The Arleigh Burke Class American Navy destroyer USS Cole, damaged by an apparent terrorist explosion in the Yemeni port of Aden Thursday, is one of the world's most sophisticated warships.

The 505-foot long Cole, with a crew of about 350 sailors, is equipped with an advanced Aegis radar defense with missiles and guns to protect itself and aircraft carrier battle groups against simultaneous attack by planes, missiles and ships.

But the Cole. which had arrived in Aden for refueling en route from the Mediterranean to the Gulf, was damaged by a blast which defense officials said may have been triggered by two suicide bombers on a small boat that was helping secure the warship in the harbor with mooring lines.

The deadly blast on the small boat, which was right next to the Cole, tore a 20-foot by 40-foot gash in the left side of the ship along the waterline.

The knife-prowed Cole, commanded by Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, was commissioned in 1996, the 17th in a class of 51 planned Burke Class guided-missile vessels built for speed and agility. The first, the USS Arleigh Burke, was commissioned in 1989 and more than half of the 51 ships have now joined the Navy.

The class of ships is named after the late Navy Adm. Arleigh Burke, whose daring, high-speed exploits against the Japanese Navy in World War II gave him the name "31-knot Burke".

The Aegis combat weapons system, which is also used on a number of U.S. Navy cruisers, combines space-age communications, radar and weapons technologies in a single ship for almost unlimited flexibility.

The destroyers carry Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can be used against either other ships or land targets, as well as Standard missiles to intercept and shoot down enemy aircraft and missiles at long range. Both missiles are fired from forward and aft vertical launching systems.

The Arleigh Burke ships are also armed with Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles, which have a range in excess of 65 miles and the "Phalanx" close-in weapons system for a last-ditch hail of gunfire against attacking missiles.

The ship had left its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, on June 21 and had been operating in the Mediterranean for more than three months. It was scheduled to join an ongoing operation by U.S. and allied warships interdicting vessels smuggling oil and other items into and out of Iraq in defiance of a U.N. embargo.