Mobile offshore bases form the backbone of the Blue Water Navies, possessing the capability to dictate tactical scenarios second only to nuclear aircraft carriers. These vessels have the power to engage any target within range, from missiles, torpedo launches and even submarines. Yes, we’re talking about the guided missile destroyers.
But in modern naval warfare, does it hold true that the larger and more heavily armed a ship is, the more dominant it becomes in battle? Don’t wait any longer, fasten your safety belts and join The Wise Goat as we witness the Top 5 Strongest Guided Missile Destroyers in the World.
A guided missile destroyer is a type of highly maneuverable warship designed for the protection of large military assets such as aircraft carriers, convoys, or large surface vessels from potential threats posed by enemy aircraft, missiles, and submarines.
However, in the trend of modern naval development, people not only integrate supportive technologies to optimize the effectiveness of existing weapons, but also arrange additional land-attack missiles, making guided missile destroyers become a multi-functional warship, ready to independently fight whenever necessary.
The ship in the picture has a unique appearance and is referred to as the world’s most advanced guided missile destroyer. It is named USS Zumwalt, after former United States Chief of Naval Operations, Elmo Zumwalt. Although called a destroyer, its length of 186m, width of 24.6m and full load displacement of 16,000 tons make it heavier than the total displacement of a Slava-class cruiser of Russia plus two Gepard-class frigates owned by the Vietnamese Navy.
Not only does it have a size far beyond a typical destroyer, the weapon systems on the Zumwalt-class destroyer are also very impressive. The most impressive of these must be the system of 80 vertically-launched missile tubes in a modular form, allowing the ship to use different types of missiles depending on the specific mission and combat conditions.
When carrying out ground attack missions, the ship can use Tomahawk missiles. The most dangerous of these are the Block III and Block IV versions. They can attack land targets with high accuracy from distances of 1,300 to 1,600 km. All of this just to turn the ship’s hull into a mobile fire base, ready to launch an attack on the enemy’s head as soon as the war begins.
However, when performing escort missions, the American guided missile destroyer is surely not immune to the risks of being attacked from the air by advanced anti-ship missiles such as the UK’s Sea Eagle, France’s Exocet, Sweden/Germany’s RBS 15 MK3, China’s C-801, or India’s Brahmos.
The cutting-edge American destroyer is just bait for ultra-long-range missile attacks if it does not have effective air defense. Accordingly, each launch tube on a Zumwalt can carry up to four advanced Sea Sparrow missiles. Combined with the AN/SPY-3 active electronically scanned array radar system, it becomes the most advanced air defense system ever placed on a warship.
Imagine what would happen if a combat squad attacked a Zumwalt when it still had dozens of full anti-aircraft guns. It would truly be a day worse than any other for the pilots, as they would instantly face a barrage from 40 anti-aircraft missiles launched at Mach 4+, far surpassing the maximum speed of the popular current generation of fighter aircraft.
Even attacking a Zumwalt with a submarine carries hidden risks. This is due to the warship’s stealthy design and highly automated capabilities, allowing it to detect underwater targets early and attack with its proven effective ASROC anti-submarine rocket.
Also, despite not being a helicopter destroyer, with its massive size, American engineers did not forget to allocate a helicopter deck. Allowing the navy to carry two medium-sized helicopters, with excellent anti-submarine capabilities, such as the SH-60 or MH-60R Seahawk. This helps the ship significantly increase its anti-submarine capability.
It would indeed be a great day for a naval force with limited budget if they were to receive a Zumwalt class destroyer from the US out of the blue. However, even if this unlikely scenario were to occur, it’s highly probable that the ship would be sold to a wealthier third country for dismantling, copying or cutting into pieces for scrap metal.
This issue, in turn, stems from the overly intricate and complex weapons systems and equipment integrated on the ship. It not only makes maintenance and upkeep difficult, but also makes the purchase and combat cost of such a ship exorbitantly expensive, potentially reaching several hundred million dollars per year. It would consume a large portion of the average nation’s defense budget, while its value of use is not proportional.
It is estimated that after each launch of a new long-range missile with a guidance system on the Zumwalt ship, the US military will have to spend up to 800,000 dollars. In 2018, the US Navy considered converting Zumwalt ships into nuclear-powered warships. But after a disappointing performance, they had to consider turning it into a special stealth hunter or a nuclear attack ship.
However, things seem to still not meet the expectations of Americans. For now, the US Navy still has to rely on Arleigh Burke destroyers. Among them, Arleigh Burke Flight III is considered the strongest version to date, deserving of being second on the list of the world’s strongest Guided Missile Destroyers.
Flight III Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer
You may already know that since 1990, the Soviet Union was in a crisis of collapse, while the power of China was still not enough to be considered a match for the United States. Suddenly becoming an unbeatable military power is seen as the cause of the misdirection of the U.S. military industrial complex. Instead of producing weapons with high real-life combat effectiveness, they produce military products that are too expensive compared to their actual value, just to attack much weaker Middle Eastern countries.
