The US Navy is the most powerful group of ships, carriers, and sailors on Earth.
The Navy is older than the US – founded in 1775 as the Continental Navy – and is currently made up of 430 ships and submarines. It’s been involved in more than 10 major wars, and combat has taken the Navy all over the world.
The surface fleet is made up of 16 different classes of vessels, and includes amphibious assault ships, aircraft carriers, command ships, mine sweepers, destroyers, littoral combat ships, and more.
We put together a list of all the types of surface ships, submarines and fighter jets in service with the US Navy:
“The greatest strategic challenge that Beijing’s naval modernization will pose for the U.S. and its allies over at least the next decade will occur in the Indo-Pacific, and especially in the Western Pacific within the first and second island chains,” he wrote in a paper last year titled, “The PLA Navy’s Strategic Transformation to the ‘Far Seas’: How Far, How Threatening, and What’s to Be Done?”, Michael Swaine, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a Chinese security studies specialist
Geography would be a critical factor during any major conflagration in that area of operations, analysts say. The U.S. Navy has global responsibilities, and much of its fleet is based on the Atlantic Coast or other locations far from Asia. Chinese forces, on the other hand, aren’t stretched as thin, and they would also enjoy homefield advantage. China is believed to be fielding advanced anti-ship ballistic missiles, including the Dong Feng-26 with a maximum range of about 2,160 nautical miles, said Ronald O’Rourke, a naval specialist at the Congressional Research Service.
Few things besides being on the terrifying receiving end of the near-infinite might of our awesome missiles and guns illustrate naval power better than a good chart, and this handy infographic illustrates why the U.S. Navy is the largest and most powerful in the world.
While other navies, particularly the Chinese Navy may be getting a lot of attention, it’s worth keeping in mind that the U.S. Navy has nearly one hundred guided missiles cruisers and destroyers, far more than any other navy on Earth.
The Navy includes aircraft carriers, fighter jets, amphibious assault ships, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines—many of them nuclear powered and spread across the globe. While other navies have more ships, ton-for-ton the U.S. Navy has far more globally capable, “blue water” warships. The bedrock of this force, known as the deployable battle force, are the 92 cruisers and destroyers listed in this chart.
The chart, prepared by Greek naval analyst and blogger D-Mitch and re-published here with permission, shows the 92 major surface combatants of the Navy. This total includes two Zumwalt-class destroyers, 22 Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers, and 66 Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers. That’s more cruisers and more destroyers than any other navy by a comfortable margin, and the United States is building one more Zumwalt and as many as 34 more Arleigh Burkes. (The closest any other country can come to this level of firepower is the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, which fields 47 destroyers of varying sizes—but no cruisers.)
Lockheed Martin F-35B
The F–35B is the STOVL version. This stands for “Short Take Off and Vertical Landing”. This is the jump jet version that can operate out of very small airfield or off the deck of carriers that do not have catapults.
The F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant is the world’s first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft. It is designed to operate from austere bases and a range of air-capable ships near front-line combat zones. It can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases. The U.S. Marine Corps’ F-35B aircraft reached initial operational capability (IOC) on July 31, 2015, and as of January 2017, a squadron of F-35Bs is permanently based at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.
Ticonderoga-Class Guided Missile Destroyers
The largest ships in the fleet are the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers. Cruisers were originally surface ships that were smaller than battleships, designed to scout for enemy fleets at sea. Today’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers were designed in the 1980s around the Aegis Combat System, a radar/computer/missile combination that allows a ship to fend off mass air attacks sea, protecting high-value-targets such as battleships and aircraft carriers. In the 2010s, a handful of the ships were upgraded to provide protection against ballistic missiles as well. Very few navies have anything close to a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, and the U.S. Navy has 22 of them.
The Ticonderogas are armed with two five-inch guns, anti-submarine torpedoes, and 122 vertical launch systems, armored silos that can pack a variety of missiles including SM-3 ballistic missile interceptors, SM-2 long range surface to air missiles, Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, and Evolved Sea Sparrow short-range air defense missiles. The silos give the ships tremendous flexibility, allowing them to tailor their armament to each mission.
Each guided missile cruiser is 567 feet long, displaces 9,600 tons, and has four LM2500 gas turbine engines producing 80,000 horsepower, giving the cruisers a top speed of 33 knots.
