Note: Much of this information is taken directly from the book U.S. Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History by Dr. Norman Friedman. Dr. Friedman is an internationally renowned expert on naval technology and systems. He was Deputy Director of National Security Studies at the Hudson Institute from 1973-84, specializing in the analysis of the Allied/Soviet Naval Balance, and served in the Office of the Secretary of the Navy from 1985-94. Dr. Friedman has published 28 books, recently including "Sea Power as Strategy" and a handbook entitled "The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapon Systems". His articles have appeared in numerous Naval Journals and he publishes a monthly column on "World Naval Developments" in the Proceedings magazine of the US Naval Institute. This is to be the first of several posts that will attempt to explain the logic behind the design and evolution of the USS King.
One of the most common questions I hear is "Why was the ship's designation changed from DLG to DDG?" The DLG types wonder why the ship's status was downgraded and the DDG types figure that she was upgraded somewhere along the line. To the DLG types, a frigate was a fast and powerful ship reminiscent of the 18th century sailing men-of war. The ship's size and capabilities were greater than that of a destroyer, but she was not quite as large as a cruiser. To the DDG types, a frigate was a small ship with very limited capabilities used mostly as a screening vessel. In their eyes, the Oliver Hazzard Perry class of ships was the definitive frigate design, reminiscent of the Destroyer Escorts of the 40's and 50's.
When the DLG's were being designed in the mid 50's, they were seen as "Destroyer Leaders" and they hoped to realize the concept of the "Super Destroyer" that was first envisioned in the late 30's. The Destroyer Leader concept actually goes back as far as 1917 when designers began toying with the concept of a ship larger than a standard Destroyer but smaller (and cheaper) than a Cruiser. When the Faragut Class was built, they boasted an incredibly strong punch in a relatively small package. These ships were roughly the size of the World War II Light Cruisers, but were infinitely more combat capable, boasting strong Anti-Air, Anti-Ship, and Anti-Submarine capabilities.
By the mid 70's, the U.S. Navy had 33 Frigates, including 2 of the nuclear powered California Class and 1 of the nuclear powered Virginia Class, but the fleet's Cruisers were coming to the end of their useful service. Almost all of the Navy's Cruisers were left over from World War II and only a handful of them had been converted to Guided Missile platforms. The conversions and life extension overhauls were too costly and the Frigates in the fleet were more than capable of filling the void.
At this point, the Navy's hull designation system was convoluted and difficult deal with. Whenever the Navy Department or Congress needed to look at the ship quantities, it was very difficult to understand the force levels, especially in comparison to other navies. All of the other navies of the world were assigning the classification of Frigate to ships that we referred to as Destroyer Escorts. They were also designating Cruiser status to ships that were no larger than (and often less capable than) our Frigates.
On June 30, 1975, the Navy re-designated hull classifications. Of the 33 Frigates, 23 were re-designated as Guided Missile Cruisers (CG or CGN) and 10 were re-designated Guided Missile Destroyers (DDG). The decision as to what classification the ships fell under was based on many factors including size, displacement, and cruising range. Although the Faragut Class could handle helicopters in the 60's and early 70's, they could not support the newer generation of helicopters and the support equipment that they required. This, along with their smaller size and lower cruising range, placed them in the DDG category.
To put some of the differences in perspective, the cruising range (at 20 knots) of the Leahy Class (DLG-16) was 60% greater (8,000 nm) and the Belknap Class (DLG-26) was 42% greater (7,100 nm) than the Faragut Class (5,000 nm). The Leahy Class had a displacement of 7,590 tons, the Belknap Class had a displacement of 7,890 tons, and the Faragut Class had a displacement of 5,648 tons. Comparatively speaking, the cruising range of the Faragut Class was only 11% greater than the C.F. Adams Class (designed as a DDG from the beginning) and the displacement of the C.F. Adams Class was 4,525.5 tons.