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Backbone of the fleet: The major players’ destroyers

uss farragut
USS Farragut (DDG 99) comes out of a high-speed turn (Source US Navy)

Destroyers serve as the backbone of any navy. As Australia expands and modernises its own fleet of destroyers, we take a closer look at potent destroyer competition developing in our region. 

Hailing from relatively modest roots in terms of warship design and role, modern destroyers have evolved to become the undisputed multipurpose surface combatants of major navies around the world. 

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Large hulls, long-ranges and high speeds support a wide variety of mission profiles, from convoy and battle-group escort for high-profile assets like aircraft carriers and amphibious warfare ships, to maritime security, land attack, anti-air and anti-submarine defence, destroyers are the core of the navy. 

Meanwhile, the advent of increasingly powerful combat systems and advanced weapons systems including ship-mounted lasers are driving the role evolution of destroyers to include things like ballistic missile defence (BMD), while enhancing the already formidable capabilities of these key platforms. 

Throughout Indo-Pacific Asia, destroyers are rapidly being commissioned or transferred to the region to beef up navies and secure key strategic assets, lines of communication and support power projection platforms.   

In part one of this series, we will identify the various destroyer capabilities of key regional navies like the US, Japan, China and Russia. 

United States Navy: The region's pre-eminent maritime power, destroyers serve as the central pillar of the US Navy and its combat power in the Indo-Pacific region. Centred on the Arleigh Burke Class guided missile destroyer (DDG), the US Navy possesses one of the most potent, advanced and readily present destroyer forces in the region. 

  • Arleigh Burke Class: First commissioned in the early 1990s, the Arleigh Burke Class of destroyers serve as the workhorse of the US Navy. The Arleigh Burke Class currently has four 'flight' (Flight I, II, IIA and III) variants providing various technology and capability enhancements. The class ranges from 8,184-9,800 tonnes with a top speed in excess of 30 knots to keep pace with nuclear aircraft carriers. The destroyers weapons systems are guided by the SPY Aegis radar system and are armed with a traditional five-inch naval gun, between 90-96 cell vertical launch systems (VLS) for Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, SM-3 (BMD) missiles, Phalanx close-in weapons systems, various large calibre, small arms installations, Mk-46 or Mk-50 heavy weight torpedoes, and MH-60 series Seahawk helicopter(s) for anti-submarine warfare.   

The US Navy currently operates about 32 Arleigh Burke Class destroyers in or around the Indo-Pacific, ranging from forward deployed destroyer squadrons based in Yokosuka, Japan, to destroyers based with carrier and amphibious strike groups on deployment away from home ports at Pearl Harbor, San Diego and Everret in Washington state. 

The Arleigh Burkes also serve as the backbone of the US Navy's afloat ballistic missile defence network, with a number of the vessels based in the Pacific operating with the new Baseline 9 of the Aegis system and conducting frequent testing of the BMD software and evolved SM-3 missiles in conjunction with Japanese Aegis destroyers to perfect the at-sea BMD capability. 

Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force: Japan's major surface combatant fleet is made up of a variety of destroyer class vessels, ranging from modern Aegis powered vessels – comparable in size and capability to the US Navy's Arleigh Burke Class  to older, Cold War-era vessels that have seen various upgrades to enhance their survivability and combat capability in light of growing regional tensions. 

