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The Next Generation Destroyer

April 9, 2009

uss_bainbridge_28dd-24629_1921We once considered the advanced littoral combat ship as a future version of the hard-hitting greyhounds, the destroyers of the war years. Such small, but hard-hitting and plentiful type warships were once considered essential, especially during the world wars, for combating the new Insurgent at Sea, the submarine, plus for sailing into shallow seas to support amphibious landings. For its size and cost, though, the LCS is not hard-hitting though it can certainly sail into littoral waters. For its many technical faults it is doubtful it will be bought in the numbers promised, or work as well as proposed.

This leaves us with the current so-called destroyers, the Arleigh Burke class of 10,000 tons, which for its size and firepower might be more likened to a modern battleship. Such oversized vessels seem to be the Navy’s only answer to the rise of new threats in the form of cruise missiles and advanced submarines in the arsenal of potential foes. A very powerful ship indeed but still vulnerable to the simplest of asymmetrical threats at sea, from suicide bombers to old fashioned naval mines.

We have made no secret to our preference for small attack ships to deal with littoral threats, of around from 600-1000 tons. Such warcraft, besides being affordable enough to purchases in reasonable numbers, also are naturally of shallow draft allowing them to cruise shallow seas with perfect ease. We also see them not as adjunct of the battlefleet, as simple escorts or support vessels, but as replacement battleships in their own right, at least in their peculiar environment.

Attack ships, call them corvettes, fast attack craft, patrol ships, etc., would be built around the new decider in naval warfare, the cruise missile. We see the missiles as force multipliers allowing every ship to become an aircraft carrier of sorts. While not a perfect replacement for more versatile naval aircraft (neither was the aircraft carrier a perfect replacement for the all-gun battleship, especially in the shore bombardment role, but there you have it), its ability to be launched from numerous small ships makes it the arm of decision which can no longer be ignored. In short, the cruise missile has become the Longbow at Sea, as a direct threat to the old order of seapower.

Cruise missiles need not be fired from giant battleships whose principle function is anti-air warfare, escorting supercarriers, amphibious fleets, and convoys  for protection. Such a practice was understandable when missile warfare at sea was in its infancy, and such traditional launch platforms as cruisers, destroyers, and submarines dominated the thinking of Cold War surface strategists.

Today the new precision missiles have come into their own and demand a versatile and affordable launch platform in reasonable numbers. Below are detailed the principle reasons for replacing 10,000 ton missile battleships with 1000 ton missile attack craft:

  1. Affordability-The cost of high-end destroyers has consistently doubled with each new class built. For instance-the Spruance of the 1980s cost $500 million. The next-gen. destroyer, the Flight I Arleigh Burke priced at $1 billion, or that of a Ticonderoga class cruiser! The newest class in production today, the Flight II Arleigh Burke comes in at nearly $2 billion each. Finally, the Navy’s future destroyer, DDG-1000 Zumwalt has been estimated at $3-$7 billion per ship. Obviously ship costs need to be reigned in drastically, and with attack craft pricing in a $100 million or less, the choice is increasingly clear.
  2. Survivability-Common sense might dictate the larger the ship, with greater armament and defensive equipment, the more survivable it becomes. Clearly the Navy has taken this attitude with current missile armed warships. Historically this has not been the case, as greater defenses often encourage adversaries to seek out some weaker spot, whether its its the battle cruiser’s light armor, the battleship’s lack of deck armor, or the aircraft carrier’s lack of underwater protection. The small warship’s advantage here can be quickly surmised: less visible hull due to size means natural stealth. High speed means it can race into a warzone, fire its missiles, and retreat quickly to safety. Its size and speed together enhances maneuverability making it less a target to threats such as torpedoes.
  3. Practicality-With the enhanced capability of cruise missiles alone, turning its parent vessel into a strategic asset against land and sea targets, its seems reasonable that there is little need to deploy many such weapons on a single hull. Many missiles on more hulls means you will have many options, as such weapon can be in more places at once. Also, in an attack by enemy missiles, you can expect more survivable platforms available for a counter-strike. As proven with the 3 British cruisers who attacked the German pocket battleship Graf Spee in 1939, a handful of weaker ships in the right spot is of more use than a battleship not present.


