Anti ship missile

The regional arms race has brought potent warfare capabilities to many countries that are now eager to either indigenously manufacture or import hi tech and advance military weapons for securing their national interest.

As it is predicted that the future war will be mainly in space or water, navies around the world are now trying to strengthen their offensive and defensive warfare capabilities to counter any uninvited or surprise attack.

The US has already shown its concern with the China and Iran developing anti ship missile systems which might affect the regional military balance. The US also fears that such capability with adversaries will impact its aim of strengthening the presence in East Asia and restrict the entry of United States into the Pacific.

Countering the ASBM is of the greatest importance to US grand strategy for defending American interests in East Asia. The PLA ASBM concept is designed to enable rapid neutralization of forward deployed US naval forces in the region as well as maritime logistical isolation of America’s regional allies or partner countries.

Extensive maritime surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities are needed to provide ASBM launcher crews with long-range targeting cues. It is believed that these capabilities will eventually include ocean surveillance satellites, land-based Over the Horizon-Backscatter (OTHB) radar, long-range manned and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, surface combatants, submarines.

The most alarming weapon China is developing to deny the US Navy access to the East and South China seas is the anti ship ballistic missile-the first such missile able to change course to hit a moving aircraft carrier. Mounted on a mobile launch vehicle, an ASBM would rise in two stages, reach space and then use fins to maneuver at hypersonic speeds on its way back down. The warhead then glides along a level path to permit synthetic aperture radar, which processes multiple radar pulses to form a single picture to target the carrier. Finally, the warhead’s infrared seeker locates a carrier’s signature and closes in for the kill.

A key element of the PLA’s investment in anti access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities is the development and deployment of large numbers of highly accurate anti ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) on a range of ground, air, and naval platforms. China’s growing arsenal of cruise missiles and the delivery platforms and C4ISR systems necessary to employ them pose new defense and nonproliferation challenges for the United States and its regional partners

Facing this potential threat against its aircraft carrier, the United States Navy is working very hard to develop ship-borne anti-ballistic missile technology.

It is now assumed that as anti-ship missile and torpedo technologies improve, a new seaborne arms race could be on the horizon.

Anti ship missiles have been the driving force behind many aspects of modern naval warfare and ship design, especially in navies that operate aircraft carriers.

The anti-ship missile has helped change the nature of naval warfare. Fighters and naval surface combatants, even small fast attack craft, can salvo anti-ship missiles at warships with a good chance of scoring a direct hit. These missiles give relatively small platforms the lethal punch needed to sink almost any foe and the ability to overwhelm local defenses that otherwise would have stopped a more conventional surface attack.

No longer does a naval force need to launch massive airborne attacks to disable or destroy an opponent. Even small helicopters armed with anti-ship missiles can inflict considerable damage on a major surface combatant. The anti-ship missiles have also increased the range of engagements and decreased the warning time available to a defender.

Proven competence

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 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.

Many anti-ship missiles can be launched from a variety of weapons systems including surface warships, submarines, bombers, fighter planes, patrol planes, helicopters, shore batteries, land vehicles, and conceivably, even by infantrymen firing shoulder-launched missiles.

Anti-ship missiles were among the first instances of short-range guided missiles during World War II.  The first anti-ship missiles, which were developed and built by Nazi Germany, used radio command guidance and saw some success in the Mediterranean Theater in 1943 - 44, sinking or heavily damaging at least 31 ships.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a spiralling contest took place between new technologies of the homing heads of anti-ship missiles and the countermeasures to cope with every new advance in homing head technology while homing heads showed ever improving circuitry that would defeat the latest countermeasures.

Conflicts such as the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1987, the Falklands War of 1982, the Battle of Sidra in 1986, Operation Praying Mantis in 1988, and the Gulf War of 1991 all were littoral scenarios matching various formidable offensive capabilities of anti-ship weapons with the defenses of the naval vessel. Reduced battle space, reduced reaction time, land launched anti-ship weapons as well as air and ship launched anti-ship weapons, and the lack of layered defenses are the common denominator in all the above conflicts.

Anti ship 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 eitheravoid being detected, destroy the missile launch platform before it fires its missiles, or decoy and/or destroy all of the incoming missiles.

