First published: 5th May 2011 | Dr. Alexander Clarke

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Since they first evolved from Torpedo Boat Destroyers; destroyers have maintained an image of, as well as necessity for being fast, manoeuvrable and of surprisingly large endurance considering their size. The reason they needed this combination of qualities, was the raisin d’être; escorting and protecting larger more vulnerable units such as carriers, merchantmen or amphibious ships. The modern destroyers are of 7,000tons plus, in fact the USNs DD(X) will be over 12,500tons. They often have a capability for area air defence, as well as providing the capability to deal with a wide range of other targets.

The increasing numbers of destroyers in service, and especially the reliance placed on them by the USN, the PLAN, and the VMF, are all symptoms of the fact that being larger than frigates, they are far more capable of taking the plethora of modern weaponry required for operations. However, the other advantage they have is that they are cheaper to construct than cruisers; thus presenting a middle way. The most common fleet role undertaken by destroyers is that of air defence, whether using their powerful radars to direct carrier borne aircraft onto targets or just engaging the targets with their own weapons. Another role which is common for destroyers is that of ‘command ship’ as in most navies they are often the largest vessels available, so are the most ‘viable’ option.

The above is Type 52c Lanzhou class destroyer of the People Liberation Army Navy, the most advanced escort currently in service with China’s fleet, it is a very capable ship mounting, as would be expected from such a wealthy nation, a comprehensive array of weaponry. Its most important weapon system being HHQ-9 SAM VLS which combined with the new Type 348 Phased Array Radar makes these two ships, in terms of air defence capability the equivalent of the USNs Arleigh Burke class.

The Lanzhou’s also carry a 100mm deck gun, 2 Type 730 CIWS (visible in the picture, they do heavily resemble the Dutch Goalkeeper CIWS used in European navies), it is also outfitted with two triple barrelled 324mm ASW torpedo launchers. This final weapon system is enhanced by the presence of Kamov Ka-28 ASW helicopter – which can provide over the horizon guidance to them; as well as hunting submarines. This whole design, the capability it has provided the Chinese navy with is far in advance of anything which preceded it; most importantly they are the equals of many other classes in service around the world, and the betters of the rest; if they are a sign of things to come, then the time when the Chinese navy could be regarded as technically inferior no matter how good their servicemen and women manning the weapons were has passed into the faded pages of history.

The PLAN is also benefitting from the growing ‘detente’ between China and Russia, allowing it to purchase some modern versions of Russian classes. This has mainly been exemplified by the acquiring of several units of Sovremenny class destroyers, an example is pictured below, firing a Sunburn Aegis Killer.

Like the Royal Navy’s type 42 destroyers the Sovremennys have a prominent radom atop the Bridge structure; although unlike the Type 42s this radar is by no means its only system. The class was built with the Arleigh Burkes of USN in mind, these ships are their Russian, and now Chinese opposites, and whilst they are certainly not as advanced as Arleigh Burkes, in fact probably not as advance as the Lanzhou’s they are, due in large part to the extensive array of weaponry the Russians usually cram into their hulls – and the Sovremennys are a premier example of this, not able to be written of the order of battle as of no consequence. The picture shows of the SSMs, it carries 2× 4 SS-N-22 ‘Sunburn’s; which will be discussed in further detail, the SA-N-7 ‘Gadfly’ SAM, 2 double 130 mm guns, 4× 30 mm AK-630 Gatling guns CIWS, 2 x 2 553 mm Torpedo tubes, and RBU-1000 ASW rockets. This hefty and very encompassing outfit is topped off by the inclusion of a Ka-27 ‘Helix’ ASW and over the horizon targeting aircraft.

It is the missile systems with which the Sovremenny class are outfitted that allow ‘hefty’ to be used to describe; the SA-7 SAM, is based on the 9K37 missile; better known as the SA-11. The missile travels at mach 3, can go out to 22 miles from its launch point, and with the original system installed in 1980 could engage two targets simultaneously per tracking radar. This was a system, which whilst not being up to sophistication and capabilities of aegis, was more than capable of holding its own. The real killer in the Sovremenny’s formidable tools of destruction is the SS-N-22 Sunburn missiles. These are so quick that the maximum theoretical response time, in perfect conditions, is 25-30 seconds; compared to the 120-150 a crew will get when dealing with a Exocet or Harpoon in such perfect conditions, it lethality could never, in fact can never be questioned. In fact the sole reason I can see for the purchase of these ships by the Chinese navy, other diplomatic, is the missile system, the PLAN have access to some very good home grown missile systems, but Sunburn or P-270 Moskit to give its Russian designation is a one of a kind, a weapon system which makes whatever platform it is bolted on to, not only worthy of respect, but also a wide berth.

The Sovremennys are not Russia’s only class of destroyers, they also have the Udaloys, these vessels however are really – barring the Udaloy II, large ASW ships, with an armament reflecting this; thus in many ways the Russian equivalent of the Type 23 frigate; although following Russian practice it does have more in the way of weapon systems.