Finally, small attack craft would restore numbers to the fleet, while adding versatility, survivability, reduce the cost of individual warships, and make the best use of the revolutionary qualities provided by the sea-launched cruise missile.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2009 12:50 pm

    Mrs Davis

    do not worry, am never annoyed, – compared to the queston ‘what is an AK-47, which I had to answer recently’ no question will ever annoy me, and anyway yours stimulates the old neurons to remember the answer; Phase 1: and the correct answer to your question is the navy without a decent ASW capability was forced to stay in port and thus lost; but winning the sea battle is only part of it

    Phase 2: then it was neccessary to land the marines, plus an army brigade

    Phase 3: support and resupply the marines and army as they retook the islands

    Throughout the duration of conflict 1: fight of air attacks – which included exocets, bombs, mines, rockets and at one point (so reports say) drones

    Throughout the duration of conflict 2: mount a blockade made futile by the lack of AEW + Decent sized carrier with (and I say this as a fan of the Harrier, as it did a brilliant job considering the situation and its own limitations) better, i.e. longer ranged and faster, aircraft. [something which even Mike will have to admit would have made a big difference…you don’t need many just enough to garuntee you have one when and where you need it)

    yours sincerly, and sorry for being so late, just got back


  2. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 12, 2009 12:12 pm

    “even SSNs with a full suite of weapons would be hard pressed to be relevant in the battle against criminal elements at sea”

    But they sell the Virginia as a “littoral submarine”. So are our the SSN’s currently converging off Somalia? A perfect blue water platform I’ll grant, but a ship the size of a light cruiser fighting pirates? Not much.

  3. Heretic permalink
    April 12, 2009 11:39 am

    It’s true, Mrs. Davis, that an SSN did effectively (by sinking an Argentine Navy ship) send an opposing force back into port, from which it never meaningfully emerged thereafter. The problem is that the fight was between nation-states … specifically the uniformed armed forces of two nation-states.

    If the only operational role you’re trying to address is conflict between nation-states in a declared war … that’s fine. Unfortunately, we have an existing (not theoretical) maritime threat off the Horn of Africa which doesn’t fit “neatly” into that presupposition where the only opposing forces you have to deal with are (hostile) nation-states. To put it bluntly, even SSNs with a full suite of weapons would be hard pressed to be relevant in the battle against criminal elements at sea … to wit … piracy (as practiced, off the Horn of Africa).

  4. Mrs. Davis permalink
    April 12, 2009 6:44 am

    Heretic’s point that submarines are good for destroying things but little else addresses the issue of what submarines are today. What else could submarines be? I see little capability in his list of capabilities that could not be incorporated into a submersible hull.

    True we don’t use today’s subs for “control” missions. (I’ll ignore for the moment how successful our surface fleet is in dealing with four illiterate pirates in a lifeboat.) But could we design a vessel to accomplish the control mission that gains stealth, good seakeeping, shallow draft, 10-15 days endurance by being able to go under the water as well as on it? I’m not talking Virginia class subs, just vessels that are submersible.

    Sorry to annoy, Alex. But my recollection is that the navy that won in the Falklands was the one that used a submarine to keep the opponent’s ships in port. Not that the Exocets didn’t nearly finish the job without needing any ships.

  5. April 11, 2009 3:24 am


    I am not sure, here is my post on the topic

    not sure whether the torpedo tubes/depth charges are necessary, the former is fine as you will carrying them for the heli/uav anyway; the vls if large enough could have some ASROCs, which would certainly be of advantage

    yours sincerly


  6. Heretic permalink
    April 10, 2009 9:09 pm

    All very good points Alex. And do please look up that “minimum tonnage per gun” reference book of yours if you can.

    At the very least, I think we can at least all agree on a few minimal things about what a littoral destroyer/corvette ought to have aboard. It needs:

    1. A gun.
    2. Torpedo tubes.
    3. Depth charges.
    4. VLS missile cells.
    5. Helicopter.
    6. “Sufficient” crew and crew amenities (as opposed to minimal).
    7. Marines for boarding actions.
    8. Radar.
    9. Sonar.
    10. ~40 knots dash speed for pursuit of Fast Attack Craft.
    11. 10-15 days transit endurance without replenishment.
    12. Stealthiness (if you can get it/afford it).
    13. Shallow draft.
    14. Good seakeeping.

    Am I missing anything?

