Surface Forces: May 29, 2002

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Since World War II, the descriptions given to warships have evolved. Warships called destroyers appeared a century ago and by the end of World War I they were ships of about 1,000 tons armed with a few guns and some torpedoes and depth charges. By World War II, destroyers had grown to about 3,000 tons. There were also cruisers, weighing in at between 6,000 and 12,000 tons, and battleships, which were 30-40,000 tons. Half a century later, all that's left for surface warfare are destroyers and frigates. For whatever reason, the modern frigates perform the same mission (and are about the same size) as the World War II destroyers. Meanwhile, the modern destroyers have grown to the size of World War II cruisers. Actually, some of the larger destroyers are called cruisers, even though they are only 10-20 percent heavier than the largest destroyers. The latest ships in the U.S. Navy's Burke class destroyers weigh 9,200 tons, cost $1.5 billion to build, have a crew of about 330 sailors, carry 96 (a combination of antiaircraft and cruise) missiles. There's only one 5 inch gun, but two helicopters. These modern destroyers could take on any World War II cruiser and win, mainly because the cruise missiles have a range of 1,500 kilometers. A Burke class ship could probably defeat a World War II battleship, although we'll never know for sure since one of those heavily armored ships never got hit by a modern cruise missile. In effect, the U.S. Navy has settled on just three major combat ship types; aircraft carriers, destroyers and nuclear submarines.

 


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