Exocet has become one of the most successful anti-ship missiles since World War II. It also proves that, with just a few cheap missiles, it is possible to change the outcome of an entire campaign just by engulfing enemy strategic warships.
We have learned a lot about different types of warships and warplanes. Apart from the maneuverability, level of stealth, sensors, etc., the power of these war machines was nothing more than the weapons they carried. Among all anti-ship weapons, Exocet is one of the most talked about anti-ship missiles and one of the most experienced anti-ship missiles in the world.
Anti-ship missiles first appeared during World War II. The Germans took the lead with Henschel Hs 293 and Kramer X-L, commonly known as Fritz-X. Both of these weapons were used in World War II with relatively small scale.
The Soviet Union pioneered anti-ship missiles both from air and ground. The AS-1 Kennel is their first missile, a cruise missile powered by a turbojet engine, with a range of up to 172 km. Other nations quickly caught up with the Soviet Union, Exocet is one of NATO’s most sophisticated weapons. The effectiveness of Exocet in combat during the past few decades has confirmed that no warship can be safe against anti-ship missiles.
The development of Exocet anti-missile
Exocet is an anti-ship weapon developed by Nord Aviation, a French company. After several mergers, it is currently being developed by MBDA, a European missile company. Exocet’s development began in 1967 and entered service in the French Navy in 1979. Its name, in French means “flying fish”. Its danger is versatility. By 1979, it could be launched from the ground, surface vessels or fixed-wing aircraft with a range of about 50 km. Subsequent versions could also be launched from submarines and helicopters.
Exocet was developed with the purpose of destroying small- to medium-size warships such as frigates, corvettes or destroyers. However, Exocet is also capable of sinking an aircraft carrier if multiple missiles are used at the same time.
The basic design of the missile is based on the Nord AS30 air-to-ground tactical missile. Depending on the variants, Exocet weighs from 670kg, length from 4.7m, warhead of 165kg and wingspan of 1.35m.
MM38 was the first generation of the Exocet series, as a ship-launched weapon. Its range is only about 42km. Later, more variants were born with a longer range and more accurate.
Like many other modern anti-ship missiles, the Exocet missile approaches its target at Sea-skimming altitude, which is difficult to detect by enemy radar. It is guided inertially in mid-flight and turns on active radar late in its flight to find and hit its target. As a countermeasure against air defence around the target, it maintains a very low altitude during ingress, staying one to two meters above the sea surface. Due to the effect of the radar horizon, this means that the target may not detect an incoming attack until the missile is only 6 km from impact. This leaves little time for reaction and stimulated the design of close-in weapon systems.
Its rocket motor, which is fuelled by solid propellant, gives the Exocet a maximum range of 70 kilometres. It was replaced on the Block 3 MM40 ship-launched version of the missile with a solid-propellant booster and a turbojet sustainer motor which extends the range of the missile to more than 180 kilometres. The submarine-launched version places the missile inside a launch capsule.
A 165 kg warhead of High-explosive or Fragmentation, gives it a destructive power. A timer detonator allows the missile to penetrate inside the vessel before detonating.
Despite being a Western-made product, it is interesting to note that its first victim was a NATO member. Exocet became famous for sinking some British ships during the Falklands War in 1982.
In 1982, when the British deployed a sizable Navy force to recapture the Falkland Islands, which were occupied by Argentina. On May 4, an Argentinian Super Etendard aircraft fired an Exocet into the HMS Sheffield destroyer. The missile was punctured in the middle of the Sheffield, just above the draft. Although the warhead didn’t explode, the collision killed 20 people and set the ship ablaze and sank five days later. Two weeks later, on May 25, two more Exocets hit British Atlantic Conveyor, which was full of helicopters and logistics for the land campaign. The ship also sank 5 days later.
Subsequently, under pressure from Lodon, France was forced to stop delivering Exocet missiles to Argentina. No further British ships were attacked by this deadly weapon.
During the 1980s, more than 100 Exocet missiles were fired on battlefields around the world, mainly due to the Iraqi side targeted Iranian ships and oil rigs in the war between the two countries. But two Exocet missiles damaged the USS Stark in 1987.
Thereby, Exocet has become one of the most successful anti-ship missiles since World War II. It also proves that, with just a few cheap missiles, it is possible to change the outcome of an entire campaign just by engulfing enemy strategic warships.
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