  • Maya Class: The latest addition to Japan's potent fleet of Aegis destroyers, the two Maya Class vessels will serve as the backbone of Japan's at-sea BMD capability and will also be equipped with the co-operative engagement capability (CEC), enabling closer interoperability with US and Australian Aegis vessels. The Maya Class weigh in at 10,250 tonnes fully loaded, with a top speed of 30 knots and are armed with a traditional five-inch naval gun, 96 cell VLS armed with a mix of SM-2 surface-to-air/anti-ship missiles, SM-3 BMD missiles and SM-6 anti-air interceptor missiles, two Phalanx close-in weapons systems, Mk 46 torpedoes, and SH-60 series Seahawk helicopters for anti-submarine warfare.
  • Atago Class: The two Atago Class vessels served as the baseline design for the slightly larger Maya Class. Weighing in at 10,000 tonnes, with a top speed of 30 knots, the Atago Class vessels are equipped with the SPY Aegis radar system, are armed with a traditional five-inch naval gun, 96 cell VLS armed with a mix of SM-2 surface-to-air/anti-ship missiles, SM-3 BMD missiles and SM-6 anti-air interceptor missiles, two Phalanx close-in weapons systems, Mk 46 torpedoes, and a SH-60 series Seahawk helicopter for anti-submarine warfare.    
  • Kongo Class: The four Kongo Class vessels weigh in at 9,500 tonnes fully loaded and enjoy a top speed of 30 knots. The vessels are equipped with the SPY Aegis radar system and are armed with a traditional five-inch naval gun, 90 cell VLS with a mix of SM-2 surface-to-air/anti-ship missiles, SM-3 BMD missiles, two Phalanx close-in weapons systems, Mk 46 torpedoes, and SH-60 series Seahawk helicopters for anti-submarine warfare.
  • Hatakaze Class: One of Japan's older destroyer designs, the Hatazake Class are traditional, Cold War-era destroyers weighing in at about 6,050 tonnes fully loaded, with a top speed of 30 knots. Unlike the preceding vessels, the two Hatakaze vessels are not equipped with Aegis, rather the older OYQ-4-1 type tactical control system and are armed with two five-inch naval guns, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Standard Missiles (SM) surface-to-air missiles, two Phalanx close-in weapons systems and torpedoes for anti-submarine warfare.   
  • Ashai Class: The two new Asahi Class vessels are largely designed to perform battle-group anti-submarine warfare roles. Weighing in at 6,800 tonnes fully loaded with a top speed of 30 knots, the Asahi vessels are equipped with advanced, Japanese designed anti-air and sonar combat systems. The vessels are armed with a five-inch naval gun, 32 cell VLS system supporting ESSM, eight type 90 Japanese designed ship-to-ship missiles, two Phalanx close-in weapons systems, Mk 46 torpedoes, and SH-60 series Seahawk helicopters for anti-submarine warfare.
  • Akizuki Class: Designed as large escorts for the Kongo Class vessels, the Akizuki Class weigh in at 6,800 tonnes and have a top speed of 30 knots. Like the Ashai Class, the Akizuki Class are equipped with advanced Japanese anti-air and sonar systems. The vessels are armed with a five-inch naval gun, 32 cell VLS system, Type 90 ship-to-ship missiles, ESSM and vertical launched anti-submarine rockets. The vessels are also equipped with two Phalanx close-in weapons systems, Mk 46 torpedoes, and SH-60 series Seahawk helicopters for anti-submarine warfare.
  • Takanami Class: A second generation of Japanese destroyers, the five Takanami Class vessels weigh in at 6,300 tonnes fully loaded and maintain a top speed of 30 knots. Like the Ashai and Akizuki classes, the Takanami are equipped with advanced Japanese anti-air and sonar systems. The vessels are armed with a five-inch naval gun, 32 cell VLS system, Type 90 ship-to-ship missiles, ESSM and vertical launched anti-submarine rockets. The vessels are also equipped with two Phalanx close-in weapons systems, Mk 46 torpedoes, and SH-60 series Seahawk helicopters for anti-submarine warfare.
  • Murasame Class: Another second generation design of Japanese destroyers, the nine Murasame Class vessels have a full load weight of 6,200 tonnes and a top speed of 30 knots. Like the Ashai, Akizuki and Takanami classes, the Murasame Class vessels are equipped with with advanced Japanese anti-air and sonar systems. The vessels are also armed with a 76mm main gun, 32 cell VLS system Type 90 ship-to-ship missiles, ESSM and vertical launched anti-submarine rockets. The vessels are also equipped with two Phalanx close-in weapons systems, Mk 46 torpedoes, and SH-60 series Seahawk helicopters for anti-submarine warfare.

The Japanese destroyer fleet represents a series of design evolutions in response to varying threats ranging from Soviet submarines during the Cold War, to the rising the threat of modern ballistic and anti-ship cruise missile systems.

Japan's policy of ever larger designs, facilitating more advanced combat and weapons systems enhances Japan's attempts to protect strategic sea-lines-of-communication (SLOC) in and around the Japanese mainland. 

Additionally, the high top-speed of the vessels also highlights the battle-group protection role Japan provides for key strategic platforms including their own large-deck amphibious warfare ships and similar vessels and aircraft carriers of key regional allies like the US. 

People's Liberation Army - Navy: As China has invested in key force projection platforms like aircraft carriers, the nation's destroyer fleet has evolved to provide battle-group protection, anti-submarine, anti-air, anti-ship and land attack capabilities throughout Indo-Pacific Asia. Much like Japan, the Chinese Navy's fleet of destroyers has evolved from Cold War-era units to highly sophisticated, multi-role surface combatants comparable to Western counterparts. 