Emerging market

Specialized anti-shipping missiles have been built in all shapes and sizes, reflecting diverse end use and launch platforms. More often, a specific missile type will be available for a range of launch systems, including coastal battery vehicles, surface warships, submarines, maritime patrol aircraft and fighter aircraft.

Ship, submarine and air launched weapons are used primarily for sea control operations and sea lane interdiction, with larger higher performance weapons intended for use against surface combatants, cargo transports, amphibious vessels and tankers. Smaller, lower performance weapons tend to be more often intended for use against landing craft, small surface combatants, and to interdict littoral traffic such as barges and small transports. Coastal defence weapons, launched off trucks and trailers, are almost exclusively intended to deter amphibious forces, with larger weapons planned for use against amphibious ships, and smaller weapons against landing craft.

Propulsion techniques vary across liquid and solid rocket engines, turbojet and turbofan engines plus some ramjet designs in supersonic weapons. Guidance systems are dominated by active radar seekers operating in the upper centimetric bands, although a number of niche weapons employ infrared scanning or imaging seekers.

Flight trajectories for most modern weapons involve a sea skimming terminal phase to hide the weapon in sea surface clutter from discovery by defending radar systems. Most weapons are subsonic, but increasingly supersonic weapons of Russian origin are proliferating in Asia.

The dominant players in the market are the Russians and the US, with smaller nations often developing indigenous weapons to supplement imports. China is now emerging as a potential major player in the market.

There’s no doubt that China’s Dong Feng 21D (DF-21D) anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) is a formidable anti-access weapon. DF-21D anti-ballistic missile is capable of sinking a US aircraft carrier and killing the 6,000 American personnel on board the ship. Like any other medium-range ballistic missile, the DF-21D is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The range of the modified Dong Feng 21 missile is significant in that it covers the areas that are likely hot zones for future confrontations between US and Chinese surface forces.

The size of the missile enables it to carry a warhead big enough to inflict significant damage on a large vessel, providing the Chinese the capability of destroying a US super carrier in one strike.

Because the missile employs a complex guidance system, low radar signature and a maneuverability that makes its flight path unpredictable, the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased. It is estimated that the missile can travel at mach 10 and reach its maximum range of 2000km in less than 12 minutes. Supporting the missile is a network of satellites, radar and unmanned aerial vehicles that can locate US ships and then guide the weapon, enabling it to hit moving targets.

Further China has YJ-12 anti ship cruise missile in its inventory. This missile provides an increased threat to naval assets, due to its long range and supersonic speed.

In fact, the YJ-12 is the most dangerous anti-ship missile China has produced thus far, posing an even greater risk to the US Navy’s surface forces in the Western Pacific than the much-discussed DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile. The YJ-12 has a range of 400 kilometers which makes it one of the world’s longest-range anti-ship cruise missile. The range of the US Navy’s Harpoon missile is only 124 kilometers. The missile can be even more dangerous when they are deployed in Su-30 and J-11 fighters from the PLA Navy’s two Flanker regiments. With a combat radius of 1,500 kilometers, the Chinese fighters can carry between two and four missiles into the battlefield.

The arrival of the YJ-12 is one more indication of how the US Navy is falling further behind in the missile competition against China, exposing flaws in operating concepts that US and allied commanders and policymakers have relied on for years.

Harpoon missile

The Harpoon is an anti ship missile of US origin. It was developed in the early 70s as armament for aircraft, but by adding a booster section it eventually became more prominent as a surface to surface missile for ships and submarines. The Harpoon can be considered the main anti ship missile of the Western nations including many NATO frigates and destroyers.

Harpoon Block II provides accurate long-range guidance for land and ship targets by incorporating the low-cost inertial measuring unit from the Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, program; and the software, mission computer, integrated Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System and the GPS antenna and receiver from the Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response, or SLAM-ER.

Harpoon Block II is capable of executing both land-strike and anti-ship missions. To strike targets on land and ships in port, the missile uses GPS-aided inertial navigation to hit a designated target aimpoint. The 500-pound blast warhead delivers lethal firepower against a wide variety of land-based targets, including coastal defense sites, surface-to-air missile sites, exposed aircraft, port/industrial facilities and ships in port. For conventional anti-ship missions, such as open ocean or near-land, the GPS/INS improves midcourse guidance to the target area. The accurate navigation solution allows users to discriminate target ships from islands or other nearby land masses or ships. These Block II improvements maintain Harpoon’s high hit probability even against ships very close to land.

