Nuclear cruiser - Atomkreuzer

Six US Navy nuclear cruisers in formation

As nuclear cruisers are nuclear -powered cruiser called. The first ships of this type entered service in the 1960s during the Cold War . A total of 13 nuclear cruisers were built in the USA and the Soviet Union , of which only two are currently in service with Russian units. All ships of this type were guided missile cruisers , which is why they (in US-American nomenclature) were given the designation CGN for Cruiser Guided Missile nuclear powered .


US Navy

The United States Navy put a total of nine nuclear cruisers into service between 1961 and 1980. They were all deactivated in the 1990s.

The USS Long Beach , the world's first nuclear cruiser

The first nuclear cruiser to enter service worldwide was the US Navy's USS Long Beach (CGN-9) in 1961 . It was built and completed in parallel with the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) . A year later the second unit followed with the USS Bainbridge (CGN-25) . The third nuclear cruiser in the US Navy was the USS Truxtun (CGN-35) , which entered service in 1967. These three ships were prototypes that were developed from the conventionally powered cruiser classes Leahy and Belknap , respectively.

After these three individual units, the first class of nuclear cruisers was built in 1970. The California class was to consist of three units, the last unit was deleted for reasons of cost. The two units finally entered service in 1974 and 1975. The next class of nuclear cruisers was the Virginia class . This class should initiate the mass development of nuclear cruisers in the US Navy. At times, up to 23 units were planned. In fact, only four units were built and entered service in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1980. However, even with these four ships the budget was exceeded by far, which was also due to the inflation in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, the Aegis combat system was developed. This was far superior to normal anti-aircraft radar systems and should be used on the new generation of cruisers. According to the original plans it should be installed from the fifth unit of the Virginia class , alternatively it would have been used on the CGN-42 class . Instead, the Ticonderoga class was developed for the system. With this class of gas turbines, the development of nuclear cruisers in the US Navy was practically over.

The decommissioning of the nine ships of the US Navy took place in the 1990s. By this time, the three individual units had reached the end of their intended service life of around 30 years and also three (USS Long Beach) or two each ( USS Bainbridge and USS Truxtun ) had their nuclear fuel renewed. However, this was not the case with the six later units. The California and VirginiaUnits were put into service between 1974 and 1980 and thus only lasted between 16 and 25 years of service. They had even undergone a thorough overhaul in the early 1990s. In these ships, however, the fuel rods would have had to be replaced in the mid / late 1990s, so that the ships were deactivated for reasons of cost.

Soviet and Russian navies

The Frunze at sea in 1985

The Soviet Navy began building nuclear cruisers much later. The first unit of the Kirov class , the Kirow , was laid down in 1973 and only entered service in 1980, at the same time as the last American nuclear cruisers were put into service. The second unit, the Frunze, followed in 1985, the third, named Kalinin in 1988. The fourth ship of the class, the Yuri Andropow , was laid down in 1986, but after long delays it was not put into service until 1996 with the now Russian Navy . A fifth unit was laid on the keel, but was abandoned in 1992 before completion in the shipyard.

In 1999 the first ship of the class came to the yard for overhaul, but was written off and dismantled in 2001. The second unit is being overhauled after an accident with the drive system in 1990 and the associated inactivity since 2001 (the exact condition is unknown). The third unit was overhauled in 2005 to be upgraded to a new missile system. Currently, only the battle cruiser Pyotr Veliki is in active service as the flagship .

Classification and naming

The USS South Carolina was put into service as a DLGN

US Navy

There was already some uncertainty about the classification of the USS Long Beach . In addition to CGN also was CLGN with the L for light / easy talking. From the USS Bainbridge to the USS South Carolina (CGN-37) (the second unit of the California class ), the units were referred to as DLGN when they were commissioned . This acronym stands for Destroyer Leader Guided Missile nuclear powered or nuclear powered guided missile destroyer leader . In common parlance, units were identified by DLHowever began when Large Frigates (Grand frigates ) referred. Since this designation had no relation to the size and military importance of the nuclear cruisers, the classification was changed on June 30, 1975 and all DLGN were reclassified to CGN .

The naming of the ships did not follow a clear line. As usual with cruisers, the USS Long Beach was named after a city. The USS Bainbridge and the USS Truxtun were named, as was customary with destroyers until 1975, after combatants in the US Navy who were a role model for their comrades through outstanding bravery or were honored for other reasons. The remaining six ships were named after states. This shows that the ships were very important in the US Navy, as only capital ships are named after states. At that time this was reserved exclusively for battleships .

