By the end of the 1960s the World War II vintage Fletcher, Allen M Sumner and Gearing class destroyers were well overdue for replacement in the United States Navy. Since no new hulls had been laid down since the early 1960s the US Navy felt that a completely new concept should be adopted which would be capable of employment in both the Carrier support and Anti-Submarine roles. The resultant design would become the Spruance Class Destroyers.
At this time however, the US Navy’s procurement budget was heavily involved with funding the Trident ballistic missile project, a replacement for Polaris submarine launched missile. To save available money whilst retaining the ability to produce large numbers of ships the building contract was issued to just one company, Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Mississippi. This decision would later attract some criticism, for although the project called for the ships to be as simple and cheap as possible (the cost of the weapons systems and crew exceeding the ships themselves), small problems and expenses would see the building costs escalate to $35,000,000 per ship.
The thirty-one Spruances built would be the largest destroyers ever to serve in the US Navy, equaling in size and displacement the Atlanta Class Cruisers of World War II. To power the 7300 ton (loaded) Spruances, four General Electric Gas Turbine engines were utilized producing some 80,000 shp allowed the Destroyers to accelerate to a maximum speed of 33kts in just twelve minutes
The first of the class was delivered to the Navy in 1976 but such was the limits of the specially constructed construction line that the Spruance class Destroyers were still being built more than four years later.
Although the large Spruances were extremely seaworthy vessels, Navy officers were initially not particularly impressed by the relatively small amount of armament provided; just two 5 inch guns (fore and aft), an eight tube Sea Sparrow anti-aircraft missile system, an eight tube ASROC launcher, and six 12.7 inch torpedo tubes (three on either side of the hull). However such was the size of the ships that space was available for the retrospective fitting of two four point launchers for the Boeing AGM-84 Harpoon when this eventually became available. Two Kaman SH-2 Seasprite (later Seahawk) or one Sikorsky S-61-3D Seaking helicopters could be easily accommodated in the aft hanger.
During the 1980s twenty four of the Spruances were converted to carry the Tomahawk missile. These ships were also provided two 20mm Phalanx CIWS.(the other seven being decommissioned in 1998 to be replaced by the improved Aegis-capable Arleigh Burke destroyers). Another feature was that with the high degree of automation the ships could be operated by a crew of as few as 30 officers and 352 enlisted ranks. By 2003 all but one of the Spruances class Destroyers had been decommissioned by the US Navy. These vessels having provided and enjoyed a long and honorable service.