The Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer (DDG-51): An In-Depth Guide

USS Gravely is underway.

USS Gravely (DDG-107), a Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

This article was compiled with information from The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Ships of the World, The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems, Jane’s Fighting Ships, and other open sources. It was updated 6/27/2018 to use prose instead of bullet points.

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are large, heavily-armed multi-mission vessels which form the backbone of the American surface combatant fleet along with Ticonderoga-class cruisers. The Arleigh Burke class boasts a formidable array of weaponry and can perform a variety of tasks, including anti-submarine warfare, cruise missile strikes, intelligence gathering, boarding operations, and more. However, the class is best suited for area air defense thanks to its powerful radars and arsenal of anti-air missiles. The Arleigh Burke class is the only American destroyer type currently in production and will remain the principal surface combatant of the US Navy for decades to come. Read further for an in-depth look at the Arleigh Burke class’s specifications and equipment.


While classified as destroyers, the newest Arleigh Burke-class ships will be about as heavy as a Ticonderoga-class cruiser — the main distinction between the two is that Ticonderoga-class cruisers have 26 more missiles cells as well as extra facilities to serve as air defense control centers, while the newest Arleigh Burke-class ships feature superior radars and electronics.

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers were produced from 1988-2011 and from 2013 onwards. The class was originally to be replaced by the Zumwalt-class destroyer, but those plans were scrapped in light of the Zumwalt class’s hefty price tag and other shortcomings.

The first Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, USS Arleigh Burke, is designated DDG-51. Subsequent vessels are DDG-52, DDG-53, etc. The class as a whole is often referred to as “DDG-51.” None of the Arleigh Burkes produced have been sold or decommissioned. The cost of a new Flight IIA Arleigh Burke is almost $1.9 billion dollars. Flight III ships will likely top $2 billion.

There are four main Burke variants, or Flights: Flight I (DDG-51 to DDG-71), Flight II (DDG-72 to DDG-78), Flight IIA (DDG-79 to DDG-123), and Flight III (DDG-124+). Differences between the flights will be explained throughout the article. Also, note that the first Flight III ships have not yet been commissioned and thus the body of open source information on Flight III is small relative to the other flights. As of 7/30/2017, DDG-115 is the newest Burke-class destroyer to be commissioned.

A subset of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have been upgraded with ballistic missile defense capabilities, a modification known as Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (Aegis BMD). All Flight I and Flight II ships have been retrofitted with Aegis BMD, in addition to Flight IIA ships DDG-113 and onward, which are built with Aegis BMD as standard. The remainder of the Flight IIA ships will receive Aegis BMD in the future. Read this article for an in-depth look at American ballistic missile defenses, including Aegis BMD.

Both Japan (Kongo and Atago classes) and South Korea (Sejong the Great class) operate large Aegis destroyers based on the Arleigh Burke design.

Size and hull

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are very large; Flight I and II vessels displace around 9,000 tons fully loaded, Flight IIA ships displace over 9,500 tons, and Flight III ships displace nearly 10,000 tons. This means Burke-class ships are some of the heaviest surface combatants afloat. The exact dimensions are as follows: Length: 154m (Flights I and II) 155 m (Flight IIA and III), Width: 20.3 m, Draft: 9.9 m maximum (Flight I and II) 9.7 m maximum (Flight IIA). The class’ hull is made of steel, with an aluminum mast and fragment protection for the missile cells and gun magazine.

Typical crew size for an Arleigh Burke is 22 officers and 315 enlisted (Flight I and II) or 32 officers and 348 enlisted (Flight IIA).

Propulsion and power generation

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are propelled by four LM2500 gas turbines, each rated at 26,250 bhp, for a maximum of 105,000 bhp. The turbines drive two shafts, each connected to a five-bladed adjustable pitch propeller. This configuration allows the Burke-class to exceed 30 knots at full power, a higher speed than most surface combatants. Cruising range at 20 knots is 4,400 nmi. Three 2,500kW 501-K34 gas turbine generators provide electrical power.