Soviet and Russian navies

The units were classified by NATO as battle cruisers , which took into account the immense size compared to nuclear cruisers of western design. The four ships were named after important personalities of the Soviet Union, namely Sergei Kirov , Mikhail Frunze , Mikhail Kalinin and Yuri Andropov . After the collapse of the Soviet Union , the units were given new names. The Kirov became the Admiral Uschakow , named after Fyodor Uschakow , the Frunze was renamed Admiral Lazarew after Mikhail LazarewThat Kalinin after Pavel Nakhimov in Admiral Nakhimov renamed from the Yuri Andropov was named in honor of Peter the Great , the Pyotr Veliky .

Technology and crew

The armament of nuclear cruisers consists mainly of guided missiles

Apart from the USS Bainbridge and the USS Truxtun , each with approx. 9,000 tons , all nuclear cruisers had a displacement of over 10,000 tons. The largest nuclear cruisers were the Kirovswith approx. 25,000 tons. The US Navy never succeeded in installing nuclear reactors in ships with a displacement of only 5,000 tons, as was common in the 1960s, for reasons of weight. Since the smallest atomic cruisers already mentioned were modifications of conventionally powered units, it is also known that the atomic propulsion system increases the displacement of a ship by around 1,000 tons. The ships are between 170 and 220 meters (US Navy) or 250 meters (Soviet Navy) long. These are also the largest guided missile cruisers ever built.

Each of the 13 nuclear cruisers had two pressurized water reactors on board. The units of the Kirow class also had a CONAS system on board, with which the steam generated by the reactor could also be conventionally heated. The nuclear powered cruisers were not faster than conventionally powered warships and, like these, can run just over 30 knots . However, their special drive enables an almost unlimited range. With one reactor filling, this was around 700,000 nautical miles in the 1990s . At the beginning, when the nuclear propulsion system on ships was still new, the range was no more than half.

The main disadvantage of the nuclear cruisers is that the nuclear propulsion system increases the number of crews. Highly qualified specialists are required for the maintenance and control of the reactors, as well as nuclear engineers who are difficult to keep in government service. This, as well as the regular refilling of the reactor, drive up the maintenance costs of the ships. In addition, the ships are already considerably more expensive to build than comparable conventionally powered units.

Mission profile

US Navy

Nuclear combat group in the Mediterranean in 1964

The nuclear cruisers of the US Navy, apart from the USS Long Beach , which had long-range anti-aircraft missiles on board, do not fit into the typical cruiser definition, namely the ability to operate on their own without escort ships. Because until the 1980s they lacked the necessary armament for attacks on ships and on distant airborne targets. Instead, they've been by design, clear as escorts (in charge of air defense and anti-submarine ) for also nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the Nimitz class was designed. In the 1980s, the US Navy's nuclear cruisers with anti-ship missiles AGM-84 Harpoonequipped, whereby the combat power against sea targets was significantly expanded. The four Virginia and the USS Long Beach also received Armored Box Launcher with cruise missiles type BGM-109 Tomahawk , allowed the tactical and nuclear attacks on land targets.

The US Navy wanted to use the atomic cruisers to increasingly form nuclear-only carrier combat groups . For this, an atomic cruiser: carrier ratio of at least 2: 1, ideally 4: 1, should be established. The Navy stayed between these specifications until the 1980s, but as the production of nuclear carriers continued, the ratio slipped to 1.3: 1. The intended nuclear task forces were only actually deployed once: in 1979, as part of the hostage-taking of Tehran, a group consisting of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) , as well as the nuclear cruisers USS Texas (CGN-39) and USS California (CGN- 36)dispatched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. This voyage was carried out by the ships at high speed, which is also the fundamental advantage of the nuclear powered cruisers: They are able to be moved together with the carrier to other operating areas and there immediately, even over long distances at a consistently high speed to be ready for use without having to re- bunker . The Navy tested this capability as early as 1964 when the USS Enterprise , the USS Long Beach and the USS Bainbridge carried out a complete orbit around the world in just 65 days in Operation Sea Orbit .

Soviet and Russian navies

On the left the Kirow , type ship of her class, on the right the Marshal Ustinow , a conventional Slava cruiser (1992)

From the beginning, the Soviet and Russian nuclear cruisers were based much more on the classic cruiser term. They were planned as offensive units with anti-ship, anti-air and anti-submarine capacities, so as an "all-round unit" for individual operations. Thus, they served as flagships within the Soviet and later Russian fleet. As such, they would have been supported by smaller units such as frigates and destroyers in an emergency .

List of nuclear cruisers

United States Navy

Soviet / Russian Navy


This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on June 10, 2006 .