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The French-developed Exocet family of anti-ship missiles consists of surface launched (MM 38, MM 40), aircraft launched (AM 39), and submarine- launched (SM 39) variants. The MM 38 was the first to enter service and can be distinguished by its bulky, ribbed container.

The Exocet is designed to disable its target rather than sink it, which would require a missile of impractical size. The warhead is large enough to devastate a small ship and can do serious damage to a large one. The missile's fuel is nearly impossible to smother because it contains its own oxidizer and contributes to the destruction caused by the warhead. In fact, in the cases of the SHEFFIELD and the STARK (see Operational Notes), fires caused by the fuel did more damage than the warheads.

The surface-launched versions are fired from fixed launchers elevated to 12 degrees. The 2.4- second boost brings the missile to its maximum altitude of 98-229 ft (30-70 m). The Exocet cruises at 30-49 ft (9-15 m) altitude. Approximately 6.5-8.1 nm (7.5-9.3 mi.; 12-15 km) from the target the missile descends to 26 ft (8 m) and the seeker switches on.

The warhead is impact-fuzed. The radar altimeter can be set to detonate the missile as it passes over the target, but this method is vulnerable to premature detonation from chaff and other countermeasures.

Early in 1997 DoD announced that a North Korea defector Ko Young-hwan. confirmed that his country had purchased Exocet air to ship missiles for purposes of reverse engineering. The Exocets it was emphasized were not obtained from France but from an unidentified source in the Middle East.

Combat use has revealed defects in the warhead's fuzing mechanism. A high percentage of hits have been duds. The warhead that hit the SHEFFIELD never exploded (rocket fuel fire sank the ship) and several of the missiles that struck tankers in the Persian Gulf did not detonate. Aerospatiale claims to have fixed the fuzing problem.

In testimony before the US Congress in 1985, the US Navy stated that in operational tests of the Aegis missile cruiser TICONDEROGA (CG 47) against two "Exocet like" targets--one fired directly at the TICONDEROGA--both missiles were detected, tracked, engaged, and killed with Standard missiles. The Navy also stated that "In recent operational tests, Phalanx destroyed numerous Exocets in an impressive fashion."

The British lost the destroyer SHEFFIELD to a fire started by the residual fuel from an unexploded Exocet missile, and the container ship-aircraft ferry ATLANTIC CONVEYOR to a fire caused by one or two Exocet missiles that did detonate. These Exocets were launched by Super Etendard fighter-bombers of the Argentine Navy. In addition, the destroyer GLAMORGAN was damaged by a ground-launched Exocet. In the war between Iraq and Iran in 1980-1988, more than 100 Exocet anti-ship missiles were fired by Iraqi aircraft. Approximately 40 ships were struck, most of them oil tankers. Damage to the tankers was often limited by the missile's detonation in large, relatively empty spaces, which attenuated the weapon's blast effect.

On the night of 17 May 1987, the US guided missile frigate STARK (FFG 31) was heavily damaged by two Exocet missiles while in the Persian Gulf. These missiles were launched by an Iraqi Mirage F-1 fighter aircraft, with only one missile detonating. The ship suffered severe blast and fire damage, with 37 sailors killed and two seriously injured. The ship had sighted the launching aircraft on radar, but no attempt was made to shoot down the aircraft or incoming missiles.

Aerospatiale, Chatillon-sous-Bagneux, France.

Great Britain
South Korea


          container      3,858 lb. (1,750 kg)
          missile        1,653 lb. (  750 kg)
      configuration  slim, pointed cylinder
      cruciform cropped and swept delta
      mainplanes indexed in-line with small
      cruciform tail planes
             container      18 ft  1 in (5.50 m)
             missile        17 ft  1 in (5.21 m)
           diameter             13.7 in (348 mm)
           wing span         3 ft  3 in (1.00 m)
           container width   3 ft 11 in (1.20 m)
           container height  3 ft 11 in (1.20 m)
           Two SNPE double-base Nitramite
  smokeless solid-propellant rockets
     1 Epervier booster with 2.4 sec burn
     1 Eole V sustainer with 93 sec burn
       speed       594 kt (684 mph; 1,100 km/h)
                     or Mach 0.93
       max range      22.7 nm (26.0 mi.; 42 km)
       min range      2.2 nm ( 2.5 mi.;  4 km)
       peak altitude  98 ft (30 m)

 Warhead:  363 lb. (165 kg) Hexolite blast

 Sensors/Fire Control:
       TRT AHV-7 radio altimeter
       inertial navigation during first part of
       Electronique Marcel Dassault ADAC or
       Super ADAC I/J-band active radar homing
       in terminal phase that begins search
       approx. 5.4 nm (6.2 mi.; 10  km) from
       target's estimated position


MM 38
Initial production variant. Launched from surface ships. Great Britain has adapted the MM 38 to a coastal defense role; the resulting system is called Excalibur. One battery has been sited at Gibraltar.

AM 39
Air-launched variant. See separate database entry.

MM 40
Updated MM 38. See separate entry.

SM 39
Submarine-launched variant. See separate entry.