(Jeff Quitney)

In the 1970s, the United States faced a problem. Many of the World War II-era destroyers of the Gearing and Allen M. Sumner classes were finally showing their age. Not only were these ships entering the tail-ends of their primes, they were also very numerous — the U.S. had built 98 Gearing-class ships and 58 Sumner-class vessels. In fact, if World War II hadn't ended when it did, we'd likely had even more of these hulls!

Many of these ships were passed on to American allies, where they went on to enjoy long careers. But selling ships off doesn't eliminate the need for a new destroyer. The Navy was hard at work building a lot of guided-missile destroyers for anti-air action (the Coontz and Charles F. Adams classes), but the Soviets had a lot of subs, and the U.S. needed a vessel highly capable of protecting aircraft carriers and merchant ships from this burgeoning, sub-surface threat.

Six Spruance-class destroyers in the process of fitting out. All 31 vessels of the Spruance-class entered service between 1975 and 1983.

(U.S. Navy)

The answer was the Spruance-class destroyer. These ships were fast, notching a top speed of 32.5 knots, and packed two five-inch guns, an eight-cell Mk 29 launcher for the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile, and an eight-cell Mk 16 launcher for the RUR-5 Anti-Submarine Rocket. The ships also carried two triple-mounted 324mm Mk 32 torpedo tubes, two quad Mk 141 launchers for the RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile, a pair of Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In-Weapon Systems, and two anti-submarine helicopters.

The United States built 31 of these ships — but passed on creating a variant capable of carrying four helicopters. Two dozen of these ships were later upgraded with a 61-cell Mk 41 vertical launch system that later replaced the ASROC launcher.

USS Hayler, showing the upgrades to the Spruance design - including a Mk 41 vertical launch system.

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Amy DelaTorres)

The ship proved so capable that the hull design was later reused for another 31 ships with advanced anti-air capability. Four Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers and 27 Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers were built using the hull design of the Spruance.

Watch the introduction of the Spruance in the video below!