The prominently displayed missile tubes (underneath the Bridge) are home to SS-N-14 Rocket torpedoes, and along with its brace of helicopters show the lengths the Soviet Navy was prepared to go to in its attempt to counter NATO submarines.
Mentioning NATO, it’s now appropriate to move into the destroyers of the ‘western’ navies, and appropriately enough to start by comparing, on the chart below the various types of modern Air Defence ship being employed. From the top USN DDG-51 “Arleigh Burke” Class, Flight IIA; Flight I; RN Type 45 “D” Class; French Horizon “Forbin” Class; Dutch “De Zeven Provincien” Class; Spanish “F100″ Class. Source: Mihoshi (4/2003) – please note the French Horizon has now become the FREMM or rather the FREDA.

Beginning with an analysis of the second vessel down (above left), the Flight I Arleigh Burke class vessels are some of the most successful destroyer designs ever made – pictured above right with a Nimitzclass carrier; even though they lack anything more than rudimentary facilities for Helicopter support. Their Aegis system, combined with the excellent SM-2 missile has provided the backbone, and much of the skeleton, of USN escort groups since the 1980s. Key this success though must be the multi-missile capable VLS system incorporated from the beginning which allowed them to carry everything from cruise missiles to self-defence missiles and a lot of things in between; as is demonstrated by the figure below.

It is the Type 41 vls, which is also used in the Dutch “De Zeven Provincien” Class, which means even the Arleigh Burke Flight I are general purpose destroyers, rather than just air-defence, or anti-submarine; an advantage over the previously mentioned destroyer classes as it allows America to have one class for all jobs rather than two as in the case of the Russians, or many in the case of the Chinese. Flight I Arleigh Burkes even compare well with the new Type 45 destroyers of the Royal Navy (which will be discussed further on) due to the limitations that later have been given by the use of the SYLVER A50 VLS which is limited to just Aster missiles (even the A70 version could have also carried the SCALP Naval, otherwise known as Storm Shadow, cruise missile), rather than the Type 41 VLS. Though not even this advantage was enough on its own for the USN, hence the changing to Flight IIa standard (USS Winston S Churchill pictured below); basically a Flight I with helicopters.

After all the discussion about the Type 41 VLS system; the Arleigh Burkes carry 1 × 32 cell, 1 × 64 cell Mk 41 vertical launch systems with a standard load containing a combination of SM-2 SAMs, BGM-109 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles and RUM-139 VL-Asroc (rocket torpedoes). To complement the missile systems they are outfitted with a 5″ (127 mm)/62 cal Deck Gun, 2 × 25 mm cannon, 2 × .50 cal. guns (single), 2 × .50 cal. (dual) machine guns, 2 × 5.57mm m240 grenade launchers (with the option of 1 more on flight deck if required) and 2 × 20 mm Phalanx CIWS. To add depth to defence provided by the 2 SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters and the ASROC torpedoes they also mount two Mk 46 triple torpedo tubes. These ships are therefore the ultimate, currently in service, multi-role combat ship – the benchmark by which all future surface combatants, whatever the navy, should be measured. They have the capability to not only decimate air attacks, but also to fire in support of amphibious operations, bombard cities hundreds of miles inland, and comprehensively fend of submarines; and most importantly they can do this all at the same time.

The picture above is a graphic projection of USS Zumwalt, the lead in the class of DDX. It is the next class of destroyer after the Arleigh Burkes, and are, in as far as I know my own words, a powerhouse of mobile firepower. However, they are not general purpose destroyers like the Arleigh Burkes, they are Land Attack. Their armament reflects this, it has 20 × MK 57 VLS modules (the successor to the Mk 41) comprising a total of 80 missiles; Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), Tactical Tomahawk and ASROC. It artillery is however far more potent with 2 × 155 mm Advanced Gun System as compared to the single 127mm of the Arleigh Burkes, added to this capability it will carry 3 MQ-8 Fire Scout VTUAVs to compliment the helicopters they will also be carrying. As well as this there are the now obligatory CIWS, although these are projected to be of a new type, the BAE Systems MK 110 57mm gun. Their lack of advertised capability in air defence is undoubtedly a reflection of both the quality of the Arleigh Burke class and their continued service, as well as the project CG(X) advanced air defence ship. However, even though it is not advertised, the AN/SPY-3 Multi-Function Radar (MFR) an evolution of the current Aegis radars, which would suggest a certain compatibility with SM-2, the soon to be in service SM-3, and the projected SM-6 SAMs. Whatever the case, this lack of emphasis is the exact opposite from the Royal Navy’s new destroyer; as I stated earlier I would examine the Type 45 Daring Class, and now is the time.

