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A 4 inch squadron patch of the USS CALIFORNIA CGN-36.

USS California (CGN-36), the lead ship of the California-class of nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers, was the sixth warship of the United States Navy to be named for the State of California.

USS California and her sister ship, USS South Carolina were equipped with two single-armed Mk 13 launchers, fore and aft, for the Standard Missile, one ASROC missile launcher, and two Mk-141 launchers for the Harpoon missiles. These cruisers were equipped with two 5-inch/54 calibre Mk 45 guns rapid-fire cannons, fore and aft. The two cruisers also had a unique arrangement aft of their superstructures with a flight deck and lowerable safety fences. Both cruisers also had full suites of anti-submarine warfare equipment. Thus, these warships were designed to combat all threats, in the air, on the surface, and underwater.


The contract to build USS California was awarded to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Newport News, Virginia, on 13 June 1968 and her keel was laid down on 23 January 1970. She was launched on 22 September 1971 sponsored with a “near miss” of the champagne bottle by First Lady of the United States Pat Nixon, and commissioned on 16 February 1974 by The Honorable James E. Johnson, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs), with Captain Floyd H. Miller, Jr., in command. She was commissioned as a destroyer leader (DLGN), but her designation was changed to a guided-missile cruiser (CGN) on 30 June 1975.

California represented the U.S. Navy in the Silver Jubilee naval review in Portsmouth, England in 1977, honoring Queen Elizabeth II.

In January 1980, California was diverted from a Mediterranean cruise to the Indian Ocean due to the hostage situation in Iran. The ship left the Mediterranean and ran at flank speed south through the Atlantic, around Africa, and up into the Indian Ocean. In April 1980, this ship along with forces from the Air Force, Marines, and Army participated in the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt “Operation Eagle Claw”.

In 1981, California circumnavigated the globe, becoming the first nuclear-powered warship to do so since the USS Enterprise and her task force of two nuclear-powered escorts had done so in 1964, in “Operation Sea Orbit”.

In September 1983, the “Golden Grizzly” left Norfolk for the last time, steaming through the Panama Canal to its new homeport, Naval Air Station, Alameda, California. The ship embarked on its first Western Pacific and Indian Ocean cruise in February 1985 as a member of the USS Constellation battle group. During the spring of 1986, California conducted several weeks of Bering Sea operations and became the first cruiser to visit Adak, Alaska, since World War II. She again deployed to the Western Pacific and completed a second “Around-the-World” cruise in 1987.

The year 1988 brought continued high-tempo operations as California cruised the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans for a third time. The ship served as battle group Anti-Surface Warfare Commander during the RIMPAC 88 exercise as well as for Olympic Presence Operations off the Korean Peninsula. Subsequently, during her 1988–1989 deployment, California assumed duties as Anti-Air Warfare Commander for operations in the North Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. While assigned patrol duties in the Strait of Hormuz in December 1988, California conducted the last USN Earnest Will convoy mission through the strait.

The summer of 1989 saw California tasked with Northern Pacific operations as part of a CNO project to study the effects of Near-Land Operating Areas on carrier battle group operations. In September and October 1989, California participated as an anti-air-warfare picket ship in PACEX 89, the largest combined sailing of U. S. and allied naval units since World War II.

In April 1990, California entered the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington for a three-year refueling complex overhaul, including two new D2G high endurance reactor cores in her engineering plant with adequate fuel capacity to power the ship for more than 20 years of normal operations, and the New Threat Upgrade Combat Systems Suite. The overhaul cost approximately $425 million. Upon completion of the overhaul in January 1993, California began a series of exercises and evaluations in preparation for deployment. These included independent training in all aspects of its mission as well as coordinated battle group exercises. The timing of this overhaul would prove crucial to the ship’s longevity, as it allowed the two California-class cruisers (California and South Carolina) to survive their successor CGNs.

Two years later, when the four newer Virginia-class cruisers came up for refueling, the Navy balked at the cost. The Virginia-class cruisers were decommissioned shortly afterwards, while the three-year overhaul on the California-class cruisers improved a platform whose nuclear propulsion system gave it immense flexibility.

In June 1994, California joined the USS Kitty Hawk battle group in the Western Pacific for the ship’s first deployment in five years. California exchanged personnel with the Republic of Korea Navy for a combined exercise and with the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force for ANNUALEX 06G and Keen Edge 95. The cruiser also took part in a LINKEX exercise with United States forces in and near Korea, establishing the most extensive tactical data link ever in this region. The deployment wrapped up with participation in Tandem Thrust 95, a joint exercise with the armed forces of the United States, Australia, and several allied nations. California then returned to her home at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard just before Christmas 1994.

In 1995, California completed a four-month maintenance availability, improving the reliability of her propulsion plant and updating her combat systems. In September 1995, California sailed in a parade of ships through Pearl Harbor as part of the ceremony commemorating the end of World War II.

In May 1996, California left for the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Persian Gulf on a routine six-month deployment with the USS Carl Vinson Battle Group. California received the Meritorious Unit Commendation for operations Southern Watch and Desert Strike for shared duties as Air Warfare Commander for the Carl Vinson Battle Group.

Having completed a short but intense maintenance period in the spring of 1997, California conducted a series of training operations and evaluations including a live-fire missile exercise, and Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination, and a Final Evaluation Period. California was awarded the Battle Efficiency Award for outstanding operational readiness throughout 1997.

In January 1998, California deployed to the Eastern Pacific and the Caribbean Sea in support of Counterdrug Operations as the Air Warfare Commander for the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (JIATF) East. In July, she gave her last “Grizzly Roar” by participating in RIMPAC 98 as a member of the Bilateral force. The improvements made during 1990 overhaul could not save either of the California cruisers. By 1998, they cost about $38.8 million to man, operate, and maintain. A typical Ticonderoga-class cruiser cost about $29.5 million annually. California-class ships lacked helicopter hangars, antisubmarine warfare weapons, and required costly nuclear-trained crews. The California class took on board roughly 600 officers and crewmen, while the conventionally powered Ticonderoga-class cruisers carry fewer than 400.

The deactivation ceremony for California was held on 28 August 1998 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.

USS California was deactivated on 1 October 1998, then decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 9 July 1999. She was disposed of in the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear-Powered Ship-Submarine recycling program at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Her recycling and scrapping was completed on 12 May 2000.


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