Weapons: missiles

Cleared for public release by Lt.Cmdr. Terry Dudley, USS Kitty Hawk Public Affairs Officer

Sailors inspect Mk 41 VLS cells.

The Arleigh Burke class launches most of its missiles from Mark 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) modules. The Mk 41 fires straight upwards from cells below the ship’s deck, with no need to load or aim a launcher. As such, the system responds quickly and can fire its missiles in rapid succession. Flight I and II ships have 90 VLS cells, while Flight IIA and III ships have 96. This is a remarkably large missile capacity, even relative to the Burke class’s heavy displacement. Each cell can accommodate one of the following missiles:

Stellar Avenger successful ballistic missile defense intercept.

Arleigh Burke-class Aegis BMD destroyer USS Hopper fires an SM-3 during a test.

The RIM-161 Standard Missile-3 (SM-3)is designed to intercept ballistic missiles in outer space. With a maximum range of about 378 nmi for the current variants and 1350 nmi for the future Block IIA, the SM-3 is one of the highest-performance ballistic missile interceptors in service worldwide. The SM-3 delivers a separating kinetic “kill vehicle,” which is guided by an infrared seeker. Rather than using explosives, the kill vehicle simply collides with the target at high speed, destroying it with the sheer force of the impact. The kill vehicle is only designed for use against ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, and is of no use against airplanes or cruise missiles — as such, only Aegis BMD ships carry the SM-3.


The RIM-67 Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) is the US Navy’s primary air defense missile. It has a blast fragmentation warhead and a purported maximum range of 90 nmi. Guidance is provided by inertial positioning and datalink updates until a few seconds before impact, when the AN/SPG-62 radar (see radars section) is used to illuminate the target with precision. This guidance method is known as semi-active radar homing. Some SM-2s are also equipped with infrared seekers. The SM-2 is used primarily against cruise missiles and airplanes, although it can also strike ships if necessary. A small number of upgraded RIM-156 SM-2 Block IV missiles were produced as well, incorporating extended range and ballistic missile interception capabilities.


The RIM-174 Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) is based on the SM-2 Block IV but features an exceptional maximum range of about 270 nmi. Because the AN/SPG-62 guidance radar cannot be used at such great distance, the SM-6 has its own active radar seeker (adapted from the AIM-120 AMRAAM) for finding targets. The SM-6 can be used against cruise missiles, airplanes, and ships. Upgraded variants, known as Dual I and Dual II, are used by Aegis BMD Burkes for intercepting ballistic missiles within the earth’s atmosphere.

Tomahawk Block IV

A Tomahawk cruise missile, which can be launched from the Mk 41 cells used in the Aegis system.

The BGM-109 Tomahawk is a guided cruise missile used for precision strikes against surface targets. Tomahawks can travel relatively long distances (from 1350 nmi to 700 nmi depending on the variant), allowing Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to attack from the safety of the sea. They are guided by a combination of GPS, inertial navigation, and terrain contour mapping, which provides a mean accuracy of 10 meters, sufficient for hitting small targets such as infantry positions, buildings, and parked vehicles. The BGM-109D variant carries a cluster warhead, which disperses small bomblets over a wide area. In ships before DDG-96, the Tomahawk fire control system is discrete, while in DDG-96 and after it is integrated into the Aegis system.


The Anti-Submarine Rocket (ASROC) is an inertially-guided munition which delivers a lightweight anti-submarine torpedo to a maximum distance of 10 nmi. Rather than being a weapon itself, the ASROC is essentially a range booster for the torpedo, which drops into the ocean and finds its target autonomously.


The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) is the only missile which violates the one-per-cell rule. Due to the ESSM’s small size, four can fit in a single cell. Like the SM-2, the ESSM is a semi-active radar homing missile used for air defense against cruise missiles and aircraft. The drawback of its small size is a relatively short range of around 27 nmi. According to Combat Fleets of the World, typical ESSM loadout is sixteen in the fore VLS group and sixteen in the aft VLS group for 32 total. Only Flight IIA and onward currently deploy with the ESSM.