This is HMS Daring the first and therefore the name ship of its class, it is a Type 45 Air Defence destroyer. In many ways its layout is reminiscent of the Type 23 frigates; with the major bulk of its weapons systems forward of the Bridge. With the SYLVER A50 prominent behind the new 1 x 114 mm (4.5 inch) Mk 8 mod 1 gun, it will also carry two American made 2 x Phalanx 20 mm CIWS, rather than the British made the BAE Systems Mk 110 57mm gun – as the Americans have selected for the Zumwalts. This is many way’s nit-picking, but it is necessary, the Daring class were put together quickly after the Horizon joint European air-defence frigate project fell through. Thus, I feel mistakes have been made. The single 48 cell SYLVER VLS system is at a disadvantage when compared to the 32 and 64 cell TYPE 41 VLS mounted on the Arleigh Burke, now the Royal Navy has nowhere near the budget of the USN so this would be expecting to much, but a single 64 cell Mk 41 or even Mk 57 VLS would have taken up only a little more space, but would have also carried a far larger quantity and range of weaponry – as has already been pointed out; interestingly enough the SYLVER was designed for the French and the Dutch navy, however the Dutch still put the Type 41 into their “De Zeven Provincien” Class. Most importantly the other VLS systems would have made the Daring class a multi-role Guided Missile Destroy, rather than just an anti-air. Carrying on we have the usage of the Phalanx CIWS a good and proven system, used on the previous Type 42 class destroyers, hardly anything to argue you against it, but, it is old, the Americans who developed it are moving beyond it, the Dutch Goalkeeper is a newer and in many ways better system already used on many new units. However, the winner in my opinion should have been the BAE Systems Mk 110, mounting 3 of these in concert with about 4 Rafael TYPHOON remote controlled weapon systems; preferably of the GSA type, although the DSA with its gun combined with countermeasures devices is of course a very good alternative.

The answer to questions why is this better than the Phalanx, and why would I build a system like I have just outlined – rather than what has currently been installed? The answer is simple, the Mk110 is just as good at anti-missile work as the Phalanx, but cheaper, more importantly it also has a far better capability against swarms of motor torpedo boats packed with explosives; a threat increasingly possible with the modern prevalence of Asymmetric warfare. Thus these very capable weapons augmented by the 4(?) Typhoon GSA’s, with their combination of gun and SAM(this can be RAM or even Seawolf/Aster 15 – its just a small software fix away) would provide a very very strong anti-aircraft air defence umbrella for the support of operations in the littoral as well as providing a better sphere of protection against burgeoning range of anti-ship missiles with which nations are equipping their forces.

The use of the Oerlikon 30 mm KCB guns on DS-30B mounts is becoming a tradition in the Royal Navy having been fitted in the Type 23s, they are a very serviceable weapon system but would be, in my opinion, of more use with the weapons described above rather than the Phalanx as they would provide a far smaller percentage of the weight of firepower that could be used against air or surface threats. This is unlike my feelings on the inclusion of only 1 helicopter; be it Merlin or Lynx, even the addition of UAVs would have greatly increased both the ASW capabilities, and her fire support capabilities. To my mind, when there are so many British built, let alone worldwide, UAVs of such high standards it would surely have not been that difficult to build them in from the start; rather than as I suspect have to be built in at a later date. This lack of inclusion goes further; for some unknown reason these ships have not been given a SSM – the only anti-ship capability they have is that provided by the deck gun; there is plenty of space on them for the inclusion of a Harpoon system or if they had carried the Type 41 or 57 VLS tomahawk cruise missiles could have been fitted – adding the further dimension of deep strike land attack capability.

This all will come across as me disliking the Type 45s or even not thinking them good ships; that however, is my personal dilemma; I do think they are great ships, with the Sampson radar system, their powerful stealthy design, great manoeuvrability and turn of speed; they are great ships. It is just, that they could have so easily been exceptional ships; they could so easily have replaced the Arleigh Burkes, even for a short while, as the benchmark. They will not be built in large numbers, so the decision to build them so heavily focused on Air-Warfare is almost criminally short sighted; it forgets that there is no bigger, more powerful escort to provide them with back up. It is the story of the Type 23 frigates repeating its self, a brilliant ASW ship, it however lacks in depth of air defence; in the Type 45 they have the air defence, but not the strike capability; the Royal Navy is not big enough anymore to have these specialised ships; but no one seems to have told those in charge of procurement this. However, I could rant at the lack of consideration shown by this for hours; but in fact it would be pointless, as once the juggernaut of designers, engineers, and civil servants have made the decisions it is the fate of the naval officers to live with them; and historians such as myself to try and bring the stories of their trials, tribulations, and heroisms to light.

Above is HMCS Algoquin, a fitting point to start the conclusion of this piece. It is a destroyer in the Canadian navy. She is of the Iroquois class, a class which has served throughout the Cold War, they will be replaced soon, and without a doubt the Canadians are eyeing their allies’ ships, to see what traits they should include in the replacements. The Type 45’s are a rogue element set against the flow of ever more capable vessels; with ever more expanding armament and roles for which to use them in. As has been said the Arleigh Burkes are the benchmarks of this, but the Type 51c’s of the PLAN are also worthy of consideration. Both these classes exemplify the growth in sophistication of what used to be the workhorses of the fleet, but are now its thoroughbreds. All in all destroyers are now, and will continue to be the go to vessels, therefore the navy with limited destroyers will always be limited in operations and in the end might as well not show up to the conflict zone.

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