Arleigh Burke-Class Guided Missile Destroyers
The largest number of ships are the 66 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, plus an additional two more destroyers set to be commissioned this year. The Arleigh Burke-class class of destroyers are some of the most successful warships in American history. The first ship in the class, naturally the USS Arleigh Burke, was commissioned in 1991 and, aside from a short break, have been in continuous construction since.
Destroyers were originally designed to escort and protect larger ships from the threat of swarming torpedo boats. This gradually evolved to protect larger ships from aircraft and missiles, and with the end of the Cold War many ships operate independently or in small groups to perform missions. Now, with the increasing threat of new and upcoming navies such as China’s, destroyers are again focusing on protecting the bigger ships in the fleet.
Arleigh Burke-class destroyer
With over 60 in active service, Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers make up the backbone of the US fleet. They are intended to be multi-mission ships, able to carry out anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-submarine roles.
Each destroyer has one Mark 45 gun, but the real firepower are its missiles – up to 96 of which can fit in its vertical launchers.
The usual missiles include Tomahawks, RIM-66s, SeaSparrows, RIM-174s, and Harpoons. Twenty-five Arleigh Burke class destroyers are also equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence System.
The Burke destroyers are in many ways smaller, cheaper Ticonderoga cruisers. The Burkes have only one five-inch gun and 90 to 96 Mk 41 missile silos, but the destroyers can generally take on the same mission types, from ballistic missile defense to anti-submarine warfare. The original design has gone through three different upgrades, with the latest including a new, updated Air and Missile Defense radar system.
The Burke-class destroyers are between 505 and 509 feet long, displace between 8,230 and 9,700 tons and also have four gas turbine engines producing 100,000 horsepower, making them even faster than cruisers.
Elmo Zumwalt –Class Destroyers
The Navy announced in March that it was planning on arming the Zumwalt with a suite of new missiles that can be used for anti-air, anti-surface, and ballistic-missile defence.
The two remaining ships in this chart are the Zumwalt-class destroyers. Named after former Chief of Naval Operations Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt and built to take advantage of the latest in naval technology, the Zumwalts were the first warships oriented toward the conflicts of the post-9/11 world.
They were designed around, however, a pair of 155-millimeter Advanced Gun Systems. With a range of 60 miles, the guns were designed to rain precision-guided shells or targets such as a terrorist camp or enemy beachhead.But, in a typical case of governmental incompetence all around, the U.S. Navy decided not to buy any ammunition for the big guns. So the whole Advanced Gun System is just sitting around on the Zumwalts, being kind of useless.
This forces them to operate closer to shore than most warships, making a stealthy profile a must. While the Burke-class ships were the first designed to minimize their radar signature the Zumwalts were the first to fully commit to stealth, sporting a clean, knifelike profile free of protrusions.
Two ships, USS Zumwalt and USS Monsoor, have been delivered so far. So the Navy is trying to re-orient their purpose away from coastal operations, and toward an open-ocean ship killing role.
Although technically destroyers, the Zumwalts are actually even larger than cruisers. The Zumwalts are 610 feet long and displace 15,900 tons, in large part due to the need to conceal weapons and sensors inside a stealthy, high volume hull. The ships are powered by gas turbines and two MW Advanced Induction Motors (AIM) that generate a total of 69.2 megawatts—enough to simultaneously power 51,700 American homes. Down the road, these generators are hoped to power lasers and railguns once directed energy technologies are ready to go to sea. Although who knows when that is.
Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier
The Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier is the newest carrier in the US fleet, and the intended replacement for the Nimitz-class.
The ship is 1,106 ft long and can carry more than 75 aircraft. The Ford-class carriers are intended to have a large compliment of F-35Cs, but delays in their development have put their deployment on hold.
The ship has a number of new technologies, like the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, which is intended to replace the current steam-powered launch system on current aircraft carriers. As the Navy’s newest carrier, new weapons may be added to the ship in the coming years, including lasers.
One carrier is in active service, with another two under construction and two on order.
America-class amphibious assault ship
The America-class amphibious assault ship was built to replace the ageing Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship. Unlike other ships in its role, the first two America-class vessels have no well deck.
The ship can carry a number of different aircraft, like the F-35B, AV-8B Harrier II, V-22 Osprey, and the AH-1Z Viper.
Eleven America-class ships are planned, with one in service, one awaiting sea trials, and another under construction.
Freedom-class littoral combat ship
They were designed to excel in three potential combat scenarios – anti-submarine warfare, mine clearing, and fending off small fast attack craft, like the ones used by Iran and Houthi rebels in Yemen.
