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RGM-84 Harpoon firing from USS Leahy.

Martel guided anti-ship missile.

The MBDA Exocet Anti-ship missile.

Anti-ship missiles are guided missiles that are designed for use against ships and large boats. Most anti-ship missiles are of the sea skimming variety, and many use a combination of inertial guidance and radar homing. A good number of other anti-ship missiles use infrared homing to follow the heat that is emitted by a ship; it is also possible for anti-ship missiles to be guided by radio command all the way.

The first anti-ship missiles, which were developed and built by Nazi Germany, used radio command guidance, these saw some success in the Mediterranean Theater in 1943 - 44, sinking or heavily damaging at least 31 ships with the Henschel Hs 293 and more than seven with the Fritz X, such as the Italian battleship Roma or the cruiser USS Savannah. A variant of the HS 293 had a TV transmitter on board. The bomber carrying it could then fly outside the range of naval AA guns and use TV guidance to lead the missile to its target by radio control.

Many anti-ship missiles can be launched from a variety of weapons systems including surface warships (they can then be referred to as ship-to-ship missiles), submarines, bombers, fighter planes, patrol planes, helicopters, shore batteries, land vehicles, and conceivably, even by infantrymen firing shoulder-launched missiles.

A typical acronym for the phrase "anti-ship missile" is ASM, but AShM can also be used to avoid confusion with air-to-surface missiles, anti-submarine missiles, and anti-satellite missiles.


Anti-ship missiles were among the first instances of short-range guided missiles during World War II in 1943 - 44. The German Luftwaffe used the Hs 293, the Fritz X, and others, all launched from its bombers, to deadly effect against some Allied ships in the Mediterranean Sea, seriously damaging ships such as the United States Navy light cruiser USS Savannah (CL-42) off Salerno, Italy. These all used radio command-guidance from the bombardiers of the warplanes that launched them. Some of these hit and either sank or damaged a number of ships, including warships offshore of amphibious landings on western Italy. These radio-controlled missiles were used successfully until the Allied navies developed missile countermeasures - principally radio jamming. The Allies also developed some of their own similar radio-guided AShMs, such as the Tiny Tim and the SWOD-9 Bat, but these saw little to no use in combat.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union turned to a sea-denial strategy concentrating on submarines, naval mines and the AShM. One of the first products of the decision was the SS-N-2 Styx missile. Further products were to follow, and they were soon loaded on to the Soviet Air Force's Tu-95 Bear and Tu-22 Blinder bombers, in the case of the air-launched KS-1 Komet.

In 1967, the Israeli Navy's destroyer Eilat was the first ship to be sunk by a ship-launched missile - a number of Styx missiles launched by Egyptian Komar-class missile boats off the Sinai Peninsula.

In the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 the Indian Navy conducted two raids using OSA 1 - class missile boats employing the Styx on the Pakistani Naval base at Karachi. These raids resulted in the destruction or crippling of approximately two thirds of the Pakistani Navy. Major losses included two destroyers, a fleet oiler, an ammunition ship, approximately a dozen merchant ships and numerous smaller craft. Major shore based facilities, including fuel storage tanks and naval installations were also destroyed. The Osas returned to base without loss.

The Battle of Latakia in 1973 (during the Yom Kippur / Ramadan War) was the scene of the world's first combat between anti-ship missile-equipped missile boats. In this battle, the Israeli Navy destroyed Syrian warships without suffering any damage, using electronic countermeasures for defense. After defeating the Syrian navy the Israeli missile boats also sank a number of Egyptian warships, again without suffering any damage in return, thus achieving total naval supremacy for the rest of the war.

Anti-ship missiles were used in the 1982 Falklands War. The British warship HMS Sheffield, a 4,820 ton Type 42 Destroyer, was struck by a single air-launched Exocet AShM, she later sank as a result of the damage that she sustained. The container ship Atlantic Conveyor was also sunk by an Exocet. HMS Glamorgan was damaged when she was struck by an MM38 missile launched from an improvised trailer-based launcher taken from the Argentine Navy destroyer ARA Comodoro Seguí by Navy technicians,[1] but she was able to take evasive action that restricted the damage.

