What is the difference between a frigate and a destroyer?

If you are not a sailor and do not have anything to do with the Navy, it is difficult to answer this question – “what is the difference between a frigate and a destroyer?”

A destroyer and a frigate differ in tonnage, weapons, the nature of their missions, capabilities and sizes. However, there is no standard defining a warship as a destroyer or as a frigate. Different countries have different definitions and ideas about what a destroyer should do and what a frigate should do. For example, the US Navy has a 9000-ton Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, while Iran can call a destroyer a 95-meter Moudge-class ship. The British Naval Post tried to “simply” explain the difference between a frigate and a destroyer.


FREMM multipurpose frigate of Italian navy
FREMM multipurpose frigate of Italian navy

Frigates are the smallest class of the three main classes BNK (surface combat ship) and, perhaps, the smallest “blue-water”, that is, ocean-going warship.

Initially, a frigate was a vessel that had a long and low design. Some long high-speed battleships were called frigate-built. It was a fully equipped ship with a single dedicated gun deck. The frigates had a minimal set of weapons, were usually used for reconnaissance, patrolling, escorts of large ships, sometimes operated independently and were even called cruisers.

Having received armor and turret guns, the frigate became a cruiser, since there was no longer a “gun deck” that determined the features of the frigate. The term “frigate” disappeared around the late 1800s and did not appear until World War II.

The British needed a ship to escort the convoy. Destroyers performed much the same role as frigates in the era of the sailing fleet, but ocean-going destroyers were relatively fast and carried torpedoes. Patrol boats were not fast enough and did not have sufficient range or seaworthiness to escort convoys and protect them from submarines. A middle class BNK was created, which was not as fast and well armed as destroyers (did not have weapons against submarines or aircraft), but still moved faster than convoy ships. He had more patrol boats to carry more fuel and to withstand rough ocean weather and waves. The British reworked the term “frigate” to define this new class of ships.


King Sejong the Great class of South Korea navy
King Sejong the Great class of South Korea navy

In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast, agile, rugged warship designed to escort large ships in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against powerful short-range attacks. They were originally designed in the late 19th century by Fernando Villaamil for the Spanish navy as a defense against torpedo boats, and by the time of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, these “torpedo boat destroyers” (TBD) were “Large, fast and heavily armed torpedo boats designed to destroy other torpedo boats.” Further, the term TBD was shortened to simply “destroyer” by almost all fleets for the First World War.

Destroyers are much smaller than battleships, but more frigates, usually with one cannon (5 “versus 16” on Iowa-class battleships) and many missiles, including anti-ship, ground and cruise missiles (Tomahawks in the American case). Modern destroyers often also have a helipad, which helps in anti-submarine warfare.

The destroyer was originally a BNK class to cover battleships and cruisers with their powerful but slow-firing cannons from the high-speed and maneuverable torpedo boats introduced around the late 1800s.

Frigate vs destroyer

FREMM frigate of Italian navy with US Arleigh Burke-class destroyer
FREMM frigate of Italian navy with US Arleigh Burke-class destroyer

Today, the line between frigate and destroyer is blurred. In general, the destroyer is heavier, has more firepower and is slightly faster than a frigate. Frigates also tend to place more emphasis on anti-submarine missions. However, both classes of BNK are often capable of performing multiple missions.

In larger battles, frigates either grouped together to counter more serious threats or escorted a larger ship to prevent an enemy flanking attack. The destroyer is its namesake, it is also designed to destroy other ships, aircraft, people, submarines. On the other hand, frigates are more numerous and less expensive to build than destroyers.

In modern naval warfare, various threats are considered – when faced with air attacks, destroyers seek to defend themselves against a modern threat and protect any ships in the composition. Consequently, they have longer range weapons and sensor systems. Frigates are generally not needed to protect others – they are meant to protect themselves.

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