Not launched from Mk 41 VLS:


RGM-84F Harpoon missiles are the Arleigh Burke class’s primary anti-ship armament. They are radar-guided, high-explosive missiles with a maximum range of around 130 nmi and the ability to fly at low altitude, decreasing the likelihood of detection and interception. During the first few seconds of flight, the RGM-84F is propelled out of its circular canister by a rocket booster, after which a turbojet is activated. The missile has a 500lb warhead and is capable of crippling or sinking large vessels. Flight I and II vessels have 4-8 Harpoons, while Flight IIA and III vessels are not currently fitted with any. This means Flight IIA and III vessels have no dedicated anti-ship armament — while the SM-2 and SM-6 can be used against surface vessels, they lack the Harpoon’s large warhead, although their high velocity compensates to an extent. This lack of dedicated anti-ship armament may change if Lockheed Martin’s VLS-capable Long-Range Anti Ship Missile (LRASM) is deployed aboard Arleigh Burkes.


A SeaRAM system firing a RAM missile. Note the radar dome at the system’s top, which is used for target acquisition.

The Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM)is a very short-range (~4.5 nmi) missile used for self-defense. On Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, RAMs are fired by a rotating SeaRAM launcher, which is based on the Phalanx CIWS (see below) and has its own radar. Two SeaRAM launchers, each with 11 RAMs, replace the Phalanx CIWS. Only four destroyers, DDG-64, DDG-71, DDG-75, and DDG-78, currently have SeaRAMs,but the Navy is considering expanding its deployment to other ships.

Weapons: guns


A Mk 45 gun firing. This gun can be identified as Mod 4 because of its stealthy, angular housing.

The Arleigh Burke class’s main gun is a 127 mm Mk 45 lightweight cannon at the ship’s bow. It has an effective range of 13 nmi against surface targets and can fire 20 rounds per minute maximum. The first twenty rounds are fed by an autoloader, allowing for remote operation. Once these rounds are exhausted, a six-man crew is necessary for continued operation of the weapon. DDG-80 and onward have a Mod 4 version of the gun, with a stealthier turret and a longer barrel for increased projectile velocity. The Mk 45 is suitable for shore bombardment and engaging surface vessels. As a dual purpose gun, it can also engage aerial targets, but its effectiveness in this role is limited.

USS Howard; npase; preston; ddg 83; howard; uss howard; san diego

An Mk 38 gun firing. This gun can be identified as Mod 2 because of the circular sensor turret (top right).

Two 25mm Mk 38 Mod 1 autocannons firing 25mm rounds are used against close-range targets, mainly small boats. The weapon fires at 200 rounds per minute maximum and has an effective range of 1.6 nmi. Some ships are fitted with Mod 2 guns, which can be fired remotely or manually.


A Phalanx CIWS fires at a target drone. This example is mounted on a Ticonderoga-class cruiser.

Two Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWS) are used for very short-range air defense against anti-ship missiles. The Phalanx consists of a 20 mm Vulcan rotary cannon and a small radar on a swiveling mount. The Phalanx CIWS uses its radar to detect close-range targets and then fires a stream of 20mm rounds at a speed of 3,000-4,500 rounds per minute. Maximum range is about 1.9 nmi but effective range is likely somewhat lower. The Phalanx can be manually fired at surface targets as well. Flight I, II, and IIA (DDG-79 to DDG-84 only) have two Phalanx units, while Flight IIA (DDG-85 and onward) have only one. All ships with SeaRAM have no Phalanxes.

Weapons: torpedoes


In addition to the ASROC, Burkes have two Mk 32 lightweight torpedo launchers, which hold three torpedoes each. They use gas to eject torpedoes and can be fired remotely. The Burke class’s Mk 32 can be loaded with either Mk 46 or Mk 50 lightweight torpedoes.