There are currently five active Freedom-class LCS, with another seven on the way. A larger version of the Freedom-class has also been selected by Saudi Arabia to be its next frigate.
Independence-class littoral combat ship
The Independence-class littoral combat ship is the second of the two LCS. Like its Freedom-class counterpart, the Independence-class will be equipped with new modules for certain missions.
They are unique because of their trimaran design, which gives it multiple hulls. Like the Freedom-class, they can carry one MH-60R/S Seahawk helicopter, or two MQ-8B Fire Scouts
There are currently six Independence LCS in active service, with seven more under construction.
San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock
The San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock is intended to carry hundreds of Marines, vehicles, and equipment for amphibious operations. They also hold carry two MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft for aerial insertions.
The ships have undergone a number of problems. The Department of Defence issued a report in 2010 that they could only operate “in a benign environment,” and not in combat situations.
There are currently 11 San Antonio-class ships in service, with two more on the way.
Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship
The Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship is intended to transport Marines and their vehicles for amphibious operations. They can carry up to four launch air-cushioned landing craft, the massive hovercrafts that Marines use to carry tanks and vehicles to shore.
The Whidbey Island-class has been in service since 1985, and can carry up to 500 troops.
Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship
The Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship is a modified version of the Whidbey Island–class. It’s primarily used to carry cargo like munitions, spare parts, and medical equipment.
As a result, it can only carry two launch air-cushioned landing craft.
It can still carry up to 500 troops, the same as the Whidbey Island–class.
Cyclone-class patrol ship
Cyclone-class patrol ships are in service with both the US and Philippine Navies. Four ships were loaned to the US Coast Guard for four years, but were returned to the Navy in 2011.
The Cyclones are capable of operating in the littoral zone and are intended for coastal patrol, maritime interdiction, and surveillance. They are also intended to support Navy Seals conduct operations, and as such are assigned to the Naval Special Warfare Command.
Today, 10 of the Navy’s 13 Cyclone’s are deployed in the Persian Gulf to monitor Iran, with the remaining three stationed in Florida.
Wasp-class amphibious assault ship
The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship is a Landing Helicopter Dock that assists in amphibious operations. They can carry a massive 1,800 Marine detachment, as well as landing crafts, armoured vehicles, and helicopters.
They can also carry AV-8B Harrier IIs and F-35Bs – aircraft that are capable of vertical take-off and landing. Eight ships are currently in active service.
Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship
The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship is a class of ships dedicated to clearing mines in important waters.
They have no large armaments, having only two .50 calibre machine guns on her deck.
The Ticonderoga-class cruiser is a guided missile cruiser that has been in service with the US Navy since 1978. They are multi-role ships, with armaments that allow them to serve anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-submarine roles, and are intended to be escort ships for aircraft carriers.
Ticonderoga-class ships make up the second-largest component in the US Navy behind the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, with 22 active ships (though some are no longer in fighting roles).
Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
First laid down in 1975, the Nimitz-class carrier was built to replace the Kitty Hawk and Enterprise classes, and has been the backbone of the US Navy’s aircraft carrier fleet since the 1980s, with 10 currently in service.
The Nimitz-class carrier is manned by a crew of around 5,000 when it has a full air wing, and can carry 85-90 aircraft.
Nimitz-class carries have become a symbol of American might, having been deployed to conduct missions all over the world.
Blue Ridge-class command ship
Blue Ridge-class command ships are intended to provide the command structure for fleet commanders and other high-ranking officers overseeing large deployments.
There are currently two Blue Ridge-class command ships, USS Blue Ridge and USS Mount Whitney. USS Blue Ridge is currently the oldest deployable warship of the US Navy, having served as far back as the Vietnam War.
Attack Sub – Los Angeles Class
With the number of foreign submarines growing by the year, the United States Submarine Force relies on its technological superiority and the speed, endurance, mobility, stealth and payload afforded by nuclear power to retain its preeminence in the undersea battlespace.
Attack submarines are designed to seek and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships; project power ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles and Special Operation Forces (SOF); carry out Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions; support battle group operations; and engage in mine warfare.
There are three classes of these warships in the U.S. Navy: Los Angeles, Seawolf, and the upcoming Virginia. The Los Angeles Class Attack Subs are the backbone of the U.S.submarine force with 41 now in commission.
The first of these warships, the USS Los Angeles, was deployed in 1976. They are 360 feet long and are propelled with one nuclear reactor and one shaft.
Attack Submarines – Seawolf Class
The Navy also has three Seawolf-class submarines that are exceptionally quiet, fast, well-armed, and equipped with advanced sensors.
