Can You Name the Function of These Military Ships?

By: Mark Laufgraben

Replenishment ships are large task force supply ships. Many think of them as being oilers, but they can also bring many other sorts of supplies, depending on the needs of the flotilla they are tending to.

A battlecruiser is essentially a less armored battleship, meant to cram a huge amount of firepower into a frame capable of somewhat faster movement than its ponderous forebear. Its role is questionable, however, in a world where carriers rule the sea.

Search and rescue vessels are a type of vessels designed for rapid location and rescue of ailing vessels or even individuals cast adrift on the ocean. They often include powerful spotlights and rudimentary medical care units, the latter being particularly necessary in the case of hypothermia.

Patrol boats are small, nimble naval vessels designed to patrol a nation's coasts, usually looking for drug smugglers or to otherwise prevent illegal border crossings. They tend to have powerful spotlights and a lightly armed crew, along with a strong radar unit.

Logistics support ships are massive ships, often employed by the US Army to deliver huge numbers of land-based vehicles to a combat area. They are the fundamental method by which the arsenals of the Army are transported across the oceans.

Tugs are small, sturdy vessels designed to either pull or push beleaguered vessels. Some are oceangoing, but most are limited to the coasts, where they are vital for clearing the sealanes of distressed ships and getting them to port where they can be helped.

An air cushioned landing craft is a modern landing vessel meant to take advantage of its inflatable bladder to make landings in soft beaches and swamps smooth and efficient. It has a pair of machine guns and a grenade launcher, but is otherwise unarmed and focused on its transport mission.

Training ships are, quite simply, vessels designed to train students to become sailors. They are supposed to teach the would-be seamen and women about the many roles and technologies necessary for running a modern-day naval vessel.

American hospital ships are not mere waystations for the wounded, but are modern-day medical marvels. They have 1,000 beds for patients and no less than 12 fully equipped operating rooms, allowing for a great deal of operational flexibility.

A research vessel is designed around the particular needs of the sort of research it is engaging in. For example, a ship engaged in arctic or antarctic research would be designed around an icebreaker hull, so it could deal with the frequent accumulations of ice it would encounter in its journey.

Minelayers are meant to deploy mines as a counter-ship measure. They range from small vessels to ships up to destroyers in size, and are by their nature defensive vessels with little in the way of armament.

Special mission submarines take many forms: For example, the Navy's Deep Drone 8000 is a remotely operated drone that can sink to a depth of up to 8,000 feet underwater. It has a CTFM sonar system and the ability for the operator to see in up to six directions.

Guided missile submarines are generally classified as SSG and SSGN by the US Navy, with the latter in use if the submarine is nuclear-powered. They typically use Trident and Tomahawk class missiles, making them effective against an array of targets.

Tankers are of course designed to haul bulk quantities of liquid, usually oil. A tanker with the equipment to refuel other ships in mid journey is specifically known as an oiler, and this is the kind of tanker most frequently used by the world's navies.

Aircraft carriers are the core of the modern surface fleet, and no one has as many or as potent carriers as the United States. The US has 11 nuclear-powered carriers, each bearing 80+ planes and surrounded by innumerable other vessels in their attendant fleet. The nuclear reactor allows the carrier unlimited range.

Minehunters are of course the inverse of the minelayer -- their duty is to locate mines for removal. They have sophisticated sonar systems designed to locate and identify mines. With tensions between the West and Iran rising, mines in the straight of Hormuz potentially increase the importance of these vessels significantly.

Amphibious assault ships are supposed to aid in the transport of marine forces during amphibious assaults. They were originally converted aircraft carriers redesigned for helicopter use, and then later turned into a broader infantry transport role ... but modern amphibious carriers seem to be creeping back toward carriers once more, as they often have a small air complement.

Torpedo boats are small craft armed with torpedoes or anti-ship warheads. They represent a kind of specialization not generally seen in most modern navies, because as a practical matter they would not survive enemy air attacks long enough to deploy their weaponry.

Frigates are multi-role warships generally designed to escort more vulnerable vessels. They are typically designed with defense in mind, and correspondingly have sonar capabilities for detecting and fighting submarines, and anti-air weapons for dealing with aircraft.

Fast attack craft are disproportionately well-armed small vessels meant to operate close to shore. In great numbers, they can be deployed in an attempt to swarm enemy capital ships, but they are still highly vulnerable to enemy airpower, having essentially no defensive capability.

Battleships are what we think of when we think of mighty naval vessels ... and they're completely out of date! Of arguable use even during their heyday, enormous, heavily gunned capital ships now only soldier on in Russia's Navy. As for the United States, carriers are the only capital ships we use!

Destroyers are compact, high-endurance vessels designed for escort work and limited surface and sub-surface engagement. They are the mainstay of the modern (surface) Navy, and are the essential guardian fleets for the mighty aircraft carriers.

