In the 1980s the United States Navy introduced both the Arleigh Burke class and the Ticonderoga class.

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Wikipedia pages on them:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arleigh_Burke-class_destroyer#Development https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ticonderoga-class_cruiser

The length, beam, and tonnage of these vessels is all similar. The Arleigh Burke class is considered a destroyer, whereas the Ticonderoga is considered a cruiser. The top speed of the vessels is also similar. Neither possesses a novel form of propulsion, such as nuclear propulsion.

The armament of the vessels is incredibly similar, notably both carry the Mk 41 vertical launch system. I do notice that Wikipedia lists the "cruiser mark 26" of the Ticonderoga class as having the "Mk 26 missile launcher". This is not part of the Aegis system, which is the modern missile combat system used by the United States Navy.

It seems that these vessels are almost identical in their capabilities and construction.

What were the needs of the United States Navy that resulted in the acquisition of such similar classes of combat vessels? I'm interested mostly in the mindset or "perceived needs" of the Navy. Why would the Navy introduce and continue to construct such similar classes of vessels? Do they differ somehow in their operational capability that is not evident?

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    I think you have your decades wrong. The Ticonderoga Class came first, by a decade with the Ticonderoga class being authorized for FY1978, first ship on line 1980. Burke, first contract award was in 1985 with the first ship in 1989. In between time, a non trivial amount of improvement in Spy 1 (and other lessons learned) were gleaned and applied to Burke. The Ticonderoga are correctly linked to the "Spruance" generation of modular ship design, with Burke being a different design concept, though modular certainly figured into it. Burke is a newer generation of combatant. Oct 3, 2016 at 19:53
  • Spruance Cruiser => DD goes back to the 70's Oct 3, 2016 at 20:03

2 Answers 2


Short answer:

In addition to the above, the Ticonderoga is a large vessel suited for open ocean, while the Burke is more of a littoral combatant.

Long answer:

The important feature of both vessels was AEGIS, which is a missile system capable of engaging over 50 targets at once. In emergencies, a single button press would fire a missile at any detected target not confirmed friendly using a volley of launches from the Vertical Launch System (VLS).

Note however that early Ticonderogas did not have VLS and instead had a single SM-2 mount, without this volley fire capability:

(source: wikimedia.org)

AEGIS was in response to the highly capable Soviet bombers coming out, with AS-4 and AS-16 air to surface missiles, which would overwhelm US fleets with huge volleys of these weapons. These missiles were not trivial to jam as the earlier Styx missiles used in Arab-Israeli conflicts and would have to be shot down using a long range missile more deadly than earlier SAMs such as Terrier.





AEGIS was designed to data link with the Hawkeye, Nimitz class, and F-14 Tomcat systems then coming out, to provide comprehensive air defense of the fleet against these new threats.


Intercepting a Soviet Tu-95 Bear:


(source: wikimedia.org)

The E-2 Hawkeyes would provide an Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) which would alert the rest of the fleet. Tomcats would scramble to intercept the bombers. AEGIS would down any missiles that got through. The Nimitz carriers would coordinate everything through their onboard Combat Information Center (CIC). These systems would all network together to defend the fleet. AEGIS has its own CIC as well, in case it needs it.

Nimitz CIC:

Ticonderoga CIC:

Fortunately, this integrated fleet defense network has never seen major use.

The Arleigh Burke was introduced after the Ticonderoga class. It was an upgraded version incorporating stealth features, such as a radar deflecting design and radar absorbment materials.

The Burke has a CIC. It is placed lower on the waterline than the Ticonderoga, and is thus more protected from an above-waterline missile hit.

The Alreigh Burke is being upgraded to carry SM-6 missiles, which Raytheon claims is capable of intercepting tactical balistic missiles such as the SCUD.

The Alreigh Burke and Ticonderoga carry the same weaponry. The Ticonderoga is larger and suited for open ocean warfare. The Burke is suited for littoral combat in shallow waters, such as the Persian Gulf or Taiwan Strait.

Note that both ships have Tomahawk, Harpoon, ASROC, and 5 inch guns to engange surface (or subsurface, for ASROC) targets. The ships also carry an antisubmarine warfare helicopter carrying torpedoes, and Phalanx Close In Weapon System (CIWS) 20mm cannon as a last line of defense.

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    Hard to top that. I would say simply the Ticonderoga Class ships remain the only electronic warfare platform for the US Navy (similar to the Air Force's EA-18 Growler but on a much larger scale obviously) whereas the Arleigh Burke's are straight up Destroyers designed to launch kinetic weapons strikes against enemies real or perceived. Sep 22, 2016 at 12:46
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    Bob, the Arleigh Burkes have a CIC, as does every US Navy surface combatant. I was in the John Paul Jones' CIC about 20 years ago. Unlike the CIC of Spruance and Ticonderoga class combatants, the Arleigh Burke CIC's are not as high above the waterline, and thus not as vulnerable to being one of the first part of the ships taken out when a missiles strikes it. Sep 22, 2016 at 21:58

The Ticonderoga class was ordered in the 70s as a multi-mission guided missile cruiser capable of handling just about any mission a warship might be asked to do: air defense, tactical and strategic strike, anti-submarine warfare, carrier escort... It was built on the existing Spruance class destroyer hull. (Despite being a destroyer, Spruance destroyers were cruiser-sized; the destroyer/cruiser designation is more about role than size anyway.)

By the late 70s the Ticonderoga ships were considered too expensive to keep building (navy.mil says "about $1 billion each" but doesn't say what year's dollars those are). Their Spruance hull could no longer be easily upgraded with all the topside electronics. A new class was needed.

The Arleigh Burke class was designed to be a cheaper alternative to the Ticonderoga on a new hull with more potential for upgrades but with the same capabilities and still mounting the revolutionary AEGIS Combat System. In the early 90s the last Ticonderoga cruiser was commissioned, whereas the first Arleigh Burkes were just coming into commission.

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