Anti-ship missile

RGM-84 Harpoon firing from USS Leahy in 1983.
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 active 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. The term surface-to-surface missile (SSM) is used when appropriate. The longer-range anti-ship missiles are often called anti-ship cruise missiles.


A typical abbreviation 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, starting with the U.S. Navy's SWOD-9 Bat – itself the very first autonomously-guided, radar-homing anti-ship ordnance ever deployed worldwide, being deployed against the Japanese in April 1945 – but the Bat saw little use in combat, partly from its own late-war deployment date.

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 onto the Soviet Air Force's Tu-95 Bear and Tu-22 Blinder bombers, in the case of the air-launched KS-1 Komet.

Hiddensee P-20 missile

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 missile boats. In this battle, the Israeli Navy destroyed Syrian warships without suffering any damage, using electronic countermeasures and ruses 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, sinking the vessel.[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 onto 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
Zirconexpected for 2020 [3] size 4 pcs inctead 1 P-700 for 1 launcherup to 450 km[4] min 4700 km/h (Mach 5 to 6)[3] Surface, sub [5] [6] Russia
P-700 Granit19807000 kg750 kg625 km2550 km/hsolid-fuel ramjet SurfaceINS, active radar homing/anti radar, mid course correctionUSSR/Russia
P-100019856300 kg500 kg700 km3825 km/hsolid-fuel ramjet SurfaceINS, active radar homing/anti radar, mid course correctionUSSR/Russia
Fritz X19431362 kg320 kg5 km1235 km/hnoneAirmanual (radio link)DEused in combat
Henschel Hs 29319431045 kg295 kg5.0 km828 km/hLiquid-propellant, then glidingAir manual (radio link)DE used in combat
Kh-5519841700 kg410 kg conventional/200 kt nuclear300 km828 km/hturbofanAirInertial by Radar, TERCOM, InfraredUSSR/Russia
Blohm & Voss BV 2461943730 kg435 kg210 km450 km/h (280 mph)noneAirmanual (radio link)DE
Ohka19432140 kg1200 kg36 km630 km/hSolid-propellantAir mannedJPused in combat
Type 801982600 kg150 kg50 km?turbojetAirIRJP
Type 911991510 kg260 kg150 km?turbojetAirInertial, mid course correction, active radarJP
Type 931993530 kg?170 km1150 km/hturbojetAirInertial and IR ImageJP
XASM-32016900 kg?150 km?ramjetAirINS / GPS, mid-course correction, active/passive radarJP
Hsiung Feng I1978537.5 kg150 kg40 km?solid-fuel rocketAir, surfaceINS / Radar beam riding plus terminal semi-active homingROC(TW)
Bat19421000 kg727 kg37 km260–390 km/hNoneAir Active RadarU.S.used in combat
Harpoon1977691 kg221 kg280 km864 km/hturbojet engineAir, surface, subradar (B3: midcourse update)U.S.used in combat
AS.34 Kormoran1991630 kg220 kg35 km1101 km/hrocketAirInertial, active radarDE
Penguin1972385 kg130 kg55+ km1468 km/hSolid propellantAir, surface, subInertial, laser, IRNOR
AGM-65F Maverick1972300 kg140 kg30 km1,150 km/hSolid propellantAir, Laser, IRU.S.used in combat
Naval Strike Missile2009410 kg125 kg185 kmhigh subsonicturbojet and solid fuel boosterAir, surfaceInertial, GPS, terrain-reference, imaging IR, target databaseNOR
AGM-123 Skipper II1985582 kg450 kg25 km 1,100 km/hsolid-fueledAir laser-guidedU.S.used in combat
SS.12/AS.12196076 kg28 kg7 km370 km/hsolid-fueledAir, surface wire MCLOSFR
BGM-109B Tomahawk19831200 kg450 kg450 km880 km/hturbofanAir, surface, subGPS, TERCOM, DSMACU.S.used in combat
RB 041955600 kg300 kg32 kmsubsonicsolid propellantAiractive radarSWE
RB 081966??70 kmsubsonicturbojetsurfaceradio link active radarSWE
RBS-151985800 kg200 kg200 km1101 km/hturbojetAir, surface inertial, GPS, radarSWE
Exocet1979670 kg165 kg180 km1134 km/hsolid propellant (Block 1, Block 2), Turbojet (Block 3)Air, surface, subInertial, active radarFRused in combat
Gabriel1962522 kg150 kg60 km840 km/hsolid-fuel rocketAir, surfaceactive radarILused in combat
Otomat1977770 kg210 kg180+ km1116 km/hTurbojetSurface, Air(Perú)Inertial, GPS, active radarIT
Martel1984550 kg150 kg60 km1070 km/h solid propellant Airpassive radar, videoUK/FR
Sea Eagle1985580 kg230 kg110+ km1000 km/hTurbojetAir Inertial, active radarUK
Sea Skua1983145 kg28 kg25 km950 km/hsolid fuelAirsemi-active radarUKused in combat
LRASM2013[7] / 2018[8] ~900 kg 450 kg 930+ km High Subsonic liquid fuel Surface Passive Radar and Infrared Homing U.S.
BrahMos-II 2017+ ? ? 290 km 6125 – 8575 km/h scramjet Ship, Surface, Air, Sub ? India/Russia
KSShch (SS-N-1 SCRUBBER)19582300 kgnuclear 40 km1150 km/hliquid-fuel rocketSurfaceinertialUSSR
P-15 Termit (SS-N-2 STYX)19583100 kg454 kg80 km1100 km/hLiquid fuel rocketSurfaceactive radar, IRUSSRused in combat
P-5 Pyatyorka (SS-N-3 SHADDOCK)19595000 kg1000 kg750 km1000 km/hturbojetSurfaceInertial, mid course correction, active radarUSSR
Kh-22 (AS-4 Kitchen)19625820 kg1000 kg conventional/nuclear400 km4000 km/hliquid-fuel rocketAirinertialUSSR/Russia
P-70 Ametist (SS-N-7 STARBRIGHT)19683500 kg500 kg 65 km 1050 km/hsolid rocketsubinertial, terminal homingUSSR
Moskit (SS-N-22 SUNBURN)19704500 kg320 kg120 km3600 km/hramjetSurface, Airactive radar, IRUSSR
P-120 Malakhit (SS-N-9 SIREN)19722953 kg500 kg110 km1101Turbojet, solid fuelSurfaceInertial, mid course correction, active radarUSSRused in combat
P-500 Bazalt (SS-N-12 SANDBOX) 19754500 kg1000 kg / 350 kt nuclear 550 km3060 km/hliquid fuel rocketsurface/submergedSemi-active, terminal active radarUSSR
P-800 Oniks (SS-N-26)19833000 kg250 kg300 km3600 km/hramjetSurface, Airactive-passive, radarRussia
3M-54 Klub (SS-N-27 SIZZLER)19931300–2300 kg200 kg660 km0.8 M, 2.5/2.9M TurbojetSurface, Sub, Shipping ContainerInertial + Active RadarRussia
3M-54E1 Klub (SS-N-27 SIZZLER)20061780 kg400 kg300 km0.8 M, 2.5/2.9M TurbojetSurface, Sub, Shipping ContainerInertial + Active RadarRussia
3M-54E Klub (SS-N-27 SIZZLER)20062300 kg200 kg220 km0.8 M, 2.5/2.9M TurbojetSurface, Sub, Shipping ContainerInertial + Active RadarRussia
Kh-35 (AS-20 KAYAK)1983520 kg145 kg130 km970 km/hturbofanSurface, AirInertial, active radarUSSR/Russia, N Korea
Kh-15 (AS-16 Kickback)19881200 kg150 kg conventional/nuclear 300 km6125 km/hsolid-fuel rocketAirinertial or active radarUSSR/Russia
P15 & Silkworm KN1 ? ? ? ? ? turbofanSurface, CoastalInertial, active radarNorth Korea USSR/Russia
Hae Sung-I (SSM-700K)2005718 kg300 kg150 km1013 km/hTurbojet Ship, SurfaceInertial, active radarS. Korea
SOM (missile)2006600 kg230 kg185+ km1153 km/hTurbojetAirINS / GPS, Terrain Referenced Navigation, Automatic Target Recognition, Imaging Infrared SeekerTurkey
BrahMos20062500 kg (air), 3000 kg (ground)300 kg290 km3675 km/hramjetShip, Surface, Air, SubInertial, active radarIndia/Russia
Hsiung Feng III20071500 kg225 kg130 km2300 km/hramjetShip, SurfaceInertial, active radarROC(TW)