Icebreakers are designed to smash through ice, and are therefore mostly used in Arctic and Antarctic regions. They don't go it alone, however: they generally act as pathfinders for non-icebreaker vessels following in their wake.

Tenders are designed to service larger vessels, and can even be used as a replacement dock- a link between the actual shoreside dock and the vessel they are tending. They are a convenient way to transport people and supplies from the shore to a larger vessel.

Midget submarines are under 150 tons in weight. They don't see a great deal of use now, but they have been used in reconnaissance as well as search and rescue efforts for larger submarines that have encountered problems.

Diesel-electric attack submarines lack nuclear power, which means their range is comparatively limited, and moreover their size is smaller than their nuclear armed cousins, allowing for less in the way of armament. Nonetheless, they are still very stealthy and capable of posing a significant threat.

Light cruisers are named for their gun size, not their weight, and technically their name is short for "Light Armored Cruiser". Their role has largely been supplanted in the modern military, which tends to use carriers or subs in aggressive roles.

Heavy cruisers were largely upgunned models of light cruisers, with more and better armor, superior firepower and a better fire control system. Like their lesser cousins, they have fallen out of favor in the modern military in place of platforms that rely more on missiles than the guns they were famous for.

Minesweepers are typically built out of wood, degaussed metal or fiberglass to reduce their magnetic signature. They locate and tag mines, identifying them and towing them away if possible. They are also equipped with cutters to detach the mines from cables holdings them in place.

Ballistic missile submarines are the terror of the deep, as these subs are armed with nuclear-tipped warheads. Their incredible stealth makes them a vital part of the Mutually Assured Destruction nuclear strategy- since detecting and destroying them before launch is all but impossible, nuclear war is averted.

Nuclear-powered attack submarines have an onboard reactor that allows for nearly limitless range, allowing them to strike from anywhere at any time. This is critical to their role both in conventional operations, where enemies can never plan around them, and as part of their job in the nuclear triad, where their unpredictability works to enforce MAD.

Corvette is a name generally reserved for the smallest-size fighting vessel in a nation's military. The US does not deploy corvettes today -- it uses destroyers in the sort of role they would otherwise fit, but there are plans to make a sort of modular corvette to fulfill many potential non-direct combat roles, like mine sweeping.

Missile boats are a low-cost answer to the larger navies of the world- they are smaller vessels armed with missile armaments capable of swarming larger ships. They are cost-effective, but highly vulnerable to air attack.

Surveillance and intelligence vessels are typically designed with a wide array of powerful SONAR systems whose purpose is to protect a fleet from potential undersea threats. These vessels are typically largely unarmed.

Helicopter carriers, in spite of their name, are typically hybrid air warfare carriers, capable of mounting conventional jet aircraft as well as helicopters and drones. The Wasp class vessel can bear 20 helicopters at a time, as well as multiple jets.

A mine countermeasures vessel, or MCMV, is a vessel that combines the abilities of a mine detection and a mine sweeper vessel in a single hull. While this sounds obviously efficient, there are nonetheless many older vessels still in use that only perform one or the other specialty.

Command and support ships are rare, with only a few of them in existence. The US Blue Ridge class only has a pair of vessels. It is designed with an extremely sophisticated sensor and communications suite, so as to maximize information gathering and command and control flow throughout the attendant fleet.

Dock landing ships allow for the landing of vehicles and troops, but are also notable for acting as helicarriers as well. The larger versions even have a full-sized flight deck for standard aircraft!

Guided missile submarines are used for attacking discrete ground-based targets. The nature of the subs means that they can strike at any time without warning, and retreat before any enemy response is possible.

Large patrol vessels tend to be more heavily armed than their smaller brethren, and are used in areas that pose a particular danger. They might be used to fight pirates off the coast of Somalia, for example, or the South China Sea.

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Image: Heb via Wiki Commons/Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

The world's oceans are vast beyond imagining. Ours is a water world, and the specks of dirt on which we make our homes and live our lives are nothing compared to the inconceivable, endless blue deep. In order to master such a hostile wilderness, we have created mighty navies. Our ships roam the seven seas, striving to gain a mastery over that which will not be tamed. We focus our minds on conquering what we can of the treacherous abyss, and then we turn our thoughts toward struggling among ourselves for whatever scraps of mastery we have gained.


As our technology grows, more and more of our efforts turn toward the latter. How can we defeat the other contenders for control of the world's oceans? The answer we have come to, as in so much of our economic life, is through specialization. We craft weapons and tools of war built for a particular purpose or design, and then wield them with surpassing skill. In the world's navies, then, we have found bespoke tools with a million different uses, each dependent on the makeup of the ships that comprise a fleet. 


What do you know about the world's navies? Can you recognize the jobs and functions of these, the many-headed hydras that we have wrought? Choose among the answers we have given you, but choose wisely. For you will learn what many of the world's captains have learned since the dawn of time: there's no turning back.

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