powered Guided Missile Cruiser (U) (Washington, D.C.: June 1981), p. 111. A useful contemporary analysis of the Kirov is James W. Kehoe and Kenneth S. Brower, "Their New Cruiser," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, December 1980, pp. 121-26. 



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