Types of Warships in a Naval Fleet

by | Last updated Nov 24, 2023 | Ship Types, Vessel Information | 0 comments

There are many types of warships constructed for naval warfare by the government of a sovereign nation.

Their main function is to protect a country’s territory and nautical assets. They detect, deter, and destroy any threat that intends to harm its sovereignty or its allies.

Warships are extremely capable of conducting surveillance operations.

I remember one time when we were drifting somewhere in the Mediterranean. Our Captain switched off AIS for security reasons.

On our 3rd day, a warship called us via VHF radio and asked our intention.

It was a bit surprising they knew our ship’s name when our CPAs to passing vessels were at least 10 miles away!

And yes. Switching off AIS is a bit suspicious.

Warships as seen from inside the bridge
Warships in a convoy.

What is the difference between warships and merchant ships?

We build merchant ships for transporting goods. A sovereign nation builds warships for naval warfare.

Warships have completely different hull designs. They are thicker which makes them more damage resilient.

Their shape creates the least radar reflection while optimizing speed and maneuverability.

Commercial ships have hull arrangements developed for cargo handling and stability.

Warships carry armaments for defense and destruction. Merchant vessels carry cargo such as oil, potatoes, coal, and many other commodities.

Merchant ships can berth at different ports worldwide. Warships restrict their port stays to allied countries.

Types of Warships

Intended for war, warships are further classified into different kinds. This depends on their size, function, and capability.

We can see this in how they play out in movies, documentaries, and military clips.

Their formation indicates which ships are the most important in the fleet and which ones are capable of quick response whenever a threat suddenly arises.

Some of them can work and do missions on their own. Others function best in convoys.

To know more about them, let us take a look at the different types of warships.

1.  Aircraft Carriers

Aircraft carriers are the capital ships of a navy fleet. Their presence alone projects power and supremacy.

To show their dominance, carriers carry fighter planes, drones, and helicopters. They have a long unobstructed deck that serves as a runway for aircraft take-off and landing.

This floating airbase also carries jet fuel, munitions, spare parts, and crewmen.

Two aircraft carriers with helicopters and aircrafts on its deck. She is surrounded by destroyers and Frigates.
An Aircraft carrier is the capital ship of the navy’s warships

Aircraft carriers are the biggest types of warships.

Due to its size and versatility, countries owning aircraft carriers have the advantage of deploying their military assets anywhere it’s needed.

3. Cruisers

Cruisers are warships capable of performing various tasks depending on the mission. Simply put, Cruisers are general-purpose warships.

Their name alone tells us they can work on operations remotely from land or other naval ships.

Cruisers are built for speed and maneuverability and are bigger than Destroyers or Frigates.

The Washington Treaty of 1922 defined the limits of a Cruiser to be 10,000 tons.

However, many countries violated that treaty, especially during the World Wars.

A cruiser of the Peruvian Navy, Almirante Grau, with its guns pointing forward  while sailing in the blue waters.
Almirante Grau. Cruiser of the Peruvian Navy.

The main function of a Cruiser that sets it different from other warships is its lone mission capability.

These warships are capable of acting alone far from the base or without escorts.

3. Destroyers

All these ships can literally destroy enemies but why is this one specifically named Destroyer?

We can uncover that by looking into its history first.

Originally, Destroyers were called torpedo boat destroyers. Spanish navy fleet built them in 1885 to counter torpedo boat attacks that plagued the seas during the mid-19th century.

The obsolescence of those enemies evolved their function evolved over time and their roles changed together with its name.

Sometimes, their role overlaps with that of Cruisers or Frigates.

Have you seen the movie Greyhound by Tom Hanks?

He is commanding a Destroyer assigned to escort merchant vessels crossing the Atlantic.

And yes, they defended the convoy against German submarine attacks.

USS Cole Destroyer raising the American flag while sailing with other warships.
USS Cole Destroyer.

Today, Destroyers have more capability than anti-submarine warfare.

