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Surface Vessel Weapon System
MM38 / AM39 / SM39 / MM40 Exocet
anti ship missile

mm38 exocet ssm aerospatiale mbda anti ship missile mm40 06

The Exocet (French for "flying fish") is a French-built anti-ship missile whose various versions can be launched from surface vessels, submarines, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

The Exocet is built by MBDA, a European missile company. Development began in 1967 by Nord as a ship-launched weapon named the MM 38. A few years later Aerospatiale and Nord merged. The basic body design was based on the Nord AS30 air-to-ground tactical missile. The air-launched Exocet was developed in 1974 and entered service with the French Navy five years later.

The relatively compact missile is designed for attacking small- to medium-size warships (e.g., frigates, corvettes and destroyers), although multiple hits are effective against larger vessels, such as aircraft carriers. It is guided inertially in mid-flight and turns on active radar late in its flight to find and hit its target. As a countermeasure against air defence around the target, it maintains a very low altitude during ingress, staying 1-2 meters above the sea surface. Due to the effect of the radar horizon, this means that the target may not detect an incoming attack until the missile is only 6,000 m from impact. This leaves little time for reaction and stimulated the design of close-in weapon systems (CIWS).

Its rocket motor, which is fuelled by solid propellant, gives the Exocet a maximum range of 70 kilometres (43 mi; 38 nmi). It was replaced on the Block 3 MM40 ship-launched version of the missile with a solid-propellant booster and a turbojet sustainer motor which extends the range of the missile to more than 180 kilometres (110 mi; 97 nmi). The submarine-launched version places the missile inside a launch capsule.


The Exocet has been manufactured in a number of versions, including:

MM38 (surface-launched) - deployed on warships. Range: 42 km. No longer produced (1970). A coast defence version known as "Excalibur" was developed in the United Kingdom and deployed in Gibraltar from 1985-1997.

AM38 (helicopter-launched – tested only)

AM39 (air-launched) - B2 Mod 2: deployed on 14 types of aircraft (combat jets, maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters). Range between 50 and 70 km, depending on the altitude and the speed of the launch aircraft.

SM39 (submarine-launched) - B2 Mod 2: deployed on submarines. The missile is housed inside a watertight launched capsule (VSM or véhicule Sous marin), which is fired by the submarine's torpedo-launch tubes. On leaving the water, the capsule is ejected and the missile's motor is ignited. It then behaves like an MM40. The missile will be fired at depth, which makes it particularly suitable for discreet submarine operations.

MM40 (surface-launched) - Block 1, Block 2 and Block 3: deployed on warships and in coastal batteries. Range: 72 km for the Block 2, in excess of 180 km for the Block3.

MM40 Block 3:
In February 2004, the Délégation Générale pour l'Armement (DGA) notified MBDA of a contract for the design and production of a new missile, the MM40 Block 3. It has an improved range, in excess of 180 kilometres (97 nautical miles) - through the use of a turbojet engine, and includes four air intakes to provide a continuous airflow to the power plant during high-G manoeuvers.

The Block 3 missile accepts GPS guidance system waypoint commands, which allow it to attack naval targets from different angles and to strike land targets, giving it a marginal role as a land-attack missile. The Block 3 Exocet is lighter than the previous MM40 Block 2 Exocet.

45 Block 3 Exocets were ordered by the French Navy in December 2008 for its ships which were carrying Block 2 missiles, namely Horizon-class and Aquitaine-class frigates. These are not to be new productions but the conversion of older Block 2 missiles to the Block 3 standard. A MM40 Block 3 last qualification firing took place on the Île du Levant test range on 25 April 2007 and series manufacturing began in October 2008. The first firing of the Block 3 from a warship took place on 18 March 2010, from the French Navy air defense frigate Chevalier Paul. In 2012, a new motor, designed and manufactured in Brazil by the Avibras company in collaboration with MBDA, was tested on an MM40 missile of the Brazilian Navy.

Beside the French, the Block 3 has been ordered by several other navies including that of Greece, the UAE, Chile, Peru, Qatar, Oman, Indonesia and Morocco.

The chief competitors to the Exocet are the US-made Harpoon, the Italian Otomat, the Swedish RBS-15 and the Chinese Yingji series.

Operational history:

The Falklands War:
In 1982, during the Falklands War, the Exocet became noted worldwide when Argentine Navy Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard warplanes carrying the AM39 Air Launched version of the Exocet caused irreparable damage which sank the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Sheffield on 4 May 1982. Two Exocets then struck the 15,000 ton merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor on 25 May. Two MM38 ship-to-ship Exocet missiles were removed from the old destroyer ARA Seguí, a retired US Navy Allen M. Sumner-class vessel and transferred to an improvised launcher for land use, a technically challenging task which also required reprogramming. One of these was fired at, and caused damage to, the destroyer HMS Glamorgan on 12 June.

