The Arleigh Burke: Linchpin of the Navy

by JO1 Robert Benson, USN

Asia-Pacific Defense FORUM
Fall 1998

In 1991, when the U.S. Navy commissioned its deadliest surface ship ever, famed World War II Admiral Arleigh Burke issued a challenge to its new crew: "This ship is built to fight; you'd better know how." His comment captured the essence of the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer's mission: to fight and to defend America's national interests well into the first half of the 21st century. This ship's mission is to operate in support of carrier battle groups, surface action groups and amphibious groups with anti-surface, anti-air, and anti-submarine warfare roles. Boasting more firepower per ton than any other class of ship in the world, Arleigh Burke destroyers represent the futureof the U.S. Navy. They are expected to be the largest class in thefleet after the year 2000.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii is home to three of these state-of-the-art ships: USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), USS Russell (DDG 59)and USS Hopper (DDG 70). The USS John S. McCain (DDG56) is forward deployed to Japan. The number assigned to the Pacific is expected to grow, as older class ships are replaced with the newer Arleigh Burke class ships.

The Navy commissioned the first destroyer in the class, the USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51), in July 1991. It bears the name of the famous destroyer squadron commander and three-time Chief of Naval Operations. Like the larger Ticonderoga class cruisers, the combat systems center in Arleigh Burke destroyers is built around the Aegis combat system and SPY-1D, multi-function phased array radar. The combination of Aegis, the Vertical Launching System, an advanced anti-submarine warfare system, land attack cruise missiles, ship-to-ship missiles, and advanced anti-aircraft missiles, is revolutionary when compared to destroyers of a decade earlier. It also has a platform for rearming and refueling a helicopter. The ship is stealth-like with angles and rounded corners to reduce its radar signature.




8,315 tons


504 feet (153.6 meters)


66 feet (20.1 Meters)


30 feet (9.1 meters)


4 gas turbines,
100,000 Shaft Horsepower (SHP)


31 knots


4,400 nautical miles at 20 knots


346 (23 officers, 323 enlisted)


1 61-cell and 1 20-cell Mk-41
vertical launch system


AN/SPY-1D multi function

Fire control:

Aegis weapon system

Designed for survivability, the Burke class incorporates all-steel construction and many damage control features that are a direct result of lessons learned during the 1981 Falkland Islands War, and from the May 1987 accidental attack on the USS Stark (FFG 31)in the Persian Gulf. Two layers of steel and 70 tons of Kevlar armor protect the ship's vital areas. The design also incorporates anti-chemical/biological warfare double air-locked hatches, anti-contaminant interior pressurization, and reduced access to weather-decks. Fire-fighting measures include larger foam tanks with quicker access, salt-water sprinklers in the berthing areas, and fresh-water sprinklers in CIC areas.

The Arleigh Burke class destroyer is smaller, more stable, and faster than its predecessor--the Ticonderoga class Aegis cruiser. Its four gas turbines will drive it at a maximum speed of 31 knots, or give it a range of 4,400 nautical miles at 20 knots.

But all this technology comes at a cost: approximately $800million per ship. "If you want the best, you have to be willing to make sacrifices," says Petty Officer 2nd Class (PO2) Scott Shanaberger, a USS John S. McCain fire controlman who is intimately familiar with the ship's potential.

"The Arleigh Burke destroyer is the most advanced warship in the world," he said. "Due to the ship's multi-warfare capability and state-of-the-art hardware, I feel that we are a cut above the rest. The Aegis weapons system, combined with the vertical launch system, gives the ship an extremely quick and accurate weapons delivery on target." He said the ship is able to conduct simultaneous multi-warfare operations without degradation of the reaction time of the weapons systems.

"Arleigh Burke destroyers pack an incredible punch," said Cmdr. William Landay III, USS Paul Hamilton commanding officer. "The men and women who design and build these ships have been working in this field for years, continually looking for ways to build them better and more efficiently. The result is a complex piece of machinery, operated by a highly trained and motivated crew, capable of going anywhere in the world to provide presence as a first resort, and a potent offensive punch when needed."

Cmdr. Landay said Arleigh Burke class destroyers are a tremendous asset to the U.S. Navy and an important tool of our national security policy. Across the harbor, Lt. Thomas O'Neil, USS John S.McCain weapons officer, agreed. He cited the unique capabilities that make the ship strong. "The Arleigh Burke's awesome offensive and defensive capabilities and its survivability enable it to operate anywhere in the world," he said. "This class of ship is a full multi-mission capable ship that can perform air warfare, surface warfare and undersea warfare. The SPY-1D radar, the hull-mounted sonar, the Tomahawk weapon system, the Harpoon weapons system, theMk-34 gun weapons system, and the low radar visibility make this an awesome warship," said Lt. O'Neil. "But the professionalism and talent of the crew is its most important asset."

