Redefining the Destroyer
This article follows the recent announcement by Iran of the launch of its first home-built “destroyer“, leading to manic buzz on the Internet and even here at New Wars. It is interesting how navies for various reasons will use like terminology to describe wildly varied ship types. As with the 1400 ton Iranian Jamaran, it is more closely kin to a corvette. Wikipedia says:
Based on the ship’s configuration, armament, layout, size, and intended mission, it would be best described as a multi-purpose corvette, frigate, or guided missile frigate, and a fairly small one by modern standards. A modern MEKO 360 frigate displaces 3,360 tons fully loaded, a MEKO 200 3,400 tons fully loaded and an older Kortenaer class frigate of the Dutch Navy 3,500 tons standard, 3,800 tons full load.
The US Navy builds destroyers some 8 times larger which carry sophisticated SAMs and Cruise Missiles, bringing them into the class of capital vessels, instead of the lowly escort ship they sound like. Britain still builds destroyers, but Europe deploys very similar types, even with Aegis like the 9200 ton American Burke’s, that they call “frigates”.
There is a second kind of frigate, equally large but less well armed, slightly cheaper, such as the Danish Absalon which is used for general purpose patrolling in low threat areas. Adding to this confusion is the American LCS, likened to a corvette, and the Dutch Holland class of 3750 tons designated an offshore patrol vessel!
I tend to lean toward the historical view of the destroyer, especially pre World War 2. During that globe spanning conflict of 70 years ago, the tins cans grew, in some cases doubling in size. As commenter Elgatoso points out, the USS Mahan (DD-364) of 1460 tons was called a destroyer, very close to the 1400 ton Jamaran. A low cost derivative built in the same conflict called the destroyer-escort of about the same tonnage was geared for mass production. In the Royal Navy a vessel of the same size and function was then called a frigate!
Surprisingly, the craft that resemble closely the traditional destroyer is the Iranian vessel. At only 1400 tons, armed with a 76mm cannon and missiles is really a corvette.. I feel such vessels are the future, along with similar sized OPVs which are cheaper and less well armed, but eminently more suitable for modern threats at sea, versus rogue states, pirates, and smugglers (The $637 million LCS is currently chasing smugglers with the 4 Fleet).
Meanwhile, the modern destroyer like the Burke’s and her foreign counterparts will take their rightful place as the new surface dreadnought. With her Aegis radar and SAMs she can provide air cover like the aircraft carrier, and her long-range Tomahawk missiles provide them with lethal power projection weapons, all without risking a pilot. They will likely then shrink in numbers, even as they rise in capability, since they are too costly to afford in large numbers.
Like the older greyhounds, the “new destroyers” of corvettes and OPVs will be joined by numerous and specialized derivatives. Patrol craft, fast attack craft, small interceptor launches, cutters, etc, some armed only with machine guns or carrying landing troops will be available in large numbers. This new century will then witness a complete Fleet Makeover because the Navy must periodically transform or die. The budgetary problems which are just beginning and increasingly hard to build large warship are carrying us into this change, howbeit kicking and screaming!