Britain’s Type 45 Destroyers Are Getting a 50% Firepower Boost - But Still Badly Outgunned

The British Ministry of Defence announced on July 7th that it would initiate a $692-million upgrade program for the Royal Navy’s destroyer fleet, which will see each ship in the fleet receive a 50% increase to the firepower deployed from their vertical launch cells. 

Britain currently fields a destroyer fleet a fraction of its size in the Cold War era at just six ships, after budgetary constraints reduced the number of Type 45 Daring Class destroyers from twelve to nine and then to six. 

Britain’s Minister for Defense Procurement, Jeremy Quin, stated regarding plans to improve the Type 45’s capabilities: “Enhancing our destroyer capabilities, this investment reaffirms our commitment to equip the Royal Navy with the most advanced and powerful defensive systems... 

This upgrade ensures the Type 45 remains hugely respected by naval fleets across the globe and secures highly-skilled jobs and investment.” Royal Navy Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd CBE noted too much the same effect: “These programs will provide an exceptional capability to the front line, ensuring the RN remains poised to defend the surface fleet, and most importantly the Carrier Strike Group, against complex air threats both now and into the future.” 

The first Type 45 destroyer is expected to have been overhauled by the summer of 2026, and they will be tasked with escorting the country’s Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers on power projection missions.

The Type 45 Class has some of the most modest armaments of any modern destroyers with just 48 vertical launch cells each. By contrast, modern AEGIS ships in South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. deploy 96 missiles or more each, while China’s new Type 055 destroyers deploy 112. 

The upgrade to the Type 45 will see the number of vertical launch cells deployed by each ship increased to 72, which will still leave them considerably behind any modern non-European destroyer class. 

The shortfall in firepower is particularly serious considering that launch cells on British ships can only deploy two missile types - the Aster 15 and Aster 30 - both of which can only be used in anti-air roles. 

This contrasts sharply to the vertical launch velds on AEGIS ships, on modern Chinese destroyers, and even on the latest Russian frigates and corvettes, which can deploy a wide range of missiles for air defense, anti-submarine warfare, anti-shipping, land attack, and in the case of U.S. and Japanese ships ballistic missile defense as well. 

The 24 new launch cells will be allocated to carrying Aster 15 short-range surface to air missiles, with the remaining 48 dedicated to deploying the longer-ranged Aster 30 which is also designed exclusively for air defense. 

The range, speed, and overall performance of these missiles, however, is far inferior to air defenses deployed by rival destroyers such as the SM-3 and SM-6 used by the U.S. and allied AEGIS destroyers or the HHQ-9 and HHQ-16 used by Chinese ships. 

The Type 45’s lack of versatility and its inability to operate in roles other than air defense represents a major shortcoming. The British destroyer class has also faced considerable performance issues including very high maintenance requirements and in previous years a tendency to break down and suffer engine failure when operating in warm waters. 

The announcement of plans to upgrade the Type 45 follows an alleged violation of Russian territorial waters by one of the six ships in the Black Sea, which led Russia to deploy fighters to warn it away and resulted in Moscow issuing a strong warning.

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