But for the Arleigh Burke class destroyer ships, it’s different. Although they were also commissioned in 1991, until the present time, this type of warship is still considered the steel fist of the strongest naval forces on the globe. The presence of this class of ship on hot sea zones, and even many experts believe it will create a greater real-life deterrent effect compared to the highly talented and many handicapped Zumwalt.
In particular, the Arleigh Burke Flight III version with a full load displacement of 9,600 tons, more than 1,000 tons compared to the Flight I version, is still seen by Washington as unmatched by any other type of warship in the world. This is not just empty words, as on the latest Arleigh Burke class, the Americans have equipped it with an active electronic scanning array radar AN/SPY-6 V1, with a sensitivity that far exceeds the AN/SPY-1 radar on the first-generation Arleigh Burke versions.
Through defensive drills, this type of radar has not only proven highly effective in electronic warfare, but it can also guide the RIM-162 and RIM-161 anti-missile missiles to intercept enemy missiles with high accuracy. Furthermore, the Arleigh Burke ship is equipped with the Phalanx cannon, two MK-38 machine guns, combined with the MK-53 and MK-59 decoy systems and the AN/SLQ-25 Nixie torpedo defense system. The ship also poses a significant challenge to any enemy who intends to attack the ship with a sudden assault, as any incoming missiles can be intercepted or diverted from the target.
In this mobile artillery battle, the sailors do not need to worry even in the case of the enemy attacking the fleet simultaneously with a large number of missile ships, combat vessels or submarines. The 96 gun tubes on the ship are enough for them to freely respond, forcing the enemy into a state of destruction. At the same time, they can strike back at the enemy’s onshore targets with the BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles.
For the attackers, attempting to inflict damage on the ship is very difficult and certainly results in significant losses. However, even if in some miraculous way, the attackers manage to hit the Arleigh Burke III. They still may not be able to celebrate until they see the ship sink. This is because when designing this hulled ship, American engineers added over 130 tons of Kevlar armor to protect around the critical points. Therefore, if the ammunition hits the ship without sufficient explosion power, it can still continue to fight or retreat to the base at a maximum speed of 56 km/h.
Additionally, the ship also has room for two MH-60R Seahawk LAMPS III helicopters, providing formidable support against local submarine attacks. Clearly, with its capabilities, the Arleigh Burke Flight III deserves to be at the forefront of the future American naval fleets. But now, things no longer seem to be as easy as before. Especially on the other side of the ocean, the Chinese navy, their largest rival, is becoming more and more powerful.
Type 055 Destroyer
Not only does it surpass the US Navy in terms of fleet size, the Chinese also possess formidable attack warships, which are no less impressive than the US. If you are seeing the picture below, it is a Type 055 destroyer, developed by the country’s own researchers. This is also the third name that The Wise Goat wants to introduce to you in this article.
Despite being smaller than the American Zumwalt class, with a length of 180 m and a width of 20m, as well as a full load displacement of more than 12,000 tons, the size of the Type 055 is still enormous for a warship. It is even larger than the American Ticonderoga-class cruiser, with a full load displacement of only 9,800 tons.
The Type 055 is the strongest destroyer produced in China to date. Most of the weapons integrated on the Type 055 are among the strongest in the world. With 112 vertical launch tubes arranged, the ship has enough power to fulfill its escort mission and can also act independently if necessary. Among the weapons that can be mentioned are the anti-aircraft HHQ-9 missiles, which can destroy enemy combat aircraft and have a range of 120 km at an altitude of 50 km.
In addition, during naval battles, the YJ-18 anti-ship missiles can give the Chinese Navy an advantage through its ability to attack targets from a range of 120km, with a speed of Mach 3.5. This is significantly superior to the Harpoon missiles commonly used by Western navies. However, the passive guidance system on these missiles is also considered by some experts to be less accurate when used to attack high-speed moving targets.
As a multirole warship similar to the American Arleigh Burke class destroyers, the Type 055 also has the capability to attack land targets with the CJ-10 missiles, although the DSMAC guidance system on these missiles has not yet been able to perform flexible and accurate trajectory targeting of distant targets like the American Tomahawk Block IV version. Nevertheless, with the ability to carry heavy 500 kg warheads and an attack range of over 1,500 km, its power can still be considered superior to the Tomahawk Block III version.
In addition, the ship is also equipped with a 130mm main gun system and a 30mm close-in weapons system. Although lacking the advanced automation features of America’s Phalanx, it still has a significant effect when shooting down low-flying targets. However, the submarine detection devices and stealth-hunting systems on the ship are quite rudimentary, making anti-submarine missiles difficult to effectively employ. This can be considered a weak point for the enemy to exploit, if they really want to turn the Type 055 into a fish house.
But equipped with a formidable weapons system, combined with the Type 346B radar with similar functionality to the AN/SPY-1 radar on the Arleigh Burke Flight I destroyers, the Type 055 will still be a major threat to Southeast Asian and Indian nations, as the Chinese Navy is expanding its influence into the East Sea and Indian Oceans.
