Cruiser - Later 20th Century


Later 20th Century

The rise of air power during World War II dramatically changed the nature of naval combat. Even the fastest cruisers could not steer quickly enough to evade aerial attack, and aircraft now had torpedoes, allowing moderate-range standoff capabilities. This change led to the end of independent operations by single ships or very small task groups, and for the second half of the 20th century naval operations were based on very large fleets able to fend off all but the largest air attacks.

This has led most navies to change to fleets designed around ships dedicated to a single role, anti-submarine or anti-aircraft typically, and the large "generalist" ship has disappeared from most forces. The United States Navy, the Russian Navy, and the Peruvian Navy are the only remaining navies which operate cruisers. Italy used Vittorio Veneto until 2003, France operated a single cruiser until May 2010: Jeanne d'Arc, which in the NATO pennant number system was classified as an aircraft carrier, but for training purposes only.

In the Soviet Navy, cruisers formed the basis of combat groups. In the immediate post-war era they built a fleet of large-gun ships, but replaced these fairly quickly with very large ships carrying huge numbers of guided missiles and anti aircraft missiles. The most recent ships of this type, the four Kirovs, were built in the 1970s and 1980s. Currently two of the Kirov classes are currently in refit until 2020, and one is in refit until 2012. Only the Pyotr Velikiy is in active service. Russia also operates one Kara-class and four Slava-class cruisers, plus one Kuznetsov-class carrier which is officially designated as a cruiser.

Currently, the Kirov class of heavy missile cruisers are used for command purposes, as the Pyotr Velikiy is the Flagship of the Northern Fleet. However, their air defense capabilities are still powerful, as shown by its array of Point defense missiles, from 44 OSA-MA missiles to 196 9K311 Tor missiles. For longer range targets, the S-300 is used. For closer range targets, AK-630 or Kashtan CIWSs are used. Asides from that, Kirovs have 20 P-700 Granit for anti-ship warfare. For target acquisition beyond the radar horizon, three helicopters can be used. Besides a vast array of armaments, Kirov classes are also outfitted with many sensors and communications equipment, allowing them to lead the fleet.

The United States Navy has centered on the aircraft carrier since World War II. The Ticonderoga-class cruisers, built in the 1980s, were originally designed and designated as a class of destroyer, intended to provide a very powerful air-defense in these carrier-centered fleets. The ships were later redesignated largely as a public relations move, in order to highlight the capability of the Aegis combat system the ships were designed around.

In the years since the launch of Ticonderoga in 1981 the class has received a number of upgrades that have dramatically improved their capabilities for anti-submarine and land attack (using the Tomahawk missile). Like their Soviet counterparts, the modern Ticonderogas can also be used as the basis for an entire battle group. Their cruiser designation was almost certainly deserved when first built, as their sensors and combat management systems enable them to act as 'flagships' for a surface warship flotilla if no carrier is present, but newer ships rated as destroyers and also equipped with AEGIS approach them very closely in capability, and once more blur the line between the two classes. The Japanese Atago class and the South Korean Sejong the Great class are an example of this.

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