Frigate VS Destroyer – What’s The Difference?

Frigate VS Destroyer - What’s The Difference - Merchant Navy Info - blog

Warships are an integral part of any nation’s fleet, and they vary in shape, size, function, capability, and structural configuration. Frigate vs destroyer are the most common types of warships in all navies. The primary role of frigates is to patrol and protect larger ships, while destroyers engage in direct combat with enemy vessels. Hence, destroyers are considered offensive weapons of the navy, while frigates are considered defensive weapons. Both frigates vs destroyers were designed for speed to escort and protect other ships from air, land, and underwater attacks. Thus, some people use both terms interchangeably, but there are differences between frigate and destroyer, which we will discuss in this article.

Simply put, frigates are smaller, lighter, and poorly armed compared to destroyers, which are larger and heavier and carry different ammunition. Secondly, frigates are more widespread than destroyers. According to the 2019 World Firepower Index, almost every navy in the world has frigates, while only 13 countries have destroyers. Before we delve into the differences between frigates and destroyers, let’s take a quick look at their history.

Shedding Light On The History Of Frigates And Destroyers

Originally, the term frigate was a term used to refer to ships that were long, low, and fast. Thus, ships with these characteristics were called frigates. During the Age of Sail, a frigate was a complete ship with one gun deck and a limited number of guns, depending on the nationality. At the time, frigates were used for patrols, scouting trips, dispatching boats to larger fleets, and commerce raiding. However, the term frigate fell out of common use in the late 19th century but was revived during World War II. During World War II, Britain needed ships to escort convoys.

Destroyers performed much the same role as frigates in the Age of Sail. Destroyers were fast and carried torpedoes to intimidate capital ships, such as battleships and cruisers. However, they were few in number. Patrol boats were not fast enough, nor did they have the range or seaworthiness required to perform this important mission of protecting convoys from enemy submarine attack.

Understanding The Evolution Of The Destroyer 

Destroyers are fast, maneuverable warships that escort larger ships in a convoy, fleet, or battle group while protecting them from close-range attackers. They were developed in the 19th century by Spanish naval officer Fernando Villamil. He is considered the inventor of the destroyer and conceived it for the Spanish Navy to protect the ships of its fleet from torpedo boats. In 1904, during the Russo-Japanese War, the Torpedo Boat Destroyer (TBD) was a large, fast, well-armed torpedo boat that could compete with other torpedo boats.

Frigate VS Destroyer

1. Most Countries In The World Have Frigates But Not Destroyers

Most navies in the world have frigates because they are small and are not very expensive to build. Currently, 55 countries have frigates,  most of which are in the Chinese Navy with 52, followed by Taiwan with 24 and the United States with 22. There are in active service ahead. Japan comes second with 37 ships, followed by China with 33. Spain and Germany have no destroyers, but most of their frigates are roughly equivalent to what other countries would classify as destroyers. The world’s largest frigates and destroyers The Russian Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates are considered the most powerful frigates in the world.

They specialize in long-range surface attacks, anti-submarine warfare, and escort missions, which require the use of large destroyers. The German Sanchen-class frigates have air warfare capabilities and are as versatile as destroyers in terms of firepower and displacement. The Alvaro de Bazan-class frigates, a typical example of Spanish naval excellence,  are anti-aircraft ships built for escort missions. The Zumwalt-class multipurpose destroyer DDG 1000, built for the US Navy, is among the most powerful destroyers in the world. They are considered the largest destroyers in the world, with a full load displacement of 15,656 tons.

2. Destroyers Are Relatively Large And Heavy Compared To Frigates

Another important difference between frigates and destroyers is their size. Destroyers are usually 150-160m long, while frigates are usually 130-150m long. However,  some destroyers are huge compared to other destroyers. Small destroyers, such as the Royal Navy’s Type 45 Daring class and the Russian Project 956 Sovremenny class,  are around 150m long and 17-18m wide. 

The US Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyer is 190 meters long, 24.6 meters wide, and weighs just under 16,000 tons, almost twice as much as a small destroyer, which weighs about 8,000 tons when fully loaded, while a frigate weighs about 4,000 to 5,000 tons. Frigates such as the Russian Admiral Gorshkov-class and the German Sanchen-class are also small but have almost the same width as a destroyer.

3. Frigates Are Faster Than Destroyers Frigates Are Designed For Speed

They can reach higher speeds and have better maneuverability than destroyers. They usually reach speeds of 30 knots, while destroyers can reach 20 to 30 knots. The speed of a frigate allows it to be positioned to attack or escape danger quickly if necessary. Although destroyers have powerful engines and sturdy hulls,  they cannot match the speed and maneuverability of a frigate. However, advances in naval technology mean that there is not much difference in speed. One of the fastest frigates is at the Indian Navy’s Shivalik class, which can reach a top speed of 32 knots, while other frigates can easily travel between 26 and 30 knots.

4. The Difference Between Armament And Destroyers Are Equipped With The Latest Weapons And Defenses

Frigates are usually equipped with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), anti-submarine warfare or ASW torpedoes, and cannons for surface warfare. They can also be equipped with vertical launch systems (VLS) for firing long-range anti-ship missiles (AShMs). Destroyers are also equipped with SAMs, cannons, ASW torpedoes, and VLS. They can also be equipped with advanced electronic warfare systems such as radar jammers and decoys. The Royal Navy’s Duke-class frigates are equipped with the latest sonar equipment and torpedoes, as well as anti-submarine capabilities. ASW frigates also have helipads for helicopters to combat nuclear submarines.

5. Destroyers Are More Expensive To Build Than Frigates 

Destroyers are more expensive than frigates because they require more crew and carry more weapons. They cost between $2 billion and $3 billion, while frigates cost between $750 million and $2 billion. The US Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyer DDG 1000 costs $4.2 billion, while the second and third ships of the class cost is $2.8 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively. Frigates are cost-effective, with the Royal Navy’s Duke class costing £130 million each. The German Navy’s Sachsen class is among the most expensive frigates, costing around 2.4 billion euros for three ships.


Frigate vs destroyer have evolved over time into two different types of ships, created for different roles in naval warfare. Frigates are lighter, faster, and better armed to patrol and protect larger naval vessels. At the same time, destroyers are designed to be larger and heavier to protect themselves and take part in naval warfare directly. Although they have some differences, they also share similarities, such as advanced sensors and similar weapons, making both frigates and destroyers an integral part of a country’s naval fleet.

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