Ticonderoga-Class Cruisers: A Deep Dive into the US Navy's Powerhouse

May 23, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. NavyNavyTiconderoga-classCold WarMilitaryDefense

Ticonderoga-Class Cruisers: A Deep Dive into the US Navy's Powerhouse

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers, introduced in 1981, are renowned for their Aegis Combat System and AN/SPY-1 radar.


Summary: The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers, introduced in 1981, are renowned for their Aegis Combat System and AN/SPY-1 radar.

U.S. Navy


-Originally planned as destroyers, their classification was changed to cruisers due to their enhanced combat capabilities.

-A total of 27 ships were built, with 13 still active. The class featured significant firepower, including the Mark 41 Vertical Launch System for various missiles.

-The first five ships, limited by their missile systems, were retired early, with USS Ticonderoga decommissioned in 2004 and later scrapped in 2020. Efforts to preserve it as a museum failed.

On May 16, 1981, then First Lady Nancy Reagan christened the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47), the fifth United States Navy vessel named in honor of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 at the start of the American offensive during the American Revolution.

The name was derived from an Iroquois word that means "it is at the junction of two waterways."

Ticonderoga-Class History 

CG-47 was the first of a new class of cruisers that were ordered and authorized in the 1978 fiscal year (FY78) budget request.

Originally planned as a class of destroyers, the increased combat capability offered by the Aegis Combat System and the passive phased array AN/SPY-1 radar, together with the capability of operating as a flagship, resulted in the change of the classification from DDG (guided-missile destroyer) to CG (guided-missile cruiser) shortly before the keels were laid down for the USS Ticonderoga her sister vessel USS Yorktown (CG-48).

U.S. Navy

Most of the warships of the Ticonderoga-class are named for significant battles in U.S. history – with a few notable exceptions. A total of 27 were built between 1980 and 1994, and currently 13 remain active. Four of the warships, including the lead vessel of her class, were sent for scrapping, while the USS Valley Forge (CG-50) was sunk as a target ship. Nine are currently in the reserve fleet.

The Cold War Guided Missile Cruisers

The twenty-seven vessels of the Ticonderoga-class were built by Ingalls Shipbuilding at Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Bath Iron Works (a General Dynamics Company) in Bath, Maine.

The vessels were envisaged as an affordable, advanced area-defense platform that could be constructed in large numbers – but evolved into one of the most advanced warships of the Cold War. And they were oozing with lots of firepower to fight Russia if a war ever broke out. 

The design was actually based on the hull of the Spruance-class destroyer – and thus initially envisioned to serve as a large destroyer. Redesignated guided-missile cruisers, the vessels were employed to support and protect U.S. carrier battle groups and amphibious assault groups; and perform interdiction and escort missions.

The vessels of the Ticonderoga-class were the first surface combatant ships equipped with the AEGIS weapon system, considered the most sophisticated air defense system in the world.

The heart of AEGIS is its SPY-1A radar, where two paired phased array radars automatically detect and track air contacts beyond 322 km. It was first fielded in the early 1980s and was largely considered to be ahead of anything at the time.

The warships have seen action in most U.S. Navy operations since their introduction in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Mark 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) Variants

The Ticonderoga-class ships built after USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51) included two Mark 41 Vertical Launching Systems (VLS), which equipped the vessels with 122 missile storage and launching tubes that can carry a wide variety of missiles, including the Tomahawk cruise missile, Standard surface-to-air missile, Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile, and ASROC antisubmarine warfare (ASW) guided rockets.

In addition, the VLS enabled all missiles to be on full standby at any given time, shortening the warship's response time before firing.

A standard missile loadout for the upgraded Ticonderoga-class cruisers was reported to be eighty SM-2 SAMs, sixteen ASROC anti-submarine rockets, and twenty-six Tomahawk cruise missiles.

U.S. Navy

End of the Line for the First Five

Although the USS Ticonderoga was built with a 35-year service life, the limited missile capacity of her twin Mark 26 missile launch systems rendered her obsolete by the end of the Cold War. As a result, Ticonderoga adopted a primary mission of counternarcotics in the 1990s and 2000s and made multiple patrols of the Caribbean in that role.

In fact, all of the first five ships of the class – those which had two twin Mk.26 missile launchers, firing Standard SM2-MR missiles. That limited their missile capacity to a total of 88 missiles, and the ships could not fire the Tomahawk missile. After the end of the Cold War, the lower capabilities of the original five warships limited them to duties close to the home waters of the United States.

These were the first to be retired from active service.

Since 2006, the surviving warships of the Ticonderoga-class were improved and received new ESSM Standard SM-2 Mod.4 surface-to-air missiles, two RAM missile launchers, and new radars, extending their service with the U.S. Navy.

Sadly, No Museum Ship for the USS Ticonderoga

After being decommissioned in 2004, the lead vessel was towed to the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia, where she remained until 2020. In 2010, she was offered for museum donation by the U.S. Navy – and an effort was even made to see the warship moved to Pascagoula, Mississippi, where she was built.

Unfortunately, efforts to raise the funds to see the vessel preserved fell short. No other potential museum sites were able to step up – and in September 2020, the former CG-47 arrived at Brownsville, Texas, for scrapping. USS Ticonderoga was the first of four vessels to meet such a fate. 

There remains hope however that one of the other vessels of her class could be preserved as a museum ship.

Key Ticonderoga-class Specs and FAQs

Displacement: 9800 tons (full load)

Length: 173 meters (567 ft)

Beam: 16,8 meters (55 ft)

Draft: 10,2 meters (34 ft)

Speed: 32.5 knots (60 km/h)

Range: 6000 NM (11000km) at 20 knots (37 km/h) / 3300 NM (6100 km) at 30 knots (56 km/h)

Complement: 330


4 x General Electric LM2500 gas turbines (80000 shp); 2 shafts, 2 controllable-reversible pitch (CRP) propellers, 2 rudders


Missile launcher (CG 47-51)

2 x Mk-26 Guided Missile Launching Systems (GMLS)

(1 forward / 1 aft = 2 x 44 missiles) for a mix of: RIM-66 Standard Missiles SM-2MR; RUR-5 ASROC anti-submarine rocket

Missile launcher (CG 52-73)

2 x Mk-41 Vertical Launching Systems / VLS

(1 forward / 1 aft = 2 x 61 cells) for a mix of: BGM-109 Tomahawk; RIM-66M-5 Standard Missile SM-2MR;

RIM-67/RIM-156A Standard Missile SM-2ER; RIM-161 Standard Missile SM-3; RIM-174 Standard ERAM; RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM); RUM-139 Vertical Launch ASROC

Common armament (CG 47-73)

2 x Mk-45 (Mod.1/2) 5-inch/54 guns

2 x Mk-141 missile launcher for up to 8 RGM-84 Harpoon SSM

2 x Mk-15 Phalanx CIWS

2 x Mk-32 surface vessel torpedo tubes (SVTT) for 6 Mk-46, Mk-50 or Mk-54 torpedoes

2 x Mk-38 machine gun systems (MGS)

Caliber .50 (12,7 mm) and 7.62 mm machine guns


Landing deck and hangar for 2 helicopters (MH-60S, MH-60R Seahawk)

Author Experience and Expertise

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

All images are Creative Commons.