Russia and the US are the only navies that operate cruisers. Here’s how their ships stack up.

Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) sails in the South China Sea.
Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam in the South China Sea.
  • Since 2017, the US and Russian navies have been the only two navies that operate guided-missile cruisers.
  • Both vessels have roughly the same capabilities, providing area air-defense while also being able to attack surface ships and submarines. So which would triumph in a head-to-head clash?
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

With the retirement of the Dutch-built cruiser Almirante Grau by the Peruvian Navy in 2017, only two countries now operate cruisers: Russia and the United States.

Russia has three Slava-class guided-missile cruisers in service while the United States has 22 Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers. Naturally, we've got to ask… in a one-on-one fight, would a Russian missile cruiser win or would an American?

Both vessels have roughly the same capabilities. They both provide area air-defense while also being able to attack surface ships and submarines.

Black Sea Fleet Moskva Guided Missile Cruiser
Russian Black Sea Fleet guided-missile cruiser Moskva.

The Ticonderoga-class cruiser's main battery consists of two 61-cell Mk 41 vertical-launch systems. These can hold a wide variety of missiles, including the RIM-66 SM-2 Standard Missile, the RIM-174 SM-6 Extended Range Active Missile, the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, and the BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile.

These cruisers also have two five-inch guns, two triple Mk 32 launchers for 12.75-inch torpedoes, two Mk141 quad launchers for the RGM-84 Harpoon, and two Mk 15 Phalanx Close-in Weapon Systems.

The Slava-class cruisers have 16 SS-N-12 "Sandbox" anti-ship missiles, 64 SA-N-6 "Grumble" surface-to-air missiles, two SA-N-4 "Gecko" launchers (each with 20 missiles), a twin 130mm gun, two quintuple 21-inch torpedo tube mounts, and six AK-630 30mm Gatling guns.

This is a fearsome arsenl, but it leaves the Slava somewhat short on land-attack capability.

So what happens when you pit these two powerhouses against each other? Of course, it depends in large part on who sees the other first.

uss cowpens ticonderoga
Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63) fires SM-2 missiles at a drone during a live-fire weapons shoot in the Pacific Ocean, September 20, 2012.

The Slava can operate one Ka-27 Helix helicopter compared to two Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawks on a Ticonderoga. This gives the Ticonderoga an edge, since the two Seahawks could, through triangulation of the Slava's radar, give a good enough fix for the Ticonderoga to fire its Harpoons.

The key part of this hypothetical battle is the exchange of anti-ship missiles. The Slava has twice as many missiles as the Ticonderoga — each with a range of 344 miles — and a conventional warhead of roughly one ton that could tear a Ticonderoga apart, but these missiles fly at high altitude and, despite going more than twice the speed of sound, are easy pickings for the Aegis system onboard the Ticonderoga.

Here, the Ticonderoga's Harpoons may be more likely to get a hit or two in, despite the Slava's missile armament. The SA-N-6 may have a long range, but the Harpoons come in at very low altitude. At least one or two Harpoons will likely hit the Slava. The Ticonderoga's MH-60R Seahawks, if equipped with AGM-119 Penguin anti-ship missiles, could provide a second volley. At least one of the Penguins would likely hit as well.

Russia Navy Varyag Slava Cruiser
Russian Sailors man the rails as Russian navy missile-cruiser Varyag departs San Francisco Bay.

After this exchange, the Slava will likely need to deal with fires, flooding, and disabled combat systems.

From here, the Ticonderoga is left with two options: fire 5-inch guns equipped with the Vulcano round or take the risk of closing to finish the job. Getting too close, however, would put the Ticonderoga within range of the Slava's torpedo tubes, which could seriously damage — if not sink — the American cruiser.

So in a fight between a Russian missile cruiser and an American missile cruiser, who would win? At the end of the day, we'd put our money, as we always do, on the American Ticonderoga-class cruiser.

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