  7. April 10, 2009 1:39 pm


    I like the visby’s alot, and yes they are at the lower end of the scale and very well designed…but it goes back to a debate me and mike were having which is that the useful gun for a Littoral combat vessel is a 4.5 in gun (this itself requires a certain minimum displacement; about 2000tons if memory serves, but am unable to find my new reference book at the moment to check), plus the visby does not have a aircraft hangar (note I say aircraft not helicopter, as there is no reason why a corvette might not carry an all UAV airgroup); this differs from the ‘bunker station’ which the visby carries in that you can actually carry out maintenance on the aircraft in the dry and at night…a bunker station litterally is just a cover –

    Range is of less importance for the RN/USN if they have a suficient quantity of support/supply vessels…however I will point out the major complaint about the visby’s and others of their size as compared to the German K130 ( which are larger is the space they provide for the crew on a longer operation. This is going to cause me trouble saying this but the slightly larger ship with a equally sized crew, is going to be a happier ship; more space for bunks, food, perhaps a little library/computer room…this is all important in modern warfare as moral can often make or break an operaton.

    the other difference between you and me Heretic, is that I wish to replace frigates completely, as far as I am concerned the RN needs about 12-18 destroyers and 36-48 corvettes – no frigates! they are not powerful enough to be the ‘invincibles’ and to large to be the ‘invisibles’ therefore get rid of them! Financially the RN can not keep putting money into two large escort classes, we need the big escorts if we are going to trail our flag around the world, with large carriers, an amphibious task group, and of course supply ships; but we also need the numbers and frigates will never allow us this, plus not carrying enough firepower for modern warfare – anyway that is for another post.

    yours sincerly


  8. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 10, 2009 10:13 am

    I’m still leaning toward Mrs Davis’ assertion that the submarine should be our default position. The new U-boats are the supreme ship killers in the Blue Water environment, likely have been since the 1950’s. Sure only war can tell us for certain but I am very confident. We currently use the aircraft carrier as a gunboat to control the littorals. This is terribly inefficient way of war which not even the last superpower can afford, even if the subs don’t sink all our big ships. There are no more major carrier navies to threaten us but they do have subs armed with supersonic cruise missiles which will decide the next war at sea.

    The sub can’t control the littorals alone, it will need surface craft. This is where the corvette will enter into its own. Forget the gun, Alex, because the missile armament is all-important, and increasingly the UAV which doesn’t need a giant supership to launch from, even if the carrier admirals eventually and belatedly add them to the airwing .

  9. Heretic permalink
    April 10, 2009 10:01 am

    re: Alex

    The Visby class corvette weighs in at ~650 tons, but would probably be closer to 1000 tons if it were made of more conventional ferrous metals. It carries a 57mm gun (main armament), is/has been cleared for eight VLS anti-ship missiles or surface to air missiles, has three 400mm torpedo tubes, can carry mines and depth charges, and has a hangar for an AgustaWestland AW109 8-seat helicopter. Crew aboard is 43. Unknown what the range is, but it’s doubtful that it exceeds the 1000 nmi mark.

    Doesn’t exactly sound like a “one weapon system” ship to me … although Your Mileage May Vary on that point.

    but if you don’t have basing in those areas and you are fighting in an ocean warfare then you are ‘b******d’

    Alex, you’re resorting to the argument that everything has to (ultimately) be designed for the Big Blue (and crossing it, without assistance) or it’s worthless. The point is that the USN already has the Big Blue stuff covered with other larger ships … ships that dare not enter the littorals without extreme risk to themselves. 600-1000 corvettes are not intended to take over Blue Water missions and roles in this formulation, replacing other Blue Water ships. The idea is that rather than taking a blue water ship and trying to shoehorn it into littoral spaces, instead, find a solid green water ship that is excellent in the littoral waters of the world and then find ways to support it in littoral spaces around the world. The support requirement will almost certainly result in a requirement for either (lots of) forward bases/ports nearby to areas of interest … or … a mothership/tender arrangement allowing for underway replenishment (food, fuel, spares, etc.) of these small ships to extend their “sea legs” so as to reach operational areas they can’t get to on their own unassisted.

    All of this *is doable* right now … but it would require a “sea change” in thinking by the USN in order to make it happen. That’s because the USN is a Blue Water Navy, and (now traditionally) only thinks in terms of self-deployment to the oceans … not coasts … of the world.

    As for the whole Law Of The Sea stuff … yeah, submarines make a mess of that. Unfortunately, just because you CAN sink a vessel doesn’t mean you SHOULD sink it … especially when capturing the crew can serve your purposes just as well (if not better), to say nothing of whether or not the crew aboard said vessel is guilty or innocent of crimes at sea and “deserves” to be sunk with all hands aboard. Submarines don’t give you a whole lot of options in those situations, while surface ships offer plenty. Which is just another way of saying “subs can’t do everything” the navy needs to do.