Combat systems

The Aegis Combat System is the heart of all Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Aegis integrates information from the ship’s aerial sensors into a coherent picture of the battlespace, which is then displayed on monitors. It also provides fire control for many of the class’s weapons and allows for communications, planning, etc. Aegis has been developed into a number of “baselines,” adding features such as missile defense capabilities and faster processing.

The AN/SQQ-89 is the Arleigh Burke class’s subsurface combat system. It processes the information gathered by the ship’s sonars, evaluates targets, and fires anti-submarine weapons. The AN/SQQ-89 is integrated with the Aegis Combat System.


Sensors: radars


Two AN/SPY-1D(V) radar faces (the large octagons) on the port side of a Burke-class destroyer.

The AN/SPY-1D is the main air search radar for all Flight I, II, and IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. It is a phased array set consisting of four large radar faces installed in the ship’s superstructure. Because each face is fixed, the AN/SPY-1D provides 360-degree coverage at all times, unlike a rotating radar. Due to its large size and relatively advanced design, the AN/SPY-1D is very powerful — open sources tend to agree that it can detect a target with a golf-ball sized radar signature at about 90 nmi. Range against large targets, such as ballistic missiles and non-stealth aircraft, is far longer. Of course, precise performance is classified, so these figures should be taken as roughly indicative rather than definitive. The SPY-1D is powerful enough that it tends to pick up false positives, so DDG-91 and onwards were built with AN/SPY-1D(V) radars, which are better able to distinguish between real targets and clutter. The older SPY-1D radars aboard Flight I and II ships are to be upgraded with low-noise amplifiers and other features to improve performance and clutter rejection.

The AN/SPY-6(V), also known as the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), is a new air search radar which will be installed in all Flight III ships, replacing the SPY-1D(V). It uses an active electronically scanned array design with gallium nitride transmit/receive modules and will almost certainly be the world’s most advanced surface combatant radar upon introduction. Relative to the AN/SPY-1D, the AN/SPY-6 offers a 30x increase in sensitivity and a 15+ dB increase in power, allowing it to detect a target with half the radar signature at twice the distance of the AN/SPY-1D. It also boasts superior performance in the face of jamming, clutter, large-scale attacks, etc. With regards to dimensions, the AN/SPY-6(V) is very similar to the AN/SPY-1D, so it does not require structural alterations.


Two AN/SPG-62 radars at the rear of a Burke-class destroyer.

The AN/SPG-62 is the Arleigh Burke class’s illumination radar for semi-active radar homing missiles (the SM-2 and ESSM). Using tracking information supplied by the AN/SPY-1D or the AN/SPY-6(V), the AN/SPG-62 bathes targets in an intense radar beam which the missiles home to. The radar signal is encoded in a way that prevents missiles from confusing different AN/SPG-62 beams. All Burke-class destroyers have three AN/SPG-62 radars, but since they are only needed during the final few seconds of the missiles’ flight, those three radars are enough to have over 10 SM-2s and ESSMs in the air at once. The AN/SPG-62 is an illuminator only and does not have any tracking or detection capability.

The AN/SPS-67(V)3 or(V)5, installed aboard Flight I, II, and IIA ships, is a dedicated surface search radar used to find and track other ships as well as low-flying contacts. The radar uses a rotating (19 rpm) solid-state antenna with a maximum range in excess of 54 nmi. Relative to a surface search/navigation radar, the AN/SPS-67 is significantly more powerful (280 kW peak power vs. 30 kW for the SPS-73(V)12).

The AN/SPQ-9B is a rotating, phased array surface search and fire control radar that will replace the AN/SPS-67 on Flight III ships. The AN/SPQ-9B boasts best-in-class clutter rejection and rapid target acquisition, making it well-suited against high-speed, stealthy targets such as cruise missiles. Open sources indicate a maximum range of around 10 nmi.

