A frigate can be any of several types of warship. The term has been used for ships of various sizes & different roles over the last few centuries.
In the 17th century, frigate described any warship that was built for speed and manoeuvrability. It could be a ship that carried its weaponry on a single deck or on two decks. The term was generally used for ships thought to be too small to stand in the line of battle.
In the 18th century, the term changed and often referred to ships that were as long as a ship-of-the-line and square-rigged on all three masts but considered faster and possessing lighter armament. The ships were usually entrusted with patrolling and escort duties. The British Admiralty definition states that frigates were rated ships, of at least 28 guns, carrying their principal armament on a single continuous deck, while ships-of-the-line possessed two or more continuous decks with a lot more cannon power.
In the late 19th century the armoured frigate was a type of ironclad warship which was the most powerful type of vessel afloat. The term "frigate" was used because such ships still mounted their principal guns on a single continuous upper deck.
In modern navies, frigates are used to protect other warships and merchant-marine ships, especially as anti-submarine warfare (ASW) combatants for amphibious expeditionary forces, underway replenishment groups, and merchant convoys. Ship classes dubbed "frigates" have also more closely resembled corvettes, destroyers, cruisers and even battleships.
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