In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892,[1] evolved from the response of navies to the threat posed by the torpedo boat. Growing from earlier defensive developments, the "torpedo boat destroyer" (TBD) first appeared as a distinct class of warship when HMS Havock and HMS Hornet were commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1894.[2][3] By the time of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, TBDs were "large, swift, and powerfully armed torpedo boats designed to destroy other torpedo boats."[4] Although the term destroyer had been used interchangeably with the terms "TBD" and "torpedo boat destroyer" by navies since 1892, the term torpedo boat destroyer had been generally shortened to simply "destroyer" by nearly all navies by the First World War.[5]

Prior to World War II, destroyers were light vessels with little endurance for unattended ocean operations; typically a number of destroyers and a single destroyer tender operated together. After the war, the advent of the guided missile allowed destroyers to take on the surface combatant roles previously filled by battleships and cruisers. This resulted in larger and more powerful destroyers more capable of independent operation.

At the beginning of the 21st century, destroyers are the heaviest surface combatant ships in general use, with only three nations (the United States, Russia, and Peru) operating the heavier class cruisers and none operating battleships[6] or true battlecruisers.[7] Modern destroyers, also known as guided missile destroyers, are equivalent in tonnage but vastly superior in firepower to cruisers of the World War II era, capable of carrying nuclear missiles. Guided missile destroyers such as the Arleigh Burke-class class are actually larger and more heavily armed than most previous ships classified as guided missile cruisers, due to their massive size at 510 feet (160 m) long, displacement (9200 tons) and armament of over 90 missiles

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