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Redefining the Destroyer

February 23, 2010

Iranian light frigate similiar to new navy "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!

USS Mahan DD-364 in 1938

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.

Type 45 Destroyer HMS Dauntless. Author Albion via Wikimedia Commons.

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!

14 Comments leave one →
  1. B.Smitty permalink
    February 25, 2010 10:00 pm

    Jed said: “All-together now, repeat after Scott: “steel is cheap, steel is cheap, steel is cheap…….”

    To illustrate,

    “On 4 March 2008 the MoD announced contracts worth over £70 million had been placed for (Royal Navy) CVF:

    – The supply of over 80,000 tonnes of steel from Corus for manufacture of the two ships to an estimated value of £65 million;”

    From here,

  2. Scott B. permalink
    February 25, 2010 4:56 pm

    Alex Mk2 said : “Not a fan of Absalon-esque ships for larger navies (…) hopelessly slow

    Hopelessly ?

    1) An Absalon can do about 18 knots on a single diesel engine, i.e. 8,200 KW.

    2) An Absalon can do about 24 knots (26 knots achieved during her trials) on two diesel engines, i.e. 16,400 KW.

    3) An Ivar-Huitfledt (same hull as Absalon) can do 28+ knots on four diesel engines, i.e. 32,800 KW.

    4) An FM400 will do somewhere from 25 to 29+ knots depending on the propulsion option according to the DCNS brochure.

  3. Alex Mk.2 permalink
    February 25, 2010 4:03 pm

    Jed, I’m in unison with your motion thus far However I’m crying out for a spiritual sucessor to Leander class frigate which once you account for modernisation appears to have materialised in France in all places as the conceptual FM-400 proposed by DCNS(albeit another 3-4 kts wouldn’t hurt)

    Not a fan of Absalon-esque ships for larger navies, she was built with far too much multi-mission capabilities in mind, RoRo deck, C2 Facilities, hopelessly slow, StanFlex; Stanflex is a great idea and works well for small navies or navies with a large class of smaller warships (in the case of the RN C.3, LCS for the US) (about the 4th or 5th time I’ve posted this on this site)

    – Alex.

  4. xbradtc permalink
    February 24, 2010 4:26 pm

    Aside from size, the prime difference between destroyers and frigates (as designated by the US Navy) is speed to keep up with the carrier strike group. Destroyers can keep up, frigates can’t.

    Destroyers such as the Burke were specifically designed as escorts for carriers, while frigates were specifically designed to act as escorts for other, slower vessels.

  5. Jed permalink
    February 24, 2010 9:21 am

    Scott B I am with you on this one – UK, Canada, Australia, NZ and even the USN could all do with a good ‘station wagon frigate’ to build up numbers at reasonable cost – oh that would be our Danish favorite the Absalon (or its sister the Iver Hut-whatsit) or a derivative of the design.

    All-together now, repeat after Scott: “steel is cheap, steel is cheap, steel is cheap…….”


  6. Scott B. permalink
    February 23, 2010 5:03 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “So keep doing the same thing the Navy have been doing “think big not small”.”

    At the risk of repeating myself again :

    1) On the one hand, you’ve been kind enough to allow me to use some bandwidth to explain soooo many times on this blog what THING BIG, not small meant for me.

    2) On the other hand, I’m reluctant to believe that you’re being disingenuous when you suggest that what I’m proposing is to keep on doing what we’ve been doing.

    3) So I’m left with the conclusion that I’ve been away for too long and you’ve already forgotten what I was modestly trying to suggest. Here are some threads to refresh your memory :


  7. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 23, 2010 4:11 pm

    “Ideology is fine as long as it connects with reality.”

    So keep doing the same thing the Navy have been doing “think big not small”. This has given us a smaller stretched thin fleet, filled with mediocre, but very expensive platforms. Carriers which you can’t fill with enough planes. Amphibious ships which break down on its maiden voyage. Plus they expect to build the fleet while buying ever more expensive vessels, and on shrinking budgets.

    If I’m out of touch, I see I’m in very good company! Scott you can’t build a fleet or maintain sea control by building high end blue water battleship types alone. Thats Corbett who I trust over the current leadership anytime. I think if even that primary proponent of the battleship, Alfred Thayer Mahan were alive, he would say “stop the madness”, since back then they knew Big Ships couldn’t leave port without smaller ships in escort against other small warships like subs and torpedo boats.

  8. Scott B. permalink
    February 23, 2010 11:34 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Whose ideology???”

    Ideology is fine as long as it connects with reality.

    My position is based on 10 platform-centric attributes which I believe to be critical for a Navy with global commitments and on the fact that big doesn’t necessarily mean expensive.

    Obviously, I’m in fine company with such people as Dr. Dalsjö and Dr. Friedman, not to mention such people as the much regretted D.K. Brown or Stuart Slade.

    Now, what sort of reality is your IDEOLOGY based upon ?

  9. Matthew S. permalink
    February 23, 2010 10:21 am

    I do think the Burke class destroyers are actually cruisers. So the USN has primarily a fleet of cruisers, no destroyers and OHP frigates. I think for the RN, the Type 45s are cruisers, Type 42/22 destroyers and Type 23 frigates.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 23, 2010 9:30 am

    Scott says “THINK BIG, not small !”

    Whose ideology???

    Byron, I am well aware that TLAM is not ASCM. Seeing there has been no major surface threat at sea since the early 1990s, this may be understandable, but I doubt it lasting. This doesn’t end the need for a surface strike ability from the destroyers, especially considering our steadily shrinking carrier force.

  11. Byron permalink
    February 23, 2010 9:22 am

    And Mike, TLAM on Burkes is a LAND attack missile for point targets. It is not able to influence the sea battle one bit. There are exactly zero Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missles in the Navy. Most ships barely carrry a 50% load of Harpoon (which equates to all of 4) Harpoons, which IMHO is a pretty pathetic ASM. Too small a warhead, too slow, too easy to shoot down. Fire up Harpoon 3 and see how many it takes to sink something the size of a Kirov or a Slava.

  12. February 23, 2010 8:05 am

    I miss the term sloop.

    And what about the puddle pirates and their 4,500ton cutters?

    It is just words. Here in the UK destroyer means AAW and frigate means ASW.

    I am not going to get excited about a 1,400 ton OPV.

  13. CBD permalink
    February 23, 2010 6:47 am

    A nice additional bit on ship naming convention and the 1975 re-boot of ship classes in USN service. Link.

  14. Scott B. permalink
    February 23, 2010 6:43 am

    Mike Burleson said : “the Dutch Holland class of 3750 tons designated an offshore patrol vessel!”

    This strange fixation on displacement has much to do with IDEOLOGY (the *small is beautiful* mantra) and little to do with history, let alone reality.

    It’s solely meant to provide a rethorical justification for the mythical 1,000-ton corvette, which is the poorest investment a Navy with global commitments could ever make.

    At the risk of repeating myself, the only way to go is this : THINK BIG, not small !

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