The AN/SPS-73(V)12 fills the surface search/navigation role aboard Flight I, II, and IIA vessels before DDG-87. It is a rotating short range radar set which provides target information in two dimensions (range and bearing) and has the capability to detect surface contacts as well as low-flying aircraft and missiles.

The Sperry Marine BridgeMaster E rotating surface search/navigation radar is used aboard Flight IIA vessels DDG-87 and later, plus Flight III ships. The BridgeMaster E is a widely-deployed model known for at-sea reliability, which is crucial for a navigation radar. It can also detect low-flying aerial targets at up to 600 knots.

Sensors: sonars


An AN/SQS-53 sonar. This example is mounted on a Ticonderoga-class cruiser.

Mounted in a bulbous protrusion at the bow of every Arleigh Burke, the AN/SQS-53C is the class’s primary sonar. It is capable of simultaneous active (emitting its own sonar pings) and passive (listening for the sound made by other vessels) operation. When used as an active sonar, the AN/SQS-53C has a variety of modes, including surface duct, bottom bounce, and convergence zone, which are chosen depending on the objective and prevailing conditions. In addition to submarine hunting, the AN/SQS-53C can listen to the acoustic signature of surface ships at great distance.

The AN/SQR-19B(V)1 is a passive sonar array towed about a mile behind the destroyer, isolating it from the ship’s own noise and thus improving performance. It is essentially a cable with numerous microphones attached, which allows for tracking and detection of any noise-generating contact at considerable range.

The TB-37U, previously known as the AN/SQR-20, is a new towed array sonar which brings across-the-board performance improvements and can also operate as an active sonar. The TB-37U is installed aboard DDG-113 onwards and is being backfitted to older ships.

Sensors: electro-optical


The Mk 46 electro-optical unit uses a visual-spectrum camera and an infrared sensor to detect and track close-range targets that may not be visible on radar. It also feeds information into the Mk 45 gun’s fire control system and assists with aiming.

Electronic warfare and decoys


Two AN/SLQ-32(V)3 electronic warfare units, one on each side of the ship, are used to detect and jam radar signals. First, the AN/SLQ-32 picks up a signal and assigns a threat level to the radar emitter, from 0 (friendly) to 7 (incoming hostile missile). It can then jam the target’s radar if necessary. The AN/SLQ-32(V)3s are being upgraded as part of the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program, or SEWIP. Block I mostly improves processing and electronics by upgrading outdated consoles, computers, and receivers. Block II further overhauls the system, replacing much of the AN/SLQ-32’s hardware and simplifying the interface. The Navy plans to have all Block I ships upgraded to Block II by 2020. Two more blocks, III and IV, are currently being designed, with substantial improvements in performance and the addition of all-new capabilities as well.

San Francisco Fleet Week

Mk 36 Mod 12 SRBOC (small cylinders at the left) and Mk 53 Nulka launchers (two large boxes at the right).

The Mk 36 Mod 12 Super Rapid Bloom Offboard Countermeasures Chaff and Decoy Launching System (SRBOC) is used to thwart attacks by anti-ship missiles. It is a mortar-like system which fires infrared decoys and chaff, obscuring the destroyer’s silhouette and frustrating missile guidance systems. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have a total of 24 SRBOC launch tubes.

The Mk 53 Nulka is a hovering decoy which has a ship-like radar signature and is used to lure anti-ship missiles away from their actual target. Flight IIA vessels DDG-91 and onward are equipped with four launchers, each housing two Nulka decoys.

The AN/SLQ-49 is a chaff buoy system which is deployed from the side of the ship. It consists of two large inflatable buoys with large radar reflectors that emulate the signature of a large ship. The SLQ-49 deploys within seconds and can be used to fool human radar operators or lure anti-ship missiles.

For defense against torpedoes, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have an AN/SLQ-25A Nixie torpedo decoy, which is towed behind the ship on a line. When used against passive acoustic torpedoes, which home based on the noises emitted by a ship, the Nixie emits an enticing sonic signature that attracts the torpedo to the decoy instead of the destroyer. Against active acoustic torpedoes, which use sonar pulses to find targets, the SLQ-25 emits a signal emulating the echo of the torpedo’s own sonar, fooling it into attacking the decoy.

