The Exocet (French pronunciation: [ɛɡzɔsɛ]; 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 saw its first wartime launch during the Falklands War.
An AM39 aircraft-launched Exocet
|Place of origin||France|
|Used by||See operators|
|Wars||Iran–Iraq War |
|Designer||1967–1970: Nord Aviation|
|Mass||780 kilograms (1,720 lb)|
|Length||6 metres (19 ft 8 in)|
|Diameter||34.8 centimetres (1 ft 1.7 in)|
|Warhead||165 kilograms (364 lb)|
|Engine||Solid propellant engine|
turbojet (MM40 Block 3 version)
|Wingspan||1.35 metres (4 ft 5 in)|
|70-180 kilometres (110 mi; 97 nmi)|
|Maximum speed||Mach 0.93|
1,148 kilometres per hour (713 mph; 319 m/s)
|Inertial guidance, active radar homing, and GPS guidance|
The missile's name was given by M. Guillot, then the technical director at Nord Aviation. It is the French word for flying fish, from the Latin exocoetus, a transliteration of the Greek name for the fish that sometimes flew into a boat: ἐξώκοιτος (exōkoitos), literally "lying down outside (ἒξω, κεῖμαι), sleeping outside".
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 one to two 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 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 3Edit
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 continuous airflow to the power plant during high-G manoeuvres.
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. An 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 defence 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.
In 1982, during the Falklands War, Argentine Navy Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard warplanes carrying the AM39 Air-launched version of the Exocet caused damage which sank the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Sheffield on 4 May 1982. Two more Exocets struck the 15,000-ton merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor on 25 May. Two MM38 ship-to-ship missiles were removed from the destroyer ARA Seguí, a former US Navy Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer, and transferred to an improvised launcher for land use. The missiles were launched on June 12 1982 and one hit the destroyer HMS Glamorgan.
- HMS Sheffield
Sheffield was a Type 42 guided missile destroyer commissioned in 1975. On 4 May 1982, Sheffield was at defence watches (second-degree readiness) the southernmost of three Type 42 destroyers when she was hit by one of two AM39 Air-launched Exocet missiles fired by Argentine Super Étendard strike fighters. The second missile splashed into the sea about half-mile off her port beam.
The missile that struck 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. 20 members of her complement were killed, 26 injured and the loss of Sheffield was a deep shock to the British public and government.
The official Royal Navy Board of Inquiry Report stated that evidence indicates that the warhead did not detonate. During the 4½ 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 caused fires which could not be checked as firefighting equipment had been put out of action.
- SS Atlantic Conveyor
Atlantic Conveyor was a 14,950 ton roll-on, roll-off container ship launched in 1969 that had been hastily converted to an aircraft transport and was carrying helicopters and supplies, including cluster bombs.  Two Exocet missiles had been fired at a frigate, but had been confused by its defences and re-targeted the Atlantic Conveyor. Both missiles struck the container ship on her port quarter and warheads exploded either after penetrating the ship's hull, or on impact. Witness Prince Andrew reported that debris caused "splashes in the water about a quarter of a mile away". Twelve men were killed and the survivors were taken to HMS Hermes.
- HMS Invincible
On May 30, two Super Étendards, one carrying Argentinas last remaining Exocet, escorted by four A-4C Skyhawks each with two 500lb bombs, took off to attack the carrier HMS Invincible. The missile was shot down by a Sea Dart fired by HMS Exeter and no damage was caused to any British vessels according to the Royal Navy. According to the Argentine Navy and the Air force, the carrier were damaged.
- HMS Glamorgan
HMS Glamorgan was a County-class destroyer of the Royal Navy launched in 1964. On 12 June 1982 an MM38 Exocet missile was fired from an improvised shore-based launcher as she was steaming at about 20 knots (37 km/h) 18 nautical miles (33 km) offshore. The first attempt to fire a missile did not result in a launch, the second attempt, a missile was launched but did not acquire the target. The third attempt resulted in a missile tracking Glamorgan. The incoming Exocet missile was also spotted on Glamorgan and a turn was ordered to present the stern to the missile.
The turn prevented the missile from striking the ship's side and penetrating the hull; instead, it hit the deck coaming at an angle, near the port Seacat launcher, skidded along the deck and exploded, making a 10 by 15 feet (3.0 m × 4.6 m) hole in the hangar deck and a 5 by 4 feet (1.5 m × 1.2 m) hole in the galley below. The blast travelled forwards and down, and the missile body, still travelling forwards, penetrated the hangar door, causing the ship's fuelled and armed Wessex helicopter (HAS.3 XM837) to explode and start a severe fire in the hangar. Fourteen crew members were killed and more wounded.
- Post Falklands war
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 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 credit 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.
During the Iran–Iraq War, on 17 May 1987, an Iraqi aircraft initially identified as a Dassault Mirage F1 aircraft but was in fact a modified Falcon 50 business jet,  fired two Exocet missiles at the American frigate USS Stark.
Both missiles struck the port side of the ship near the bridge. No weapons were fired in defence, the Phalanx CIWS remained in standby mode and the Mark 36 SRBOC countermeasures were not armed. 37 United States Navy personnel were killed and 21 wounded.
- Argentine Navy – MM38, MM40 and AM39
- Royal Brunei Navy – MM38, MM40
- Brazilian Navy – MM38, MM40 Block 2 and AM39, SM-39
- Cameroon Navy – MM38, MM40 (on P-48S (Bakassi) craft)
- Cyprus Navy – MM40
- Ecuador: MM40
- Egypt: AM39, MM38 & MM40
- French Navy – MM38, MM40, AM39, SM39
- German Navy – To be replaced with the RBS 15.
- Iranian Air Force – Acquired AM39 from Iraqi Mirage F1s; these aircraft sought sanctuary during the second Persian Gulf War.
- South Africa: South African Navy – MM40 Block 2 on Valour-class frigates. The navy plans to upgrade to the Block 3 missile.
- Royal Thai Navy – MM38
- MM-40 Exocet for the La Combattante III-class fast attack craft
- United Arab Emirates
- Belgian Navy operated Exocet on its Wielingen-class frigates. These warships were all sold in 2008 to Bulgaria.
- Georgian Navy
- Iraqi Air Force – operated Exocet on its Mirage F1, Super Étendard and Super Frelon during the Iran–Iraq War, all retired.
- United Kingdom
- Royal Navy operated Exocet until the last MM38 armed surface vessel was decommissioned in 2002.
- Venezuelan Air Force – operated Exocet on its Dassault Mirage 50)
- South Korea
- Republic of Korea Navy
- Guillot, Jean; Estival, Bernard (1988). L'extraordinaire aventure de l'Exocet (in French). Brest: Les éditions de la Cité. ISBN 2-85186-039-9.
The missile's name was given by M. Guillot, then technical director at Nord Aviation, after the French name for flying fish.
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A remarkable worldwide operation then ensured to prevent further Exocets being bought by Argentina. I authorised our agents to pose as bona fide purchasers of equipment on the international market, ensuring that we outbid the Argentineans. Other agents identified Exocet missiles in various markets and covertly rendered them inoperable, based on information from the French.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Exocet.|
- Manufacturer's Website (in English and French)
- Gallery of photographs of various variants of the Exocet missile (in French)
- Argentine Account of the role of the Exocet in the Falklands War (in English)
- Photos of Exocet damage to USS Stark (in English)
- Testing of Exocet MM-40 Block 3 (in English)
- CSIS Missile Threat | Exocet (in English)