In 1987, a US Navy guided-missile frigate, the USS Stark, was hit by an Exocet anti-ship missile fired by an Iraqi Mirage F-1 fighter plane. Stark was damaged, but she was able steam to a friendly port for temporary repairs.

In October 1987, the Sungari, an American-owned tanker steaming under the Liberian flag and a Kuwaiti tanker steaming under the American flag, the Sea Isle City, were hit by Iranian HY-2 missiles.

In 1988 ASMs were fired by both American and Iranian forces in Operation Praying Mantis in the Persian Gulf. During this naval battle, several Iranian warships were hit by American ASMs (and by the US Navy's Standard missiles - SAMs which were doing double-duty in the anti-ship role). The US Navy hit the Iranian Navy light frigate IS Sahand with three Harpoon missiles, four AGM-123 Skipper rocket-propelled bombs, a Walleye laser-guided bomb, and several 1,000 lb "iron bombs". Despite the large number of munitions and successful hits, the 1,540 ton IS Sahand did not sink until fire reached her ammunition magazine, causing it to detonate, blowing the frigate to bits.[2] In the same engagement, American warships fired three Standard missiles at an Iranian Navy corvette. This corvette had such a low profile above the water that a Harpoon missile that arrived several minutes later could not lock on to it with its targeting radars.

In 2006, Lebanese Hezbollah fighters fired an AShM at the Israeli corvette INS Hanit, inflicting battle damage, but this warship managed to return to Israel in one piece and under its own power. A second missile in this same salvo struck and sank an Egyptian merchant ship.