  10. April 10, 2009 3:36 am

    sorry mike, but the 600=1000ton vessell won’t work in the modern world, it just won’t have the range, or the capabilities which are required – like too carry more tan one weapon system (and those smaller weapons systems you talk about tend to have a lot more thrust…which means the ship requires even more mass to be able to counter it and not sink everytime it launches a missile), a decent gun which can fire those fancy shells you love so much, have a mast which can support a decent radar and of course most importantly the food which its crew will need to eat.

    Whilst the small vessel will work if all you want to do is pootle round the baltic or gulf it won’t matter, even the med, but if you don’t have basing in those areas and you are fighting in an ocean warfare then you are ‘b******d’ – what you are describing is not the modern version of those brilliant destroyers and corvettes of WWII but the modern version of the MTB’s, vessels which in the modern era would be wiped out pretty quickly despite their small size providing them with the ‘invisiblee’ part of the spectrum – thats if they were actually worth destroying, afterall at that size they couldn’t carry much.

    thankyou Heretic for point out those salient points, as someone who is currently do a International Law module…trust me submarines are the biggest headache known to man – from a law perspective it is better to get rid of them and reset the clock about 100 years or so.

    Mrs. Davis, I have been hearing this argument now for so long it frankly……is very annoying. The submersible argument is a constant one, the threat of nuclear weapons = we must go under water, the threat of air power = we most go under water, modern warfare = we must go under water. In answer to the first; practically everyone has made at some point nuclear tipped torpedoes – in other words they are down there with you. In answer to the second; Falklands War – two equal powers bashing out, one of them with overwhelming superiority of air power, and it was the one without which won; in fact I will go further with modern ASW aircraft its actually safer to be a destroyer above the water capable of shooting them out the sky than a submarine underneath waiting for them to find you. In answer to the third; modern warfare, especially with the prevelance of the press and the posting of civilian bystanders video’s on the internet means that more and more accurate verification of targets is required before you fire, as well as a greater capability of being multi-functional – and whilst a surface ship only has a little bit more capability in the former, that is a lot of ground in an international court suit currently waiting to happen (namely somarlia…we all know someone is going to hit the wrong thing at some time, it is a simple matter of statistics), whilst the multi-functional bit is always going to be the case.

    yours sincerly


  11. Heretic permalink
    April 10, 2009 2:49 am

    re: Mrs. Davis

    What can a 1,500 ton surface ship do that a 3,000 – 5,000 sub couldn’t do more steathily? It seems to me that the default platform for naval vessels should be submersible unless requirements dictate otherwise.

    In strictly “blow things up/out of the water” missions where the only purpose for your existence is to utterly destroy “the enemy” … then submarines are indeed an excellent platform for that task. Unfortunately, there are other things that need to be done at sea besides just “kill first, ignore questions later” when you’re NOT dealing with a full on maritime war in which the Rules of Engagement can be boiled down to Kill On Sight.

    In that respect, submarines make for very poor “control” vessels. They’re great for destroying stuff, but not so good for “police action” sort of coast guard work that involves stuff like Search & Seizure and boarding actions (which require sailors/marines with small arms) and high speed pursuit of small, fast surface craft. Everything about the submarine is optimized towards the “why am I dead?” question, since the whole point of the submarine is to never let anyone (else) know you’re even in the neighborhood.

    Which is a long winded way of saying that submarines would be almost completely useless in a threat environment such as we’re seeing off the Horn of Africa these days. Unless you’re prepared to sink ships without warning the submarine is not going to be the right tool for the job.

    Submarines are fantastic for unrestricted warfare against nation-states … but are not so useful for peacetime police work (also known as coast guarding). For things like the anti-piracy role, you really really really want to be using a surface ship, which can (among other things) chase down criminals on the high seas (including green water littorals!) at speeds which are prohibitive for SSN/SSK/SSP boats to match (while surfaced), to say nothing of potential water depths when escaping in the littorals.

    Does that answer your question?

