There are many types of surface ships, such as
combatants, auxiliary ships that support combatants,
and auxiliaries called special-purpose ships (they
perform specific functions), and amphibious. For
example, replenishment ships and repair ships are
auxiliary ships, and icebreakers and intelligence
collectors are special-purpose ships. The Glossary of
Naval Ship Types is a guide to the classification and
typing of non-U.S. Navy ships and craft. Jane's
Fighting Ships is also a good reference for the
identification of non-U.S. and U.S. Navy ships.
The purpose of combatants is to engage enemy
ships in naval warfare. Combatants are assigned
various missions, depending primarily on their
armament and secondarily on characteristics such as
size, speed, and maneuverability. The following ships
fall into the combatant category: aircraft carriers,
battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and frigates.
Aircraft carriers (CV/CVNs) are generally the
largest warships afloat and are the major offensive
surface ships of the U.S. fleet. Aircraft are their chief
weapons, and missions are determined by the type of
aircraft carried. The high freeboard and expansive,
uncluttered flight deck give the aircraft carrier a
distinctive appearance. On many carriers, the
superstructure or island (usually offset to the starboard
side of the flight deck) is the only prominent feature
of the flight deck. Figure 13-12 shows examples of
different classes of aircraft carriers.
Cruisers are multimission antiair (AAW),
antisubmarine (ASW), antisurface (ASUW) surface
combatants capable of supporting carriers, battle
groups, and amphibious forces or of operating
independently. They usually measure about 550 to 700
feet in length and displace from 7,000 to 15,000 tons.
The trend in modern cruisers features tall, solid towers
amidships instead of separate pole masts and
cylindrical stacks. These midships towers often
incorporate masts, stacks, and other superstructure
elements in various combinations. See figure 13-13
for examples of cruisers.
The bow and forward superstructure of the
modern helicopter cruiser (fig. 13-14) resemble those
found on cruiser warships. The stern section consists
of level, uncluttered deck space used for launching and
landing operations. The bow section contains weapons
and electronics equipment. The primary mission of the
helicopter cruiser is ASUW.
Destroyers (DD/DDGs) are versatile,
multipurpose warships of moderate size (3,000 to
8,000 tons and 400 to 600 feet long) and are equipped
to perform ASW operations, while guided-missile
destroyers are multimission and perform AAW and
ASUW operations. Modern U.S. destroyers and
guided-missile destroyers are called upon to perform
primarily in a battle force combatant role. They
operate in support of carrier or battleship battle
groups, surface action groups, amphibious groups,
and replenishment groups. Destroyers typically have
two large stacks with considerable rake, light mast,
superimposed gun mounts forward, ASW gear aft, and
torpedo tubes topside. Figure 13-15 shows examples
Frigates (FF/FFGs) fall into the general category
of smaller major combatants whose offensive
weapons and sensors are used for a particular warfare
role, such as screening support forces and convoys.
Frigates range in length from 300 to 400 feet and
displace 1,500 to 4,000 tons. They usually have only
one gun mount forward, while the aft armament often
consists of ASW and/or AAW weaponry. A helicopter
pad frequently is present in the stern area. (See fig.
There are numerous types of minor combatants,
such as minesweepers and patrol boats. Many
countries that either do not require or cannot afford
larger ships use these smaller combatants for river and
coastal defense patrol.
Many of the newer patrol boats are armed with
missiles, and some are equipped with hydrofoils, or
air cushions, which greatly increase their firepower,
speed, and maneuverability. Figure 13-17 is an
example of a minor combatant.