They lack Vertical Launch Systems, but they have eight torpedo tubes and can hold up to 50 at a time.
Also, while most U.S. Presidents have Aircraft Carriers named after them, the third and last ship of the Seawolf Class Attack Subs is the USS Jimmy Carter. That’s because Carter actually served as a Submarine Officer for some time, under Admiral Rickover, in the U.S. Navy.
The USS Jimmy Carter has a special 100-foot hull extension, called the multi-mission platform. This accommodates advanced technology used to carry out classified research and development, as well as granting the ship enhanced warfighting capabilities.
Attack Submarines – Virginia Class
The Virginia Class, now under construction, is the next generation of Attack Submarine. These anxiously anticipated warships will have enhanced fighting capabilities, a reconfigurable torpedo room, a large lock-in/lock-out chamber for divers, and a new fly-by-wire ship control system which allows for better shallow-water handling.
In these newest models, the traditional Attack Sub periscopes will be supplanted by two photonics masts that host visible and infrared digital cameras atop telescoping arms. This switch will allow the ship’s control to be moved down one deck and away from the hull’s curvature, affording the commanding officer more room and enhanced situational awareness.
These ships are also specifically designed to reduce acquisition costs. As such, the traditional, air-backed sonar sphere in the bow has been replaced with a water-backed Large Aperture Bow array. This will both reduce acquisition and life-cycle costs, and improve the vessel’s passive detection capabilities. Also, the 12 individual Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes, used in current Attack Subs, will be replaced with two 87-inch Virginia Payload Tubes (VPTs), each capable of launching six Tomahawk cruise missiles. This simplifies construction, reduces acquisition costs, and provides for more payload flexibility.
Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines
Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines are in charge of strategic deterrence. They’re designed specifically for stealth and precise delivery of nuclear warheads, and they are the United States’ most enduring nuclear strike ships.
Nicknamed “boomers,” these subs serve as an undetectable launch platform for intercontinental missiles. In fact, each of the 14 Fleet Ballistic Missile Subs in the currently operational Ohio Class can carry up to 24 submarine-launched ballistic missiles at a time, with multiple, independently-targeted warheads.
These warships are also notable in that they’re specifically designed for extended deterrent patrols. They each have two crews, which alternate manning the ship and taking it on patrol. They each have three large-diameter logistics hatches that allow sailors to rapidly transfer supply pallets, equipment replacement modules and machinery components, thereby increasing their operational availability. They each operate for 15 or more years between major overhauls. And on average, the submarines spend 77 days at sea, before docking for maintenance.
Guided Missile Submarines
The United States’ four Guided Missile Submarines are converted Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines with unprecedented strike and special operation mission capabilities. Just as stealthy a platform as they were in their former life, these subs are now armed with tactical missiles and equipped with superior communications capabilities. As such, they’re capable of directly supporting Special Operation Forces and Combatant Commander strikes.
Basically, in 1994, a review determined that the U.S. only needed 14 of its 18 Fleet Ballistic Missile Subs to meet its strategic force needs. So, the Navy decided to transform four of those Ohio-class Subs into conventional land attack and SOF platforms. This allowed the Navy to leverage existing submarine technology — a more more cost effective option than designing an entirely new platform — while simultaneously expanding capability to meet the current and future needs of U.S. combatant commanders.
It’s like the U.S. Navy and the extraneous Fleet Ballistic Missile Subs looked at each other and said, “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.” Sweet deal.
Ship Sinking Missions
One surprising fact about these warships: they’re surprisingly powerful in the ability to sink enemy ships, a primary mission of warships for the last five thousand years. Combined power of cruisers and destroyers carry hundreds of missiles, cruise missiles, torpedoes can destroy enemy warships before they have a chance to react.
Chinese Navy’s ships and submarines are reverse engineered Soviet-era ships, electronics, radar and munitions. The end of the Cold War effectively sunk the Soviet Navy, leaving the U.S. Navy the uncontested master of the seas and comfortable with minimizing the number of anti-ship missiles in the fleet. Russia now needs tugboats to tow missile cruisers.
Now, as Russia’s Navy begins the slow crawl back to relevance and the Chinese Navy commissions more than a dozen new ships a year, anti-ship warfare is once again a high priority.
The U.S. Navy is buying the new Raytheon-Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile and the Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, both of which can fit in Mk 41 missile silos, a quickly getting back into the ship-killing game.
Let’s just hope no big wars break out before then.
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