What is a Destroyer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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A destroyer is a ship which has been designed for effective combat maneuverability. As the name would imply, a destroyer destroys the enemy, protecting battle groups, merchant fleets, and coastlines. Most navies have several classes of destroyer sailing the high seas, and new designs are constantly in development. For fans of films which involve naval combat, the destroyer is the small, lightweight ship bristling with firepower which somehow always misses when it belongs to the enemy, while landing direct hits when captained by the hero.

The original concept for the specialized destroyer design began to emerge in the 1800s, when several nations realized that a customized combat ship could be immensely useful. The key defining trait of a destroyer is maneuverability, combined with a high level of firepower including missiles, antiaircraft guns, torpedoes, and depth charges. Destroyers are also very fast, and most are capable of long range deployments, although early destroyers were designed primarily for short missions.

Well-equipped destroyers are capable of sinking enemy submarines and ships, and they can also bring down aircraft. The crew are versatile, trained in a variety of tasks so that they can cope with an assortment of situations, including boardings and hand to hand combat. Some have spaces for helicopter pads to increase their flexibility, and destroyers boast the latest in military technology for the purpose of tracking and identifying any craft which crosses the path of the ship.


A navy can use its destroyers in a number of ways. Destroyers often escort naval fleets and merchant fleets by request, providing cover and protection to slower and more vulnerable ships. These combat ships may also be sent out on individual missions to seek out and destroy enemies which have encroached into national territory, and destroyers are also used as public relations tools, with members of the public being given guided tours at navy events.

In addition to being used for military functions, a destroyer may also be utilized as a law enforcement tool. Nations with a piracy problem often routinely deploy destroyers to patrol their territorial waters, looking for signs of piracy and suspicious activity. The presence of the destroyer is designed to deter piracy, and to provide rapid support in the event that a pirate attack does occur. While pirates tend to attack merchant ships and private individuals rather than a nation itself, they are viewed as a threat to national and economic security, which justifies the use of military equipment on a routine law enforcement task.


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