Threat posed

Antiship missiles are a significant threat to surface ships, which have large radar, radio, and thermal signatures that are difficult to suppress. Once acquired, a ship cannot outrun or out-turn 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 themselves 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, destroyed 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.[9]

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.[10]


See also: Countermeasure

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.[11] 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:

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 Atago-class destroyer, and the Kongo-class destroyer, the Chinese Type 054 frigate and the Type 052C destroyer,Russian Navies Admiral Gorshkov class frigate and Steregushchiy-class corvette,the Indian Shivalik-class frigate and Kolkata-class destroyer, the French La Fayette-class frigate and the newer FREMM multipurpose frigate.

In response to China's development of anti-ship missiles and other anti-access/area denial capabilities, the United States has developed the AirSea Battle doctrine. Amitai Etzioni of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies has characterized AirSea Battle as an escalatory military posture that entails ordering new or additional weapons systems, and has stated that AirSea Battle could "lead to an arms race with China, which could culminate in a nuclear war."[12]


  1. An interview with CL (R) Ing. Julio Pérez, chief designer of Exocet trailer-based launcher (Spanish) Archived March 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. Bradley Peniston. "Photos of Sahand on fire". Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  3. 1 2 "Russia's hypersonic Zircon missile to go into serial production in 2018". Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  4. "Russia's Lethal Hypersonic Zircon Cruise Missile to Enter Production". Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  5. "Russia testing 6-Mach Zircon hypersonic missile for 5G subs - reports". Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  7. "LRASM / Long Range Anti-Ship Missile". Retrieved 2010-11-14.
  8. "Arming New Platforms Will Push Up Value Of Missiles Market". Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  9. "Navy Lacks Plan to Defend Against 'Sizzler' Missile". Bloomberg. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  10. David Crane (6 April 2009). "Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) 'Kill Weapon' Flummoxes U.S. Navy". (DR): An online tactical technology and military defense technology magazine with particular focus on the latest and greatest tactical firearms news (tactical gun news), tactical gear news and tactical shooting news. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  11. "Tab-H Friendly-fire Incidents". Archived from the original on 8 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  12. Etzioni, Amitai. "Who Authorized Preparations for War with China?" Yale Journal of International Affairs, June 2013.

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