Country of origin
Range of fire
helicopters and watercraft
helicopters and water craft
A product of
Kongsberg (now part of General Dynamics European Systems), the
Penguin is a compact and lightweight Anti-Ship Missile (AShM). It is
an unusual weapon for this class, in that the Penguin is designed
primarily for launch from helicopters and small missile boats. Some
models may also be launched from fixed-wing aircraft. It was also
the first NATO AShM with an infrared guidance system.
AShMs are designed to attack distant enemies in the open ocean from
as far away as possible, such as the
Exocet, this was found to pose several problems when used in the
closed terrain typical of littoral waters. Large missiles with
aerodynamics optimized for stable, straight-line flight handle
poorly in these regions, the terrain further interferes with radar
returns, and there are seldom opportunities to attack ships from a
great distance under any conditions. These circumstances dictated
the development of a very different type of missile.
Work on what would become the Penguin missile began in 1962,
as a joint program between the Norwegian Defense Research
Establishment (NDRE) and Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk, with additional
funding from the West German government. The concept drew
considerable interest not only from the Norwegian Navy, but the US
Navy as well. Consequently, the project received additional funding
from both Oslo and Washington DC. The development effort was
nonetheless a lengthy affair, and the original production model ---
the Penguin Mk.1 --- entered service with the Royal Norwegian Navy
in 1972, followed by the Turkish Navy in the same year. Further
development work resulted in the improved Penguin Mk.2, which
entered service with the Norwegian armed forces in 1980, and a later
effort to produce a model better-suited for launch from fixed-wing
aircraft resulted in the Penguin Mk.3, which entered service with
the Royal Norwegian Air Force in 1987.
Despite the considerable contributions of the US government
to the Penguin program, the US armed forces were slow to accept it.
The US Air Force (USAF) trialed the Penguin Mk.3 in the 1980s as the
AGM-119A Penguin, but while its performance was considered
satisfactory, the USAF decided against procuring them. The other US
armed services followed suit, and the AGM-119A never went into
production. While the USAF abandoned the program entirely, the US
Navy by the 1990s had taken an interest in the Penguin Mk.2 Mod 7
for use on its helicopters (while the US Navy already had the AGM-84
Harpoon, that missile was considered too large for use on a
helicopter). The Mk.2 Mod 7 was formally accepted into service with
the US Navy in 1994 (some sources state 1993), as the AGM-119B
Penguin. A total of 106 AGM-119Bs were procured by the US armed
The Penguin can be launched from aircraft, helicopters, or
watercraft, depending on the variant. Fixed-wing aircraft certified
to launch the Penguin include the F-104G Starfighter and the
Fighting Falcon, while certified rotorcraft include the Bell 412
Kaman SH-2 Seasprite, Sikorsky S-70 series (including the
SH-60 Seahawk), and the Westland Super Lynx. It was also planned
for use on the AH-64N Sea Apache, though this variant of the AH-64
Apache was ultimately never produced. Watercraft armed with the
Penguin include Norway's Hauk and Storm class missile boats, and
Turkey's kartal class missile boats. Kongsberg has also advertised
the Penguin as suitable for larger warships as well, though it lacks
the range or firepower needed to compete on even terms with missiles
such as the Exocet or Harpoon.
The Penguin has a peculiar appearance that distinguishes it
from all other anti-ship missiles. The fuselage is cylindrical and
fairly conventional in shape, with a narrow protruding strip on
either side (containing some of the wiring), but the fins are all
steeply-swept. The forward fins are small, and located almost on the
nose of the missile, while the substantially larger aft fins are
located just behind the midsection of the fuselage, rather than far
aft. The aft fins can be folded (to allow the missile to fit into a
launch tube), and spring into position as the missile is launched.
Two lifting eyes atop the missile allow it to be carried by a pylon
under the wing of an aircraft, or the wing-stub of a helicopter. The
glassy seeker window on the nose is dome-shaped, and dark green in
color. The Penguin is usually painted white, off-white, or light
gray, but may have different color schemes in some militaries.
Information on the composition of the Penguin does not appear
to have been published. It most likely has an aluminum fuselage and
fins, with a silicium seeker window, but the internal composition is
The most unique aspect of the Penguin missile is its
guidance. Rather than being radar-guided like nearly all other AShMs,
the Penguin has an infrared-homing seeker head. As this method of
guidance is completely passive, there is no warning of the attack
prior to launch, and no radar illumination to "tip-off" the enemy
that an attack is underway, because a warship's radar warning
receiver is useless. A targeted ship can only detect an approaching
IR-homing missile by its own radar, which is not an easy feat
against a sea-skimming missile as tiny as the Penguin. They may not
realize they're under attack until the missile actually hits them.