Name Year Weight Warhead Range Speed Propulsion launched by Guidance Country Comments
Fritz X 1943 1362 kg 320 kg 5 km 1235 km/h none Air manual (radio link) DE used in combat
Henschel Hs 293 1943 1045 kg 295 kg 5.0 km 828 km/h Liquid-propellant, then gliding Air manual (radio link) DE used in combat
Kh-55 1984 1700 kg 410 kg conventional/200 kt nuclear 3000 km 828 km/h turbofan Air Inertial by Radar, TERCOM, Infrared USSR/Russia
Blohm & Voss BV 246 1943 730 kg 435 kg 210 km 450 km/h (280 mph) none Air manual (radio link) DE
Ohka 1943 2140 kg 1200 kg 36 km 630 km/h Solid-propellant Air manned JP used in combat
Bat 1942 1000 kg 727 kg 37 km 260–390 km/h None Air Active Radar USA used in combat
Harpoon 1977 691 kg 221 kg 280 km 864 km/h turbojet engine Air, surface, sub radar (B3: midcourse update) USA used in combat
AS.34 Kormoran 1991 630 kg 220 kg 35 km 1101 km/h rocket Air Inertial, active radar DE
Penguin 1972 385 kg 130 kg 55+ km 1468 km/h Solid propellant Air, surface, sub Inertial, laser, IR NOR
AGM-65F Maverick 1972 300 kg 140 kg 30 km) 1,150 km/h Solid propellant Air, Laser, IR USA used in combat
Naval Strike Missile 2009 410 kg 125 kg 185 km high subsonic turbojet and solid fuel booster Air, surface Inertial, GPS, terrain-reference, imaging IR, target database NOR
AGM-123 Skipper II 1985 582 kg 450 kg 25 km 1,100 km/h solid-fueled Air laser-guided USA
SS.12/AS.12 1960 76 kg 28 kg 7 km 370 km/h solid-fueled Air, surface wire MCLOS FR
BGM-109B Tomahawk 1983 1200 kg 450 kg 450 km 880 km/h turbofan Air, surface, sub GPS, TERCOM, DSMAC USA used in combat
RB 04 1955 600 kg 300 kg 32 km subsonic solid propellant Air active radar SWE
RB 08 1966 ? ? 70 km subsonic turbojet surface radio link active radar SWE
RBS-15 1985 800 kg 200 kg 200 km 1101 km/h turbojet Air, surface inertial, GPS, radar SWE
Exocet 1979 670 kg 165 kg 180 km 1134 km/h solid propellant Air, surface, sub Inertial, active radar FR used in combat
Gabriel 1962 522 kg 150 kg 60 km 840 km/h solid-fuel rocket Air, surface active radar IL used in combat
Otomat 1977 770 kg 210 kg 180+ km 1116 km/h Turbojet Surface,Air(Perú) Inertial, GPS, active radar IT
Martel 1984 550 kg 150 kg 60 km 1070 km/h solid propellant Air passive radar, video UK/FR
Sea Eagle 1985 580 kg 230 kg 110+ km 1000 km/h Turbojet Air Inertia, active radar UK
Sea Skua 1983 145 kg 28 kg 25 km 950 km/h solid fuel Air semi-active radar UK used in combat
LRASM 2013[3] ? ? ? ? liquid fuel Surface ? USA
KSShch (SS-N-1 SCRUBBER) 1958 2300 kg nuclear 40 km 1150 km/h) liquid-fuel rocket Surface inertial USSR
P-15 Termit (SS-N-2 STYX) 1958 3100 kg 454 kg 80 km 1100 km/h Liquid fuel rocket Surface active radar, IR USSR used in combat
P-5 Pyatyorka (SS-N-3 SHADDOCK) 1959 5000 kg 1000 kg 750 km 1000 km/h turbojet Surface Inertial, mid course correction, active radar USSR
Kh-22 (AS-4 Kitchen) 1962 5820 kg 1000 kg conventional/nuclear 400 km 4000 km/h liquid-fuel rocket Air inertial USSR
P-70 Ametist (SS-N-7 STARBRIGHT) 1968 3500 kg 500 kg 65 km 1050 km/h solid rocket sub inertial, terminal homing USSR
Moskit (SS-N-22 SUNBURN) 1970 4500 kg 320 kg 120 km 3600 km/h ramjet Surface, Air active radar, IR USSR
P-120 Malakhit (SS-N-9 SIREN) 1972 2953 kg 500 kg 110 km 1101 Turbojet, solid fuel Surface Inertial, mid course correction, active radar USSR used in combat
P-500 Bazalt (SS-N-12 SANDBOX) 1975 4500 kg 1000 kg 550 km 3060 km/h liquid fuel rocket surface/submerged Semi-active, terminal active radar USSR
P-800 Oniks (SS-N-26) 1983 3000 kg 250 kg 300 km 3600 km/h ramjet Surface, Air active-passive, radar USSR
3M-54 Klub (SS-N-27 SIZZLER) 1993 1300–2300 kg 400 kg 300 km 735–3675 km/h Turbojet Surface, Sub Inertial + Active Radar USSR
Kh-35 (AS-20 KAYAK) 1983 520 kg 145 kg 130 km 970 km/h turbofan Surface, Air Inertial, active radar USSR
Kh-15 (AS-16 Kickback) 1988 1200 kg 150 kg conventional/nuclear 300 km 6200 km/h solid-fuel rocket Air inertial or active radar USSR
Hae Sung-I (SSM-700K) 2005 718 kg 300 kg 150 km 1013 km/h Turbojet Ship, Surface Inertial, active radar S.Korea
SOM (missile) 2006 600 kg 230 kg 185+ km 1153 km/h Turbojet Air INS / GPS, Terrain Referenced Navigation, Automatic Target Recognition, Imaging Infrared Seeker Turkey
BrahMos 2006 2500 kg (air), 3000 kg (ground) 300 kg 290 km 3675 km/h ramjet Ship,Surface, Air,Sub Inertial, active radar India/Russia

Threat posed

Antiship missiles are a large threat to surface ships, which have large radar, radio, and thermal signatures that are difficult to suppress. Once acquired, a ship cannot outrun or outturn a missile, the warhead of which can inflict significant damage. To counter the threat posed, the modern surface combatant has to either avoid being detected, destroy the missile launch platform before it fires its missiles, or decoy and/or destroy all of the incoming missiles.

Modern navies have spent much time and effort developing counters to the threat of antiship missiles since World War II. Antiship missiles have been the driving force behind many aspects of modern ship design, especially in navies that operate aircraft carriers.

The first layer of antimissile defense by a modern, fully equipped aircraft carrier task force is always the long-range missile-carrying fighter planes of the aircraft carrier itself. Several fighters are kept on combat air patrol (CAP) 24 hours a day, seven days a week when at sea, and many more are put aloft when the situation warrants, such as during wartime or when a threat to the task force is detected.

