What is the difference between a frigate or a destroyer? What defines a warship as a destroyer? Why do we call it a frigate rather than a destroyer?
If you are not a navy crew or a navy veteran, it could be hard to distinguish these two types of ships. The main differences between a destroyer and a frigate are tonnage, weapons, mission definition, capabilities, and the size to define it roughly. However, there is no standard to define a warship as a destroyer. Different countries have different definitions and ideas about what a destroyer or a frigate should do. For example, while the U.S. Navy describes a 9000 toned Arleigh Burke-class as a destroyer, Iran may call a 95-meter Moudge-class ship a destroyer.
As we already know, frigates and destroyers are two of the most common warships in a navy’s fleet. Both are designed for quick maneuverability and can escort and protect larger vessels from the air, surface, and underwater threats. The similarities between frigates and destroyers have led to some European navies using the terms interchangeably. However, frigates are more common, with almost every navy in the world has a frigate as part of its navy fleet.
There is a lot of difference between a destroyer and a Frigate, and both serve their roles equally well in any Naval Force. To understand the difference clearly, firstly, we need to take a look at the history.
We start with the Frigates.
Initially, the Frigate was a style of design, long, low and fast. Some long fast ships of the line were called “frigate-built.” During the Classic Age of Sail, it was a full-rigged ship with a single dedicated gun deck. Depending on the nationality, there was also a minimum gun limit. Frigates usually used them for scouting, patrol, dispatch boats for large fleets, and independent commerce raiding. In the role of patrol and commerce raiding, they acted independently and were sometimes referred to as cruisers. The Cruiser was initially a mission, not a ship class. The Frigates would “cruise” the seas. Once armored with turreted gunned ships became the norm, the Frigate became the Cruiser. After all, you no longer had a “gun deck,” the defining feature of a Frigate. The term Frigate disappeared around the late 1800s or so. It did not reappear again until WW II.
Frigates are generally medium-sized ships (in comparison to Destroyers). They are specialized in a particular role like Guided Missile Frigates (where they will be carrying cruise missiles or Surface-to-Air Missiles) and Anti-Submarine Frigates (where they will be equipped with improved sonars to detect enemy submarines and weapons such as Depth Charges, Torpedoes, and Anti-Submarine Rockets). Frigates lack the multi-mission capability like Destroyers and usually comes in Protection of Shipping roles. Modern-day frigates weigh almost 2000-5000 tons and are equipped with various weapons like a surface-to-air missile, Cruise Missiles, and Anti-Submarine Warfare assets.
And now we will see the Destroyers; what makes it different from the frigates?
A destroyer is a fast, maneuverable, long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy, or battle group and defend them against powerful short-range attackers in naval terminology. Historically, they were initially developed in the late 19th century by Fernando Villaamil for the Spanish Navy as a defense against torpedo boats. By the time of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, these “torpedo boat destroyers” (TBDs) were “large, swift, and powerfully armed torpedo boats designed to destroy other torpedo boats.” Although the term “destroyer” had been used interchangeably with “TBD” and “torpedo boat destroyer” by navies since 1892, the term “torpedo boat destroyer” had been generally shortened to simply “destroyer” by nearly all navies by the First World War. Destroyers are much smaller than battleships but larger than frigates. They usually have one smaller gun (5 inches compared to Iowa’s 16-inch beasts) and many missiles, including anti-ship, surface-to-air, and cruise missiles (Tomahawks in the American case). Modern destroyers often have a helicopter pad as well, which helps with anti-submarine warfare. The Destroyer has initially been a boat class to screen the Battleship and Cruisers, with their extensive, slow firing and cumbersome guns from the high-speed and nimble Torpedo Boats introduced around the late 1800s. A new class that was a bit larger, almost as fast and quick-firing smaller guns were introduced. This class was called the Torpedo Boat Destroyer, later shortened to Destroyer.
On the other hand, Destroyers are heavy surface combatants and are heavy at 5000-10000 tons and equally expensive. These pack, the most offensive firepower for any Navy, packed with Cruise Missiles, Anti-Ship Missiles, surface-to-air missiles, Anti-submarine warfare assets along with top-notch sensors and radars and thus literally pack the punch of any naval force on a single ship.
In short, if we compare their fighting capabilities, then Destroyers quickly edge out Frigates thanks to their better armaments and attack capabilities. At the same time, frigates mainly act as a Fleet protector and as a “Flagship” or “Convoy” in a modern sense. Frigates are also cheaper to manufacture and operate than Destroyers. Both Frigates and Destroyers are needed for a Blue-Water Navy as they can work in the high threat environment and thus are well coordinated in such roles.
Today, the line between a Frigate and Destroy is blurred. In general, a Destroyer is heavier, carries more firepower, and is slightly faster than a Frigate. Frigates also tend to have more of a focus on anti-submarine missions. However, both classes are frequently multi-mission capable. In more extensive engagements, frigates would either group up to take on bigger threats, escort a larger ship to prevent it from being flanked. A destroyer is its namesake. It’s meant to kill other ships, planes, people, submarines, your pet spy dolphin. On the other hand, Frigates more numerous and less costly to build than Destroyers.
In modern naval warfare, looking at different threats when faced with aircraft attacks, Destroyers tend to defend themselves against a current threat and protect any ships in the composition. Hence, longer-range weapons and sensor systems. Frigates are not generally required to protect others, and they’re designed to defend themselves.