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Anti-ship missile

Harpoon missile

The Harpoon is one of the most successful anti-ship missiles ever made

Country of origin United States
Entered service 1977
Missile length 3.8 - 4.6 m
Missile diameter 0.34 m
Fin span 0.91 m
Launch weight 519 - 628 kg
Warhead weight 221 kg
Warhead type Conventional
Range of fire 93 - 280 km


   The Harpoon anti-ship missile is probably the most common weapon of its type in the West. Since it entered production with McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) in 1975, over 7 000 have been produced, equipping hundreds of ships around the world at the relatively cheap price of around $1.5 million. This weapon system is versatile, capable of also being launched from aircraft, trucks, and submarines.

   A little-known fact about this missile is that it was originally developed as a weapon against submarines. With its sea skimming capability it was originally intended to destroy diesel boats recharging their batteries on the surface. The very project name was the reference to that mission, as submarines are commonly nicknamed "whales" in the Navy, and "harpoon" is used as a verb to describe the act of sinking one.

   Why the US Navy thought it was a valid concept has been lost to history, as almost all Soviet diesel submarines then in service and all in development used snorkels to charge their batteries during wartime, allowing them to remain submerged. In any case, it was re-purposed into a weapon for use against surface ships soon after the sinking of Israeli destroyer Eilat by a Soviet P-15 Termit anti-ship cruise missile in 1967. That event convinced the US Navy that they needed a dedicated anti-ship missile, and to save time and money, they simply re-purposed the Harpoon for that role. The name was retained.

   The Harpoon is a subsonic high explosive over-the-horizon sea skimming anti-ship missile. It tracks its quarry using active radar and detonates on contact. This missile is fitted with a heavy 221-kilogram penetration blast warhead. Propulsion comes from a Teledyne CAE J402-400 turbojet delivering 300 kilograms of thrust, allowing the Harpoon to cruise at about Mach 0.5 (617 km/h).

   The Harpoon has gone through several developmental stages known as Blocks. The initial model is known as Block 1. When it nears its target, Block 1 Harpoons increase altitude before suddenly diving on their target. Block 1B removed this feature, while Block 1C made it optional. Block 1D, a model of limited production, had an increased range and re-attack ability (i.e. the ability to attack again if it missed the first time). Block 1G is an improved version of the SLAM-ER under development with re-attack and image comparison ability. Block 1J is a proposed upgrade to make the Harpoon able to fire at land and sea targets, eliminating the need for both the SLAM and standard Harpoon.

   The Block 2 is the newest operational model in the Harpoon line. New features include improved resistance to countermeasures and better targeting. Expected to enter service in 2017, the Harpoon Next Generation has an improved range, due to a more fuel-efficient engine and lighter warhead. It is a contender for the surface-to-surface armament of the US Navy’s new littoral combat ships like the Freedom class.

   On ships, the Harpoon is normally launched from octuple launchers.

   The Harpoon first saw combat in 1980 in the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, it has also been used in US-Libya conflicts of 1986, 1988 US operations in the Persian Gulf, and several accidental shootings.

   Currently, about 30 nations used the Harpoon, including Australia, South Korea, Canada, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, the United States, Taiwan, Germany, Turkey, Israel, India, Japan, and the United Kingdom.




   AGM-84: version for launch from fixed-wing aircraft.

   RGM-84: surface launched variant. It is fitted with a detachable solid-fuel rocket-booster for initial flight. The RGM-84 is longer and heavier than the AGM-84.

   UGM-84: model for submarine usage. It is also referred as Sub-Harpoon. This missile, too, has a rocket booster and is longer and heavier than the AGM-84. Until it reaches the surface, the UGM-84 is sealed in a container.

   AGM-84E SLAM (Standoff Land Attack Missile): this is an all-weather air-launched infrared-guided land attack cruise missile developed from the AGM-84 Harpoon in 1990 with a range of at least 110 kilometers. It is basically a longer, heavier AGM-84 missile modified with a Tomahawk missile warhead. This weapon could be launched from aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet, A-6 Intruder, P-3 Orion, and S-3 Viking. It has since been replaced by the SLAM-ER.

   AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER (Standoff Land Attack Missile—Expanded Response): an improved version of the AGM-84E entering service in 2000. The range is improved to a maximum of 250 km and it has the best Circular Error Probe (CEP) of missiles in the US Navy.


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RGM-84 Harpoon missile

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RGM-84 Harpoon missile

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AGM-84 SLAM missile

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AGM-84 Harpoon missile

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UGM-84 Harpoon missile

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UGM-84 Harpoon missile

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