The multi-mission Block II is deployable from all current Harpoon missile system platforms with either existing command and launch equipment or the new Advanced Harpoon Weapon Control System, or AHWCS.

The Harpoon Block II is an upgrade program to improve the baseline capabilities to attack targets in congested littoral environments. The major system components of the Harpoon Block II missile include a booster, launch support structure and canisters, as well as command and launch system. The 500-pound penetration, high-explosive blast warhead provides the missile with enough firepower to destroy coastal defence and surface-to-air missile sites, aircraft, port/industrial installations and docked ships.


The Tomahawk is a long-range, all-weather, subsonic cruise missile in service with the surface ships and submarines of the US and Royal Navy. The Tomahawk can strike high value or heavily defended land targets. The Block II TLAM-A missile achieved its Initial Operating Capability in 1984. The missile was first deployed in combat during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Tomahawk is a highly survivable weapon. Radar detection is difficult because of the missile’s small cross-section, low altitude flight. Similarly, infrared detection is difficult because the turbofan engine emits little heat. Systems include Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver; an upgrade of the optical Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC) system; Time of Arrival (TOA) control, and improved 402 turbo engines.

The Tomahawk is designed to operate at very low altitudes, while maintaining high subsonic speeds. Its modular design allows the integration of numerous types of warheads, guidance and control systems. The missile carries a nuclear or conventional payload. It can be armed with a nuclear warhead or unitary warhead or a conventional sub-munitions dispenser with combined effect bomblets.

The Tomahawk Block IV uses GPS navigation and a satellite data-link to continue through a pre-set course. The missile can be reprogrammed in-flight to a new target. The two-way satellite communications are utilised to perform post-launch mission changes throughout the flight. The on-board camera provides imagery of the target to the commanders.

The missile can be launched from over 140 US Navy ships and submarines as well as Astute and Trafalgar class submarines of the Royal Navy. US Navy launch platforms were modified to accommodate upgraded Tomahawk missile variants. Four Ohio class nuclear ballistic missile submarines were converted into cruise missile submarines for firing Tomahawk missiles. The Virginia class submarines and the Royal Navy Astute class submarines were also fitted with new vertical launch modules for Tomahawk missile.

Gabriel missile

Gabriel is a subsonic, sea-skimming, anti-ship missile developed by IAI for the Armed Forces of Israel. Flying at low altitude sea-skimming missiles try to evade radar detection to achieve a direct hit on target without being intercepted by ship’s air defenses. Its guidance system relies on I-band radar homing head. Gabriel can be powered by either solid propellant rocket motor or liquid fuel turbojet. The liquid fuel variant has a maximum range of 60 km.

The Gabriel is a late Cold War era subsonic anti-ship missile of Israeli origin. It was developed to counter ships equipped with the Soviet P-15 Termit (SS-N-2 Styx) anti-ship missile. The Gabriel was the world’s first operational sea skimming missile. It was used successfully during the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

The Gabriel missile uses a conventional layout with the guidance section and warhead in the nose and the solid fuel rocket engine at the rear. The Gabriel has four cruciform wings in the middle and four smaller wings near the nozzle. The missile is launched from large containers since the wings do not fold. Three containers are mounted on a turntable launcher. The Gabriel is fitted with a high explosive warhead that is able to sink small and medium size vessels.

The Grabiel-5 Advanced Naval Attack Missile is the latest member of Gabriel anti-ship missile family developed by IAI’s MBT Missiles Division. Grabriel-5 is fitted with an advanced active radar seeker and a sophisticated flight control system. Combining both elements enabled Gabriel-5 to engage targets in intense clutter environments, near the shore, protected by close-in weapon systems and countermeasure defenses such as chaff, decoys and electronic countermeasures (ECM). In addition, the Gabriel-5 is provided with the ability to cope with rapidly evolving tactical situations.

All models of the Gabriel were adopted by the Israeli navy. Gabriel Mk 2 and III have also been widely exported to nations in South America, Africa and Asia. In many nations the Gabriel anti-ship missile remains in active use.