It is this combination of modern technology and deadly firepower that symbolizes the U.S. Navy's Forward... From the Sea concept. Simply put, the Arleigh Burke destroyer is designed to fight and win battles. Forward...From the Sea explains the most important role for naval forces in situations short of war is to be engaged in forwardareas, with the objectives of preventing conflicts and controlling crises. However, if a conflict occurs, naval forces must be able to both control the sea lanes and project power ashore.

The homeporting of the USS John S. McCain in Japan forward deploys an Arleigh Burke destroyer's power projection capability. "The purpose of U.S. Naval forces remains to project the power and influence of the nation across the seas to foreign waters and shores in both peace and war," said then Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton when he released his Forward...From the Sea concept. "To successfully deter aggressors, we must be capable of responding quickly and successfully in support of U.S. theater commanders. Forces deployed for routine exercises and activities undergirding forward presence are also the forces most likely to be called upon to respond rapidly to an emerging crisis."

Secretary Dalton was describing a role that the Arleigh Burke destroyer is designed to fill. Currently, there is at least one inevery major ocean area. "Arleigh Burke-class ships play an integral role in the Forward...From the Sea concept," said Cmdr. Landay. "During our just completed deployment to the Arabian Gulf, our crew conducted maritime interdiction operations, including multiple boardings of suspected violators of United Nations sanctions. At the same time, our Tomahawk weapon system provided the capability to launch land attack cruise missiles at targets deep inland if so directed. The Arleigh Burke is an ideal ship to provide a robust presence from the sea anywhere in the world."

Well beyond the Arleigh Burke class, preliminary plans call for anew cruiser (CGX) expected in 2015-2020 as a follow-on to the Ticonderoga class cruiser. But the near term future of the Navy remains with the Arleigh Burke class Aegis destroyer.

Admiral Burke is remembered for being "relentless in combat" and" revered by his crew." These are the same qualities that symbolize the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer.


JO1 Robert Benson, USN was a journalist with the Public Affairs Office, Hq., U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii when this article was written. He is now on the staff of All Hands magazine.

Forward...From the Sea
The Navy Operational Concept

"This paper promulgates guidance on operational primacy--the ability to carry out swiftly and effectively any naval, joint or coalition mission and to prevail decisively over any foe that may oppose us. It directs how we operate Forward...From the Sea across the three components of the National Military Strategy: peacetime engagement, deterrence and conflict prevention, and fight and win." Adm. Jay L. Johnson, Chief of Naval Operations, in his March 1997 foreword to the U.S. Navy policy document, Forward...From the Sea. Excerpts follow:


The Navy's unique contributions to national security stem from the advantages of operating on, under, above and from the sea. This is the message of Forward...From the Sea. The primary purpose of forward-deployed naval forces is to project American power from the sea to influence events ashore in the littoral [coastal zones including the land and water near the coast] regions of the world across the operational spectrum of peace, crisis and war. That is what we do.

How the Navy Operates

Forward...From the Sea provides the basis for a simple, yet powerful, operational concept of how we will operate to carry out expeditionary operations. We conduct forward naval operations both to ensure unimpeded use of the seas and to project American influence and power into the littoral areas of the world. Expeditionary operations complement, enable and dramatically enhance the effectiveness of continental power-projection forces when a larger military response is needed.

Peacetime Engagement

The Navy's role in peacetime engagement is to project American influence and power abroad in support of U.S. efforts to shape the security environment in ways that promote regional economic and political stability. Stability fosters a sense of security in which national economies, free trade practices, and democracies can flourish. We execute peacetime engagement by staying constantly engaged abroad as a visible tool of U.S. foreign policy and by supporting U.S. coalition-building efforts.

Deterrence and Conflict Prevention

Signaling with military forces is an important element of deterring aggression and preventing conflicts, and forward-deployed naval forces are a superb means of signaling U.S. capabilities and resolve to friend and foe alike. Credible military presence in areas of long-standing interest or immediate concern reaffirms the U.S. leadership role abroad, reassures allies with tangible proof of U.S. commitment to their security, and helps prevent potential sources of instability from generating crises. We deter by putting potent combat power where it cannot be ignored, and by serving as a highly visible symbol of the overwhelming force the United States can deploy to defeat aggression. We enhance the credibility of conventional deterrence by demonstrating our combat capabilities in live-fire training and in exercises with friends and allies.

Fight and Win

We will take advantage of our robust command and control systems and the reach of our sensors and weapons to concentrate combat power from dispersed, networked forces and project power far inland. In contingencies of limited size and duration, we project power with decisive impact ashore. In larger conflicts, we are an integral part of joint operations to fight and win. We have a vital role throughout a joint campaign, from beginning to end.


The Navy's course for the 21st century set by Forward...From the Sea has proven to be the right one for executing our critical roles in all three components of the National Military Strategy and for conducting future joint operations. We will maintain our ongoing process of technological and operational innovation that has put us on the cutting edge of future warfighting capabilities. Our Navy people--well-led, working as a team, and taking pride will be the source of these innovations.

Date last modified: Nov-98