Moreover, even if the enemy *does* detect the attack, the Penguin is
not easily hit by any weapon, and as the usual assortment of ECMs on
modern warships (chaff, jamming, decoys, and so on) are made to
defeat radar-guided missiles, they would have no effect on this one.
An infrared guidance system is not foolproof, however. Some
warships equipped with chaff mortars also launch flares, which can
potentially mislead a Penguin, and infrared sensors are also known
to have problems seeing through fog, mist, and rain, which could
potentially camouflage the target from the seeker head.
Nevertheless, vulnerability to decoys was anticipated by the
designers, and interference from these is partially mitigated by
While most modern AShMs are powered by jet engines, in order
to exploit the advantages of endurance and cruise performance these
offer, the Penguin is instead powered by a solid-fuel rocket motor.
No external booster is fitted (the motor is a two-stage design, with
both stages being inside the fuselage), and the missile accelerates
to its full speed in seconds, requiring only about one minute to
reach its maximum range. The sustainer motor has a longer burn time
than the booster, but as is usually the case with solid-fuel
rockets, it still isn't very long. Of course, this also means that
the launch entails some rather spectacular pyrotechnics, which could
potentially give-away the position of the launch platform.
The Penguin Mk.1 and Mk.2 series' are armed with the Mk.19
warhead, a 113 kg High Explosive Fragmentation (FRAG) munition based
on the warhead used in the AGM-12 Bullpup tactical missile (which in
turn was a derivative of the warhead from the Mk.82 bomb). The
Penguin Mk.3 is instead armed with the heavier 120 kg WDU-39/B High
Explosive Dual Purpose (HEDP) warhead. These are often referred-to
as "semi-armor-piercing" warheads, as they have hardened casings
that allow them to punch through thick hull plates on larger ships
before detonating, but lack the structural integrity needed to
penetrate reinforced or armored targets (hence, the "semi" part).
This warhead is sufficient to defeat small watercraft, and
ocean-going warships up to the size of small frigates, though a
destroyer would require several successive direct hits to disable.
Something in the size range of an aircraft carrier would suffer very
little damage from the Penguin, though large warships also seldom
operate in littoral waters.
considerable operational history, by 2018 the Penguin does not
appear to have been used in combat. The missile's current operators
have been involved in very little naval combat since the early
1990s, and most of the combat their air and naval arms have seen did
not require helicopters to attack hostile watercraft. For example,
NATO had an abundance of weapons launched by warships, fixed-wing
aircraft, and submarines during Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011, and
as the Mediterranean Sea was a considerably more wide-open space
than the fjords of the Kola Peninsula, it made little sense to send
helicopters perilously close to hostile warships (some of which were
armed with surface-to-air missiles that potentially outranged the
Penguin, like the Libyan Navy's Kola III class frigates). Thus, it
remains to be seen when (or perhaps *if*) the Penguin will be used
By 2018, the Penguin has been adopted by the armed forces of
Brazil, Greece, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Turkey, and the United
States, and it remains in service with some of these nations.
Several Storm class Missile Boats were later exported to Lithuania,
but it's unclear if they retained their Penguin launchers.
Production of the Penguin is complete, with over 1 200 built.
It is unclear if the Penguin is still offered by Kongsberg, as the
most recent sale was to Turkey in 2008, though it is still a
featured product on their website. Based on the US government's
FY1997 expenditure on 106 AGM-119B Penguins, its price at that time
was about $800 000.
Original production model. It has a range of 20.3 km. It entered
service in 1972.
Mk.2: Improved range model. It has a range of 29.6 km.
Entered service in 1980.
Mk.3: Enhanced Penguin Mk.2 for use on fixed-wing aircraft.
It entered service in 1987.
Mk.2 Mod 7: Evolved Mk.2, primarily for use on helicopters.
Despite its designation, the Mk.2 Mod 7 is actually a later and more
advanced missile than the Mk.3.
AGM-119A: Penguin Mk.3 variant for the USAF. Did not enter
AGM-119B: Designation of Penguin Mk.2 Mod 7 missile in
service with the US Navy. It was adopted in 1994. A total of 106
AGM-119Bs were procured by the US armed forces.
CATM-119B: Captive air training version of the AGM-119B; has
a standard seeker head, but the engine and warhead are inert.
publish your own articles? Visit our
guidelines for more information.