The Exocet that struck the Sheffield impacted on the starboard side at deck level 2, travelling through the junior ratings scullery and breaching the Forward Auxiliary Machinery Room/Forward Engine Room bulkhead 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in) above the waterline, creating a hole in the hull roughly 1.2 by 3 metres (3.9 by 9.8 ft). It appears that the warhead did not explode. Accounts suggest that the initial impact of the missile disabled the ship's electrical distribution systems and breached the pressurised sea water fire main, severely hampering any firefighting response and eventually dooming the ship to be consumed by the fire. The loss of Sheffield was a deep shock to the British public and government.

Some of the crew of Sheffield were of the opinion that the missile exploded, others held the view that it had not. The official Royal Navy Board of Inquiry Report, however, stated that evidence indicates that the warhead did not detonate. During the 4 1/2 days that the ship remained afloat, five salvage inspections were made and a number of photographs were taken. Members of the crew were interviewed, and testimony was given by Exocet specialists (the Royal Navy had 15 surface combat ships armed with Exocets in the Falklands War). There was no evidence of an explosion, although burning propellant from the rocket motor had caused a number of fires, which could not be checked as a fire main had been put out of action.

The Atlantic Conveyor was a container ship that had been hastily converted to an aircraft transport and was carrying helicopters and supplies. The missiles had been fired at a frigate, but had been confused by the frigate's defences and instead targeted the Atlantic Conveyor nearby. The Exocets - it is not certain whether the warheads exploded or not - caused a fire in the fuel and ammunition aboard which burnt the ship out. Atlantic Conveyor sank while under tow three days later.

The Exocet that struck Glamorgan detonated, (a number of crew members witnessed this, as did the Argentines who fired it, the whole event being recorded by a film crew), on the port side of the hangar deck, punching a hole in the deck and galley below, causing fires. The missile body travelled into the hangar and caused a fully fuelled and armed Wessex helicopter to explode. Prompt action by the officers and men at the helm saved the ship. With less than a minute's warning, the incoming missile had been tracked on radar in the operations room and bridge; as the ship was travelling at speed, a turn was ordered to present her stern to the missile. The ship was heeled far over to starboard when the missile struck. It hit the coaming and was deflected upwards. The dent caused by the impact was clearly visible when Glamorgan was refitted in late 1982.

In the years after the Falklands War, it was revealed that the British government and the Secret Intelligence Service had been extremely concerned at the time by the perceived inadequacy of the Royal Navy's anti-missile defences against the Exocet and its potential to tip the naval war decisively in favour of the Argentine forces. A scenario was envisioned in which one or both of the force's two aircraft carriers (Invincible and Hermes) were destroyed or incapacitated by Exocet attacks, which would make recapturing the Falklands much more difficult.

Actions were taken to contain the Exocet threat. A major intelligence operation was also initiated to prevent the Argentine Navy from acquiring more of the weapons on the international market. The operation included British intelligence agents claiming to be arms dealers able to supply large numbers of Exocets to Argentina, who diverted Argentina from pursuing sources which could genuinely supply a few missiles. France denied deliveries of Exocet AM39s purchased by Peru to avoid the possibility of Peru giving them to Argentina, because they knew that payment would be made with a credit card from the Central Bank of Peru. British intelligence had detected the guarantee was a deposit of two hundred million dollars from the Andean Lima Bank, an owned subsidiary of the Banco Ambrosiano.

source: wikipedia (2017)

Type: air-launched, submarine-launched, ship-launched Anti-Ship Missile
Designer: Nord Aviation, France (1967-70) / Aérospatiale, France (1970-74)
Manufacturer: Aérospatiale (1979-99) / Aérospatiale-Matra (1999-2001) / MBDA (2001-present)

Weight: 670 kilograms (1480 lb)
Length: 4,7 meters (15 ft 5 in)
Diameter: 34,8 centimeters (1 ft 1.7 in)
Wingspan: 1,1 meters (3 ft 7 in)
Warhead: 165 kilograms (364 lb)
Engine: solid propellant engine (MM40 Block 3 = turbojet)
Range: 70-180 kilometers (38-97 NM)
Flight altitude: sea-skimming
Speed: Mach 0,92 (1134 km/h / 705 mph)
Guidance: Inertial guidance and terminal active radar homing

MM38 = surface-launched
AM39 = air-launched
SM39 = submarine-launched
MM40 = surface-launched


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