These fighters patrol up to hundreds of miles away from the Aircraft Carrier Task Force and they are equipped with excellent airborne radar systems. When spotting an approaching aircraft on a threatening flight profile, it is the responsibility of the CAP to intercept it before any missile is launched. If this cannot be achieved in time, the missiles themselves can be targeted by the fighters's own weapons systems, usually their air-to-air missiles, but in extremis, by their rapid-fire cannon.

However, some AShM's might "leak" past the Carrier Task Force's fighter defenses. In addition, many modern warships operate independently of carrier-based air protection and they must provide their own defenses against missiles and aircraft. Under these circumstances, the ships itself must utilize multilayered defenses which have been built into them.

For example, some warships, such as the U.S. Navy's Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, and the Royal Navy's Type 45 guided missile destroyer, use a combination of powerful and agile radar systems, integrated computer fire-control systems, and agile surface-to-air missiles to simultaneously track, engage, and destroy several incoming antiship missiles and/or hostile warplanes at a time.

The top American defensive system, called the Aegis Combat System, is also used by the navies of Japan, Spain, Norway, and South Korea. Aegis is also being built into three new guided-missile destroyers for the Royal Australian Navy, either under construction or in the planning stages. The Aegis system has been designed to defend against mass attacks by hostile antiship missiles and/or warplanes.

Any missiles that can elude the interception by medium-ranges SAM missiles can then be either deceived with electronic countermeasures or decoys; shot down by short-range missiles such as the Sea Sparrow or the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM); engaged by the warship's main gun armament (if present); or, as a last resort, blown to bits by a close-in weapon system (CIWS), such as the American Phalanx CIWS or the Dutch Goalkeeper CIWS.

Current threats and vulnerabilities

To counter these defense systems, countries such as Russia are developing or deploying very low-flying missiles (about five meters above sea level) that slowly cruise at a very low level to within a short range of their target and then, at the point when radar detection becomes inevitable, initiate a supersonic, high-agility sprint (potentially with anti-aircraft missile detection and evasion) to close the terminal distance. Missiles, such as the SS-N-27 Sizzler, that incorporate this sort of threat modality are regarded by U.S. Navy analysts as potentially being able to penetrate the U.S. Navy's defensive systems.[4]

Recent years have seen a growing amount of attention being paid to the possibility of ballistic missiles being re-purposed or designed for an anti-ship role. Speculation has focused on the development of such missiles for use by China's People's Liberation Army Navy. Such an anti-ship ballistic missile would approach its target extremely rapidly, making it very difficult to intercept.[5]


Countermeasures against anti-ship missiles include:

On February 25, 1991, during the first Gulf War, the Phalanx-equipped USS Jarrett (FFG-33) was a few miles from the USS Missouri (BB-63) and the destroyer HMS Gloucester (D96). The ships were attacked by an Iraqi Silkworm missile (often referred to as the Seersucker), at which Missouri fired its SRBOC chaff. The Phalanx system on Jarrett, operating in the automatic target-acquisition mode, fixed upon Missouri's chaff, releasing a burst of rounds. From this burst, four rounds hit Missouri which was two to three miles (about 5 km) from Jarrett at the time. There were no injuries.[6] A Sea Dart missile was then launched from HMS Gloucester, which destroyed the Iraqi missile, achieving the first successful engagement of a missile by a missile during combat at sea.

Modern stealth ships – or ships that at least employ some stealth technology – to reduce the risk of detection and to make them a harder target for the missile itself. These passive countermeasures include:

  • reduction of their radar cross section (RCS) and hence radar signature.
  • limit a ship's infrared and acoustic signature.

Examples of these include the Norwegian Skjold class patrol boat, the Swedish Visby class corvette, the German Sachsen class frigate, the US Navy's Arleigh Burke class destroyer, their Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force's close counterparts in AEGIS warships, the Chinese Type 054 frigate and the Type 052C destroyer, the Indian Shivalik-class frigate and Kolkata class destroyer, the French La Fayette class frigate and the newer FREMM multipurpose frigate.

See also


External links

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