  12. Distiller permalink
    April 10, 2009 2:05 am

    No1 LCS is here to stay (maybe in a slightly modified shape) and it will be used for everything, from its core littoral duties, to sneaking in special forces (well, maybe to carry CB90s close to the shore), to blue water escort, to naval fire support (if they don’t re-model Burkes for that). Affordable if built in numbers, practical because there won’t be anything else, but survivable only on a task force level not on an individual level (otherwise affordability goes out the window – kinda like a JSF of surface combatants, networked capability vs individual capability).

    No2 what remains is the blue water battle fleet “complex” – CVN, Escort, SSN. And to keep up with the CVN an escort has to be 8.000+ tons big. Questions of course remain regarding propulsion (GT vs nuclear), and single-ended vs double-ended. The cruiser went under water 30 years ago, the destroyer shrinks to LCS size, and the “carrier escorts” should be specifically built as such.

  13. Mrs. Davis permalink
    April 9, 2009 9:20 pm

    What can a 1,500 ton surface ship do that a 3,000 – 5,000 sub couldn’t do more steathily? It seems to me that the default platform for naval vessels should be submersible unless requirements dictate otherwise.

  14. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 9, 2009 9:12 pm

    Alex, just to clear things up, I don’t advocate a 2500-3000 ton “corvette” but one from 600-1000 tons light, at least no more than 1500 tons as the future surface combatant. I can’t understand where the mindset comes from that only very large warships are able to take the fight to the enemy, considering that this was the size of fleet destroyers in the war years, some a little larger, but only just so.

    Consider also that when you talk about large weapons’ stock, that in the age of precision your stocks would be dramatically lower. Also I wouldn’t send a fleet of attack ships anywhere without supporting motherships near by, or near to a naval port, just like your carrier groups today sail with the fleet train close at hand.

    The type of large surface combatant today carries a handful of cruise missiles on a platform that needs very many defensive add ons to protect it like Aegis radar and missiles, point defenses, armor in some places. This is all redundant and non-essential if your mission is to carry surface strike missiles where they can reach the enemy. You are building the missile around the ship rather than building the ship for the missile. With this logic historically, you keep guns on your galleys instead of sailing ships with gunports. You keep sails on your steam ships. You keep heavy guns on your carriers. All of these were found to be redundant and unnecessary for the peculiar ship to carry out its function of sea control.

    I am trying to end the redundancy of placing new weapons on our ships designed in the big-gun age, updated to carry the new weapons of the missile age, but now beyond their prime in the computer age when the weapons are getting smaller and cheaper, but our warships are getting fatter and unaffordable.

  15. April 9, 2009 7:04 pm


    we keep having this argument; yes the smaller (about 2500-3000ton Corvettes) in plentiful supply would be a very useful asset; plus being capable of carrying weapons load. but you are still going to need at least some of the larger escorts – destroyers for command of escort operations; providing the larger stock of weapons+larger outfit required to protect such vital assets as the resuply ships, the fewer aircraft carriers, the amphibous task group carrying more than just a raiding force and of course merchant vessel escort…in case off major war scenario. For these you need a few larger escorts; majoritively the escort groups will be made up of the corvettes; but the ‘bigger boys’ are needed for this – as these are times when you can’t hide, the vessels they accompany are important to any war effort, and will never be small; thus their escorts to coin a phrase from Heretic have to be Invincible – invisible is just no an option.

    if I was the USN I would only have 6/8 big CVN’s, and design/build 6/8 ‘light fleet carriers’ based on the America class LHD’s, modified for a light carrier role; these would a) be cheaper, b) provide the presence/number of aircraft required for major operations whilst also having a viable amphibious role, so perhaps less LHDs might be required as well. it would then need about 36/48 of larger escorts, to provide the core of the escort groups, with about 108-144 corvettes – ergo a ratio of 1 Big E to 3 Small E’s. – about 12-16 escort groups

    yours sincerly


  16. Heretic permalink
    April 9, 2009 9:52 am

    Which is another way of saying, what Kockums said in their brochure on the Vibsy. Quote:

    A warship’s survivability can be built on one of two premises: invincibility or invisibility,'” the company says in a statement (pdf). “For nations with deep pockets and imposing military budgets, invincibility is the chosen high-ticket objective. For countries with more limited material resources, the more affordable choice must be invisibility, to which stealth is the obvious path.”

    This really lays bare the options available (in my opinion). Either go big and invincible (and expensive!) or go small and sneaky (ie. stealthy) to get the job done. And if you’re going small and sneaky, you want to have lots of them … which gets right back into the Streetfighter concept for Littoral warfare.


  1. Great Britain’s Defense Options « New Wars

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