They are now able to respond to aerial attacks and anti-surface combat.

Yet, they are still highly used as escort vessels in a convoy.

4. Frigates

Prior to 1975, Frigates were capable warships somewhere between a Destroyer and Cruiser.

Today, that definition changed.

A Turkish Frigate sailing inside the port.
Turkish Frigate

Frigates are now smaller than Destroyers. Having said that, their weapons capability is also less compared to the latter.

These ships sometimes conduct raids on commercial enemy vessels. Their small size makes them nimble with armaments strong enough to sink them.

But Frigates can not go toe to toe with other warships.

They function mainly as escort vessels for convoys due to them being less costly than Destroyers and Cruisers.

However, Frigates specialize in anti-submarine warfare making them highly capable of responding to underwater threats.

5. Corvettes

Corvettes are the “smallest” types of warships. Their size is between 500 tons to 3,000 tons. To put it simply, Corvettes are the smaller versions of Frigates.

The main task of Corvettes is the protection of inshore territorial waters. They are sent to patrol near coasts and respond to threats whenever applicable.

Corvettes are capable of launching surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles. They can also fight underwater threats with their anti-submarine systems.

Due to their small size, their weapons systems and range are quite limited. They are less sophisticated and have less crew compared to their “big brothers”.

Whether merchant vessels have private maritime securities or not, Destroyers, Frigates, and Corvettes usually help them in convoys to protect them against piracy attacks when passing the Gulf of Aden.

Corvette Warship Julio de Noronha docked in port together with patrol boats.
Corvette Warship Julio de Noronha – V32. Photo taken by Andréia Bohner.

6. Amphibious Warships

Amphibious warships got their design from aircraft carriers. Instead of fighter jets, they focus primarily on moving troops from ship to shore and vice versa.

Hence, amphibious warships carry transport helicopters instead of strike aircraft. They do carry a few aircraft and even drones.

These ships can also perform amphibious assaults using amphibious watercraft launched in their well deck.

However, there are amphibious assault ships not fitted with well decks. Instead, they have bigger hangar decks for more storage capacities.

The design is very similar to that of aircraft carriers but largely differs in their function as stated above.

The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp. Image from Maritime Self-Defense Force.
Into the US Pacific Fleet. The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp. Image from Maritime Self-Defense Force

Amphibious assault ships also have defensive weapons in their arsenal. Their decks have missile launchers, machine guns, and a self-defense system for attack countermeasures.

7. Submarines

Even if a country dominates the sea surface and the sky, its naval fleet would be useless against underwater threats.

This is where submarines come in.

Submarines are watercraft designed to operate underwater for an extended period of time.

Their main forte is stealth.

When submerged, they are very difficult to find unless you employ sophisticated sensing and tracking equipment.

Submarines can identify which type of ship is running on the water’s surface just by the sound of their engine alone.

A Submarine surfacing on the water conducting alpha trials in the Atlantic Ocean.
A Submarine conducts alpha trials in the Atlantic Ocean. Image taken by DVIDSHUB.

Nuclear-type submarines can stay submerged even for hundreds of years. The only thing that’s keeping them from not doing it is the availability of food supplies.

Normally, they take in provisions that last for 90 days.

Submarines’ main weapons are torpedoes. However, they are now also equipped with long-range missile strike capability including nuclear weapons.

Auxiliary ships

Warships are an important component of a country’s armed forces. The vessels listed here are not exhaustive. In fact, they are only a part of a country’s naval fleet.

There are also military vessels having different roles not actively sent to the frontlines. These ships are called Auxiliaries.

Auxiliary ships’ roles are for transport, replenishment, support, repair, research, and hospital for injured people. In short, they perform logistical support to the front liners so they can stay and perform their duties effectively.

Though working on the background, they are an important part of a navy’s fleet.

Even merchant ships such as tankers can be commissioned as auxiliary vessels if deemed necessary.

May the winds be in your favor.



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