Russian missile

The Yakhont is a supersonic anti-ship missile capable of attacking maritime targets at great distances from shore (up to 180 miles). Unlike other coastal defense systems, like the Chinese C-802 or C-701, the SS-N-26 ‘Yakhont’ can engage targets well beyond the horizon, by navigating the long mid-course ‘leg’ using inertial guidance. The high speed means the missile would acquire lower drift, relative to a subsonic missile.

At a certain distance from the target the missile will activate its radar to acquire the target, it will then perform the terminal attack maneuver, according to the preplanned attack profile selected before launch-a direct horizontal attack or high angle dive, both are performed at extremely high speed, challenging the targets’ missile defenses and electronic countermeasures.

Multiple attacks of several missiles, attacking at different profiles, would challenge the target even more, as will a coordinated attack by high-speed and cruise type missiles.

The Yakhont-type antiship missile is designed to combat naval surface-ship groupings and single ships under heavy fire and electronic counteraction.

The missile is noted for-over-the-horizon range; true “fire-and-forget” performance; flexible flight path (“low”, “high - low”);  supersonic speed at all flight phases;  and multi-platform capability permitting their use by surface ships of all major classes, submarines and ground-based launchers.  

The new Novator 3M-54 Club (SS-N-27 Sizzler) family of ship (Club N), submarine (Club S) and air launched weapons has been a major export success for Russian industry. Unlike warship launched Moskit and Yakont variants, the Club was designed from the outset for launch from a 533 mm torpedo tube or a vertical launch tube. There are three distinct variants of basic missile. The baseline 3M-54E1 and 3M-14E are equivalents to the US Navy’s defunct anti-ship TASM and early land attack TLAM Tomahawk missiles. These weapons have a range of 160 nautical miles and are both subsonic. The 3M-54E1 uses an ARGS-54 active radar seeker and Glonass satellite and inertial guidance, the land attack variant 3M-14E Glonass satellite and inertial guidance alone.

The more advanced 3M-54E combines the subsonic cruise airframe of the 3M- 54E1/3M-14E with a Mach 2.9 rocket propelled guided payload. The 3M-54E approaches from under the radar horizon using the radar seeker to detect its target. Once locked on, it discards the cruise airframe, fires its rocket motor, and accelerates to Mach 2.9 at a sea skimming altitude of 15 feet.

All weapons in this family share a common launch system and thus any ship, submarine or aircraft equipped for these weapons can carry an arbitrary mix. India and China have deployed this missile family on Kilo class SSKs, and may also install it on surface combatants. A mockup of an air launched variant for the Su-30MK/Su-34 was displayed at the MAKS-2007 trade show in Moscow.


The Exocet is a family of French anti-ship missiles that can be launched from several platforms like aircrafts, helicopters, high or low tonnage warships and submarines. All missiles have a common layout being all-weather, sea-skimming, fire-and- forget, radar guided and propelled by a dual thrust solid rocket motor at transonic speed. It is intended to attack large as well as small warships at medium range, though later development allow firing at target well over the horizon.

The Exocet missile became famous during the Falkland war in which both the UK and Argentina used the Exocet. It was most widely used during the Iran-Iraq war. The Exocet is a subsonic sea skimming anit ship missile that travels at Mach 0.9. The Exocet is one of the main anti ship missiles in the world and is fitted to many Cold War era vessels. Compared with other anti ship missiles, Exocet lacks range and destructive power but it is cost effective and easily integrated on many types of vessels.

Nearly thirty nations are using the weapon. In Asia Pacific, Exocets are deployed by Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan. Current Exocets are an evolution of a 1970s technology design, and are available with solid propellant rocket propulsion in the ship/battery launched MM38, the air launched AM39, deployed on fixed and rotary wing aircraft, the encapsulated SM39 deployed on submarines. The latest MM40 Block III departs from tradition, introducing a turbojet engine to extend range to around 100 NMI.

India has also successfully test-fired the 290km-range BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missile from the country’s yet-to-be commissioned, indigenous stealth destroyer, INS Kolkata. The missile has been developed by the Indo-Russian joint venture BrahMos Aerospace, and met all required parameters during the trial.

Being developed in both aerial and land versions for deployment by the Indian Air Force and Indian Army, the new BrahMos missile is also expected to be integrated in all future destroyers and frigates, with another version being built for submarines.

The Indian Armed Forces have been receiving BrahMos missiles since 2005. They have been inducted into the army and the airforce, while they are also being prepared for tests aboard Su-30MKI fighter bombers.