In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet or battle group and defend them against smaller, short-range attackers.
Another, rarer (perhaps only in Germany; German: Zerstörer), use is to refer to aircraft specifically designed to operate at long ranges and hunt down bombers or opposing fighters. Here they are often referred to specifically as bomber destroyers with their anti-fighter role being better described as an escort fighter.
Genesis of the destroyer
The destroyer originated in Britain shortly after the Chilean Civil War of 1891 and in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895). In those conflicts, a new type of ship proved to be devastatingly effective—the swift, small torpedo-boat invented by John Ericsson. These small boats had speed equal to that of the larger ships, and could dash in close to them, loose their torpedoes, and dash away.
While normally a small, short-range boat of this sort would be easily destroyed long before getting into range, they could be operated within a fleet with larger ships as long as the fleet was close to base. In this case the defending force had to choose which set of targets to attack: the larger ships which they were built to counter, or the smaller torpedo boats which were charging in to attack. Yet this one-two punch cost almost nothing to the attacker, as the small torpedo boats were very inexpensive.
The world's navies recognized the need for a counter weapon and developed the torpedo-boat destroyer. The basic idea was to have a screen of ships that were as fast as the torpedo boats, but armed with guns instead of torpedoes. They would operate at a distance from the main fleet of capital ships to keep the torpedo-boats from ever getting into torpedo firing range.
However it was clear even at the time that this concept had problems of its own. The ship would indeed be capable of holding off an attack by torpedo boats (which typically have no guns of their own), but while operating away from the fleet they would be easy targets for any other capital ship. Thus they were often given torpedoes of their own.
Another problem was that the torpedo-boats were short range and thus easy and cheap to produce. However the destroyers had the problem of needing to operate as a screen for the fleet. This required them to have the speed and range of the battleships, so destroyers were often much larger than the boats they were designed to counter.
The threat evolved by World War I with the introduction of the submarine. In general terms the submarine, or U-boat, is nothing more than a torpedo boat with the ability to submerge for a short period of time. However this change allows the submarine to hide from the guns of the destroyers and close to torpedo range while underwater. This led to an equally rapid evolution of the destroyer during the war, which quickly equipped with depth charges and sonar for countering this new threat.
By World War II the threat had evolved once again. The aircraft had now become the primary weapon of naval warfare, and again the fleet destroyers were unequipped for combatting this new target. Again they were re-equipped with new anti-aircraft guns, in addition to their already-existing light guns, depth charges, and torpedoes. By this time the destroyers had become large multi-purpose vessels, expensive targets in their own right rather than expendable vessels for the protection of others. This led to the introduction of smaller and cheaper specialized anti-submarine warships by the Royal Navy: corvettes and later frigates.
Modern US destroyers
The United States commissioned its first destroyer, USS Bainbridge, Destroyer No. 1, in 1902. In the US Navy, destroyers operate in support of carrier battle groups, surface action groups, amphibious groups and replenishment groups. Destroyers (with a DD hull classification symbol) primarily perform anti-submarine warfare duty while guided missile destroyers (DDGs) are multi-mission (anti-submarine, anti-air, and anti-surface warfare) surface combatants. The relatively-recent addition of cruise missile launchers has greatly expanded the role of the destroyer in strike and land-attack warfare.
Two classes of destroyers are currently in use by the US Navy: the Spruance-class and the Arleigh Burke-class. The Zumwalt-class was planned to replace them; on November 1, 2001, the US Navy announced the issuance of a revised Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Future Surface Combatant Program. Formerly known as DD 21, the program will now be called DD(X) to more accurately reflect the program purpose, which is to produce a family of advanced technology surface combatants, not a single ship class. DD(X) is no longer called Zumwalt class, and is much larger than traditional destroyers, being nearly three thousand tons heavier than the Ticonderoga class cruiser. It will potentially employ advanced weaponry and an all-electric Integrated Power System.
da:Destroyer de:Zerstörer es:Destructor he:משחתת ms:Kapal pemusnah ja:駆逐艦 pl:Niszczyciel sl:Rušilec fi:Hävittäjä (laiva) zh-cn:驱逐舰