The US Navy is strengthening its destroyers while devoting its budget to the increased capability of its smaller combatant fleet of frigates.

The latest US Department of Defense (DoD) contract awarded to BAE Systems on 17 February 2022 for the maintenance, modernisation, and repair of the Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) indicates this strategy.

Modernising destroyers like DDG 94 will give the US Navy the leverage it needs to devote its time and money toward its enhanced weapon systems and sensor suites needed for a new age in maritime warfare.

Strategically, the US Navy will procure more smaller surface combatant ships like frigates and adapt the improved technologies and weapon enhancements to them, while maintaining the operational capabilities of its destroyers.

The multi-mission frigates of the Constellation class will be equipped to operate anti-air warfare, anti-surface warfare, antisubmarine warfare, and electromagnetic warfare operations. They will be capable of operating in both blue water and littoral areas, and operating either independently or as part of larger US Navy formations, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) states.

According to GlobalData, programme delays cause cost overuns and diminish operational capability. Delays in delivering naval vessels may diminish the maritime operational capability and preparedness-level of the concerned naval force, which could result in catastrophic consequences.

This explains why the production of destroyers is not as high as it should be – but these are continually modernised like the USS Nitze – as well as the increase of the adapted frigates that are more readily and cheaply available to the navy.

Segmental share by value of the naval vessel and surface combatant market. Source: GlobalData Aerospace, Defence and Security intelligence centre.

This is not to say that navies are now unwilling to increase the production of their destroyers. In fact, the US Navy has also recently awarded a contract to design and engineer conceptions for its DDG(X) programme; but the production of the next generation destroyer will not occur for some time.

In July 2022, the US Navy described its strategy, commenting: “The Navy is adopting a more continuous, iterative force design process to focus our modernisation efforts and accelerate the capabilities we need to maintain our edge in this critical decade and beyond.”