The Blue Ridge-class of amphibious command ships are just two in number, represented by the class’s flagship, the USS Blue Ridge, and the USS Mount Whitney. Laid down in 1970 and 1971 respectively, the two ships are the oldest active-duty ships in the entire United States Navy fleet—and have seen a whopping total of ninety-nine years of active duty service combined.
Though the class was originally intended to oversee amphibious assault operations, both ships were reassigned to command and control duty. Thanks to the class’s communications responsibility they are relatively bereft of weaponry and are armed only with Phalanx close-in defense systems in addition to several 25-millimeter cannons and .50 caliber machine guns.
At the time of the Blue Ridge-class’s commissioning, the U.S. Navy used high-frequency radio signals for long-range communication. This is reflected in both the USS Blue Ridge’s and USS Mount Whitney’s deck areas, which are quite barren of armament or any deck structures.
This “clean” top deck design was intended to minimize interference with the ship’s communication antennas. As the military now relies primarily on satellites for long-range communication, a clean deck is no longer a needed design consideration.
The Oldest of the Old
As a command and communications ship, the USS Blue Ridge has a number of “high powered computers distributed throughout the ship from which information and data from worldwide sources are entered into a central database,” which allows a Fleet Commander to a “complete tactical picture of air, surface and subsurface contacts.”
The USS Blue Ridge has the unique distinction of flying the First Navy Jack, a flag reserved exclusively for the Navy’s oldest active warship. The flag was the Navy’s first naval jack and now is flown only by the USS Blue Ridge.
Thanks to the current global pandemic, USS Blue Ridge surpassed its own underway record, spending sixty-five days at sea in order to minimize exposure risks to the onboard crew.
According to the Navy, the USS Mount Whitney is the most technologically sophisticated Command, Control, Communications, Computer, and Intelligence ship ever commissioned by the United States Navy.
The ship can “receive, process and transmit large amounts of secure data from any point on earth through HF, UHF, VHF, SHF, and EHF communications paths,” which allows large amounts of data to be securely transmitted from anywhere, to anywhere.
Due to budgetary concerns, both the USS Blue RidgeI and the USS Mount Whitney will remain in service until at least 2029, and possibly out to 2039. Both ships were to be replaced by newer, more modern command and control ships, but the Navy’s plans were shelved due to budgetary constraints. If the latter year is their final decommissioning, both ships will have served nearly seventy years—an incredibly long service life.
Caleb Larson is a defense writer with the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.