Understanding Different Types of Navy Ships

Fleet of military ships at sea in Arabian Gulf, May 2003.
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The Navy has a large variety of ships in the fleet. The most well-known types are the aircraft carriers, submarines, and destroyers. The Navy operates worldwide from many bases. The large ships — aircraft carrier groups, submarines, and destroyers — travel around the world. Smaller ships such as the Littoral Combat Ship are based near their place of operations. Learn more about the many types of Navy ships in the water today.

Aircraft Carriers

Aircraft carriers carry fighter aircraft and have runways allowing the aircraft to take off and land. A carrier has about 80 aircraft onboard — a powerful force when deployed. All current aircraft carriers are nuclear-powered. America's aircraft carriers are the best in the world, carry the most planes, and operate more efficiently than any other country's carriers.


Submarines travel underwater and carry an array of weapons. Submarines are stealthy Navy assets for attacking enemy ships and deploying missiles. A submarine may stay underwater on patrol for six months.

Guided Missile Cruisers

The Navy has 22 guided missile cruisers that carry Tomahawks, Harpoons, and other missiles. These vessels are designed to provide defense against enemy aircraft. The onboard missiles.are designed to provide defense against enemy aircraft and missiles.


Destroyers are designed to provide land attack capability as well as air, water surface, and submarine defense capabilities. There are about 57 destroyers currently in use and several more under construction. Destroyers have massive weapons including missiles, large-diameter guns, and small-diameter weapons. One of the newest destroyers is the DDG-1000, which is designed to have a minimal crew while delivering a huge amount of power when deployed.


Frigates are smaller offensive weapons carrying a 76 mm gun, Phalanx close-in weapons, and torpedoes. These are used for counterdrug operations and provide defensive capabilities when escorting other ships.

Littoral Combat Ships (LCS)

The Littoral Combat Ships are a newer breed of Navy ships providing the multi-mission capability. The LCS can change from mine hunting, unmanned boat and helicopter platforms, and special operations warfare to reconnaissance practically overnight. The Littoral Combat Ships are designed to use a minimum number of crew members to lower the operating costs.

Amphibious Assault Ships

The amphibious assault ships provide the means for putting Marines onshore using helicopters and landing craft. Their primary purpose is facilitating Marine transport via helicopters, so they have a large landing deck. The amphibious assault ships carry Marines, their equipment, and armored vehicles.

Amphibious Transport Dock Ships

Amphibious transport dock ships are used to carry Marines and landing craft for land assaults. These ships primary focus is landing craft-based attacks.

Dock Landing Ships

Dock landing ships are a variation on the amphibious transport dock ships. These ships carry landing craft. They also have maintenance and refueling abilities.

Miscellaneous Navy Ships

Special purpose ships include command ships, coastal patrol boats, mine countermeasures ships, submarine tenders, joint high-speed vessels, Sea Fighters, submersibles, the sailing frigate USS Constitution, oceanographic survey ships, and surveillance ships. The USS Constitution is the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy. It is used for display and during flotillas.

Small Boats

Small boats are used for a variety of tasks, including river operations, special operations craft, patrol boats, rigid hull inflatable boats, survey boats, and landing craft.

Support Ships

Support ships provide the necessary provisions that keep the Navy operating. There are combat stores onboard with supplies, food, repair parts, mail, and other goods. There are ammunition ships, fast combat support ships, cargo, pre-positioned supply ships, as well as rescue and salvage, tankers, tug boats, and hospital ships. The two Navy hospital ships are truly floating hospitals with emergency rooms, operating rooms, beds for recovering patients, nurses, doctors, and dentists. These ships are used during wartime and major natural disasters.

The Navy employs a wide variety of ships, each with its own purpose and responsibilities. The U.S. fleet includes hundreds of ships, from the small ones to huge aircraft carriers.

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Bame, Michael. "Understanding Different Types of Navy Ships." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/types-of-navy-ships-1052445. Bame, Michael. (2020, August 27). Understanding Different Types of Navy Ships. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/types-of-navy-ships-1052445 Bame, Michael. "Understanding Different Types of Navy Ships." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/types-of-navy-ships-1052445 (accessed March 29, 2023).