  • Type 055 Class: The pinnacle of Chinese destroyer design, the six vessel destroyer class fills a role similar to the US Navy's Ticonderoga Class guided missile cruisers. Weighing in at 12-13,000 tonnes fully loaded, with a top speed of 30 knots, these potent vessels are equipped with a Chinese developed combat system similar to the American Aegis combat system, enabling potent area-air defence and battle-group protection. The Type 055 are armed with a dual purpose 130mm main gun, a H/PJ-14 close in weapon system, a 24 cell HQ-10 short-range surface-to-air missile launcher and a 112 cell VLS system for surface-to-air, anti-ship and land attack cruise missiles, supplemented by missile launched anti-submarine torpedoes and two anti-submarine warfare helicopters. 
  • Type 052D Class: China's answer to the American Arleigh Burke Class with a planned production run of 26 ships. The 7,500-tonne vessels are capable of a top speed of 31 knots and are armed with Chinese developed combat system similar to the American Aegis combat system potent area-air defence and anti-submarine warfare sonar systems enabling battle-group protection. The vessels are are armed with the same 130mm dual purpose naval gun as the Type 055 Class. The vessels' armament also includes a 64 cell VLS system for anti-submarine, anti-air, anti-ship and land attack cruise missiles, and also includes a 24 cell HQ-10 short-range surface-to-air missile launcher, a H/PJ-12 close-in weapon system, torpedoes and a single anti-submarine warfare helicopter. 
  • Type 052C Class: Similar in role to the Type 052D vessels, the Type 052C are designed to serve as battle-group escorts and independent multi-role warships. Weighing in at 7,000 tonnes with a top speed of 32 knots, the vessels are armed with potent H/LJG0346 active phased array radar and H/SJD-9 and H/SJG-206 sonar suite to provide potent area-air defence and anti-submarine defence capabilities. The six vessels are armed with a single 100mm main gun, 48 HHQ-9 long-range surface-to-air missiles, eight C-805 anti-ship/land attack cruise missiles or eight YJ-82 anti-ship cruise missiles, two close-in weapons systems, torpedoes and a single anti-submarine warfare helicopter. 
  • Type 052B Class: The test-bed for all following Chinese guided missile destroyers capable of area-air defence, the 6,500-tonne vessels are capable of 30 knots and armed with the Fregat-MAE-5 3D radar and armed with a single 100mm main gun, 16 YJ-83 anti-ship missiles, 48 SA-N-12 Grizzly surface-to-air missiles, two close-in weapons systems, two anti-submarine mortars, torpedoes and a single Russian designed Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopter. 
  • Sovremenny Class: The Soviet designed destroyer is designed largely to fill the anti-surface, convoy escort and anti-submarine warfare role. The vessels weigh in at 8,840 tonnes fully loaded and have a top-speed of 32.7 knots. The vessels are potently armed with a variety of naval guns and missiles. This includes two dual 130mm naval guns, four close-in weapons systems, eight Moskit SSM anti-ship missiles, 48 Grizzly surface-to-air missiles and 533mm torpedoes, two 300mm anti-submarine rocket launchers and a single Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopter. 

China's rapidly developing destroyer fleet is diverse and largely the result of a large number of test-bed designs that produced the above mentioned in large scale service vessels.

Designs like the Type 051 variants and the original Type 052 destroyers were introduced in a limited run, providing the Chinese Navy with the opportunity to perfect key technologies, be they combat systems or domestically developed weapons systems. 

China's increasing focus on developing a robust, blue-water navy is emphasised by the increasingly capable designs, such as the Type 052 variants and the Type 055 vessels in particular.

The potent area-air defence, anti-surface and anti-submarine capabilities of these vessels serve to enhance the Chinese Navy's operational capacity and the strategy of area-access denial (A2AD) in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Russian Navy: Inheriting vessels from the former Soviet Navy, Russia's Pacific surface fleet is relatively small, but heavily dependent on destroyers as the workhorse. These designs serve to support the traditional anti-aircraft carrier doctrines of the Russian Navy, introduced to counter the force-projection capabilities of the US Navy and its carrier strike groups and US hunter-killer submarines during the Cold War. 

  • Sovremenny Class: The Soviet designed destroyer is designed largely to fill the anti-surface, convoy escort and anti-submarine warfare role. The vessels weigh in at 8,840 tonnes fully loaded and have a top-speed of 32.7 knots. They are potently armed with a variety of naval guns and missiles. This includes two dual 130mm naval guns, four close-in weapons systems, eight Moskit SSM anti-ship missiles, 48 Grizzly surface-to-air missiles and 533mm torpedoes, two 300mm anti-submarine rocket launchers and a single Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopter. 
  • Udaloy Class: Designed to hunt down American hunter-killer submarines, the Udaloy Class vessels provide the Russian Pacific fleet with an adaptable and highly capable anti-submarine vessel. Weighing in at 7,750 tonnes fully loaded, with an impressive top speed of 35 knots, the vessels are armed with a potent array of anti-air, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons, including two 10mm naval guns, eight Silex anti-submarine/ship missiles, 64 cell Gauntlet surface-to-air missiles, four close-in weapons systems, 553mm torpedoes, two anti-submarine rocket launchers and two Ka-27 anti-submarine warfare helicopters.      

Russia's Navy has been undergoing a series of modernisation and recapitalisation programs in recent decades as the Russian government redirects its focus onto the Pacific. This process will see a large portion of Russia's Pacific surface fleet replaced by modern designs, including the Seregushchiy Class corvettes and potentially six of the mammoth, 10-15,000-tonne Lider Class nuclear powered guided missile destroyers. 

Having reviewed the major regional players' destroyer forces now assembling throughout the region, let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, or get in touch with This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Backbone of the fleet: The major players’ destroyers
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