Communications equipment

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have a variety of communications equipment, including radios, satellite links, signal lamps, etc. Only a few of the more noteworthy systems will be covered here.

The AN/URN-25 is a tactical air navigation system (TACAN) used by military aircraft for navigation. The Arleigh Burke class’s TACAN antenna is used by the embarked MH-60R helicopter to assist in landings and takeoffs by informing the helicopter of its range and bearing relative to the ship.

The AN/WSC-6 is a super-high-frequency (SHF) satellite terminal which allows for communication and data transfer. It can also utilize the C-band, a commercial frequency, with a horn swap.

The AN/WSC-9 is an SHF satellite terminal which has begun to replace the AN/WSC-6 and is capable of utilizing a wider array of communications bands.

Links 4A, 11, and 16 allow for tactical communications with other military assets. The links can transmit aircraft vectors, targeting information, text and voice messages, etc. Link 22, which enables higher data transfer rates, is being added.



The view from a Flight IIA Burke class’s helicopter control tower.

Like most multi-mission warships, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer has a large helicopter pad at the aft, allowing for the launch and recovery of helicopters except in very rough seas. However, Flight I and II ships lack an enclosed hangar. Flight IIA and III ships have enclosed aviation facilities for two MH-60R medium helicopters. This is one of the most significant differences between Flight IIA and Flights I and II.

Maritime Security Operations

An MH-60R flies in front of a Burke-class destroyer.

The MH-60R is a medium naval helicopter designed for deployment from combatants such as the Burke class. Its primary anti-submarine weapons are Mk 46 and Mk 50 lightweight torpedoes, while AGM-114 Hellfire missiles provide anti-surface firepower. Note that the Hellfire missiles are small, precision-guided weapons in a different class than large cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk or Harpoon. Each MH-60R also has a multimode radar, a dipping sonar, sonobuoys, an electronic support measures suite, and a sensor suite with infrared capability. The MH-60R is capable of detecting submarines and deploying torpedoes at great distance from the ship itself, vastly expanding the Burke-class destroyer’s anti-submarine capability and coverage. The MH-60R can also send the information it gathers back to the destroyer, allowing it to act as a reconnaissance asset. In addition to conventional warfare, the MH-60R can perform a variety of secondary missions, including search and rescue, intelligence gathering, personnel transport, and ship resupply.

5 Comments on "The Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer (DDG-51): An In-Depth Guide"

  1. Another nice article – Your factual info is very good, and the pictures are a very nice accompanying feature. I would have liked to read more about the Burke’s mission set, current tasking, and future use (such as AMDR, and what the plans for Block III are).

    • All good points. I tried to incorporate some details about the mission set/tasking into the sections on various weapons/systems as well as the introductory paragraphs, but there is more that could be said and the class’s role in the wider fleet definitely deserves a standalone section — I’ll work on adding that in the near future. By far the most interesting difference between Flight III and the previous flights is the AMDR, so I assumed explaining AMDR in the sensors section would give enough information, but I’ll consider adding more substantive Flight III info as well. Cheers.

  2. Why is the U.S.S. Higbee (DDG 123) taking so long to be built? Her keel was laid down in 2017, but she isn’t scheduled to be commissioned until 2024, so what’s the hang up with getting her into the Fleet? Does it take 7 years to build a Destroyer now?

  3. The Burkes are fitted with the AN/SLQ-32(V)2 electronic warfare suites not the AN/SLQ-32(V)3. electronic warfare suites. The V2 suites do not have active and radar-jamming capability. Certain ships are fitted with AN/SLQ-32(V)6 as part of the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP). Later versions will include active jamming.

  4. Stuart McArthur | March 27, 2021 at 7:30 am | Reply

    Note: The new ESSM Block II does not require illumination by the SPG-62.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.