However, that is not an excessively serious issue for the two American allies who are situated at the entrance of China’s northeast. They themselves also possess warships with combat capabilities that are not inferior. For example, in the case of South Korea, up until now, the country has the foundation to confidently face most of the threats in the ocean. This is because they currently have the Sejong the Great class destroyer, which is the fourth destroyer on this list.
Sejong the Great-class Destroyer
Named after the temple name of Sejong the Great, a renowned military leader who created Choson’gul, the phonetic alphabet used for the Korean language today. Sejong the Great is considered by the South Korean Navy as a “steel fist” in modern naval combat operations.
Take a look at the photo of the Arleigh Burke destroyer above and the Atago ship of Japan below. If you feel that the South Korean Sejong the Great destroyer looks very similar to the other two ships, you are correct. As a latecomer, the South Korean missile destroyer borrowed many features from its predecessors and shares many common components and systems.
Not only that, the ship is also significantly larger in size compared to the first-generation Arleigh Burke class. With a length of 165m, width of 21m, and a full load displacement of 10,600 tons. However, it is still smaller than the Type 055. But smaller does not mean weaker. Compared to the Type 055, Sejong the Great has a distinct advantage in long-range battles from a base. This is because the ship is equipped with 128 vertical launch tubes, allowing it to engage a significantly larger number of targets than the Type 055.
The SSM-700K C-Star anti-ship missile used on South Korean destroyers may not have the impressive speed of the YJ-18, but it has a clear advantage with a range of over 180 km and superior accuracy thanks to GPS and an Active radar homing terminal phase.
As one of the closest allies of the United States, when developing the Sejong the Great, South Korea also had easy access to and integrated an extremely modern electronic system onto the ship. Such as the LIG Nex1 SLQ-200K Sonata electronic warfare suite, AN/SPG-62 fire control radar. This helps optimize the combat effectiveness of the entire defense weapon system, no less than a standard US Navy warship.
Compared to the Type 055, attacking Sejong the Great with submarines will be much more difficult. With the SQR-220K towed array sonar system and DSQS-21BZ-M hull-mounted sonar system, the ship can detect threats early, especially from older submarines. Then they can launch K-ASROC Red Shark anti-submarine missiles. The most outstanding feature of this cruiser is its ability to launch missiles that can carry 500 kg of explosives to attack targets from a distance of over 500 km, creating a huge advantage for South Korea to attack directly at ballistic missile launch sites or other critical locations.
In addition, the South Korean destroyer has a range of up to 10,190km, slightly more than the 9,260km of the Type 055. However, unfortunately, compared to its competitors, the Sejong the Great’s air defense capabilities seem unimpressive as it only relies on a few RIM-66 Standard medium-range anti-aircraft missiles, which have a ceiling of just over 25km, and the Goalkeeper CIWS 7-barrel gun system. This would be a significant disadvantage for the ship if it had to face a powerful air force using tactics such as missile and smart bomb attacks from above, putting the sailors on the ship at risk, regardless of the fact that they are on one of the world’s most powerful destroyers.
But if there is still doubt about the true capabilities of the ship following the missed detection of North Korean missiles in 2019. Or concerns about the “steel fist” moniker possibly causing the ship’s hull to crack right after being launched. A navy force could still choose the fifth ship on this list, which is the Atago-class from the Land of the Rising Sun.
With a shape and overall size almost similar to Sejong the Great, the Atago-class destroyer is considered one of the key players at sea for the Japanese defense force from 2008 to present.
Compared to Sejong the Great, the Atago may seem a bit more modest, equipped only with a 127mm gun and 95 vertical launch missile tubes. However, the ship is equipped with the world’s most advanced Aegis system, the Baseline 9C version. As a result, the Atago can use the SM-3 Block 2 ballistic missile defense missile to intercept enemy missiles at an altitude of 1,050 km, at a hypersonic speed of Mach 8.8. The long-range attack capability of this extremely advanced missile, combined with the SM-2MR SAM medium-range air defense missile and the 20mm Phalanx CIWS gun system, helps to form a multi-layered defense shield that is extremely difficult to penetrate on the ship.
Thanks to the use of the Mitsubishi Type-90 anti-ship missile, in a battle with rivals such as China’s Type 055 class, Japanese ships can take advantage of the opportunity to attack the bow first. However, the speed of this type of weapon is quite slow, only 1,150 km. Therefore, intercepting it becomes much easier than the Chinese YJ-8 model. For other capabilities, the Atago class ships are also similar to modern US warships in that they can attack land and anti-submarine with Tomahawk and RUM-139 VL ASROC missiles.
And those are the 5 extremely powerful guided missile destroyer models. The most regrettable thing today is perhaps that the article has been too long, The Wise Goat could not introduce to you the destroyer models of the Daring (Type 45) class of the Royal Navy, Horizon of France and Kolkata from India. Although they look smaller than Zumwalt, Type 055, they all have their own advantages, especially when used for fleet defense missions. If you are interested, please comment below, they may appear in future articles of The Wise Goat.
So if you were chosen to be a combat crew member on a multi-role guided missile destroyer, which class of destroyer would you choose? And did any of the classes of destroyers mentioned in The Wise Goat’s article catch your eye? Please leave your comments in the section below!