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AM39 under a Dassault Rafale
TypeAnti-ship missile
Place of originFrance
Service history
In service1975[1]–present
Used bySee operators
WarsIran–Iraq War
Falklands War
Production history
Designer1967–1970: Nord Aviation
1970–1974: Aérospatiale
Manufacturer1979–1999: Aérospatiale
1999–2001: Aérospatiale-Matra
2001–present: MBDA France
Mass780 kg (1,720 lb)
Length6 m (19 ft 8 in)
Diameter34.8 cm (1 ft 1.7 in)
Wingspan1.35 m (4 ft 5 in)
Warhead165 kg (364 lb)

EngineSolid propellant engine
Turbojet (MM40 Block 3 version)
  • MM38 surface-launched: around 40 km (25 mi; 22 nmi)
  • AM39 air-launched: maximum range around 70 km (43 mi; 38 nmi)[2][3]
  • SM39 submarine-launched: 50 km (31 mi; 27 nmi)[4]
  • MM40 Block 3 surface-launched, Exocet Mobile Coastal: "200 km (120 mi; 110 nmi) class"[5][6]
Flight altitudeSea-skimming
Maximum speed Mach 0.93
1,148 km/h (713 mph; 620 kn)
Inertial guidance, active radar homing, and GPS guidance
  • MM38 surface-launched
  • AM39 air-launched
  • SM39 submarine-launched
  • MM40 surface-launched

The Exocet (French pronunciation: [ɛɡzɔsɛ]) is a French-built anti-ship missile whose various versions can be launched from surface vessels, submarines, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.


Exocet missile launch

The missile's name was given by M. Guillot, then the technical director at Nord Aviation.[7] 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".[8]


Exocet impact

The Exocet is built by MBDA, a European missile company. Development began in 1967 by Nord as a ship-launched weapon named the MM38. A few years later, Aerospatiale and Nord merged. The basic body design was based on the Nord AS-30 air-to-ground tactical missile. The sea-launched MM38 entered service in 1975,[1] whilst the air-launched AM39 Exocet began development in 1974 and entered service with the French Navy five years later in 1979.[9]

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.[10] It is guided inertially in mid-flight and turns on active radar homing 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 while inbound, staying just 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 metres (3.7 mi) from impact. This leaves little time for reaction and stimulated the design of close-in weapon systems (CIWS).[citation needed]

Its solid propellant rocket motor 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 engine 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.[4]

Replacement Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon is under development.


MM38 onboard German Navy Type 143A Gepard-class fast attack craft Nerz

The Exocet has been manufactured in versions including:

  • MM38 (surface-launched) – deployed on warships. Range: 42 km. No longer produced. A coast defence version known as "Excalibur" was developed in the United Kingdom and deployed in Gibraltar from 1985 to 1997.[11]
  • AM38 (helicopter-launched – tested only)[12]
  • 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.[3]
  • SM39 (submarine-launched) – B2 Mod 2: deployed on submarines. The missile is housed inside a watertight launched capsule (véhicule Sous marin, VSM), which is fired from the submarine's torpedo 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.[4]
  • 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 200 km for the Block 3.[5][6]

MM40 Block 3


In February 2004, the Direction 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 Microturbo TRI-40 turbojet engine, and includes four air intakes to provide continuous airflow to the power plant during high-G manoeuvres.[citation needed]

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.[13]

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. From 2021, the Block 3 upgrade was also being extended to three of the La Fayette-class frigates selected for life extension refits.[14] 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.[citation needed]

Besides the French, the Block 3 has been ordered by several other navies including that of Greece, the UAE, Chile,[15] Peru,[16] Qatar, Oman, Indonesia and Morocco.[17]

The chief competitors to the Exocet are the US-made Harpoon, the Italian Otomat, Israel Gabriel-V, the Swedish RBS 15 and the Chinese Yingji series.[citation needed]

MM40 Block 3c


The “Block 3c” variant integrates a digital Radio Frequency (RF) seeker to the missile that has been developed by Thales. The Block 3c variant is described as more resistant to jamming systems and may be able to recognize surface vessels, based on the use of advanced wave forms. Block 3 missiles introduced a longer 200 kilometer range but retained the same RF seeker as Block 2. This technology remained non-digital.[18]

The Block 3c variant is to begin delivery to the French Navy in December 2022 with 55 new missiles ordered in addition to 45 “MM40 Block 3c kits” to update existing Block 3 missiles to the Block 3c configuration.[18] In September 2023, tests of the missile conducted by the frigate Alsace confirmed the variant as ready for operational service.[19][20]

Operational history


Falklands War

Sue 204 (Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard) of Argentina's 2nd Navy Squadron, used in the Atlantic Conveyor attack

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.[21] The missiles were launched on 12 June 1982 and one hit the destroyer HMS Glamorgan.

HMS Sheffield


Sheffield was a Type 42 guided missile destroyer. 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.[22]

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 m (4 by 10 ft). It appears that the warhead did not explode.[23] Twenty members of her crew were killed and 26 injured. The ship foundered while under tow on 10 May. 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 four and a half 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 that had been hastily converted to carry aircraft on her deck. She was carrying helicopters and supplies, including cluster bombs.[24] 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,[25] or on impact.[26] Witness Prince Andrew reported that debris caused "splashes in the water about a quarter of a mile away".[27] Twelve men were killed and the survivors were taken to HMS Hermes. Atlantic Conveyor sank while under tow three days later.

HMS Invincible


On 30 May, two Super Étendards, one carrying Argentina's last remaining air-launched Exocet, escorted by four Douglas A-4C Skyhawks, each with two 500 lb bombs, took off to attack the carrier HMS Invincible.[28] Argentine intelligence had sought to determine the position of Invincible from analysis of aircraft flight routes from the task force to the islands.[28] However, the British had a standing order that all aircraft conduct a low level transit when leaving or returning to the ship to disguise her position.[29] This tactic compromised the Argentine attack, which focused on a group of escorts 40 miles south of the main body of ships.[30] Two of the attacking Skyhawks were shot down: one by a Sea Dart missile fired by HMS Exeter,[30][28] and while the fate of the Exocet has never been established beyond doubt, the crew of HMS Avenger claimed that their 4.5-inch gun had shot it down.[31] No damage was caused to any British vessels.[28]

HMS Glamorgan


HMS Glamorgan was a County-class destroyer 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; on 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[32] 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 missile launcher, skidded along the deck and exploded, making a 10 ft × 15 ft (3 m × 5 m) hole in the hangar deck and a 5 ft × 4 ft (1.5 m × 1.2 m) hole in the galley below.[32] The blast travelled forwards and down, and the missile body, still travelling forwards, penetrated the hangar door, causing the ship's fuelled and armed Westland Wessex HAS.3 helicopter (XM837) to explode and start a severe fire in the hangar.[citation needed] Fourteen crew members were killed.[33][34]

Post–Falklands war


In the years after the Falklands War, it was revealed that the British government and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) had been extremely concerned at the time by the perceived inadequacy of the Royal Navy's anti-missile defences against the Exocet and the missile's 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.[citation needed]

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.[35] 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 that Peru might supply them to Argentina because they[clarification needed] 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 Italian Banco Ambrosiano.[36][37]

Iran–Iraq War

Stark listing after being hit

Exocet missiles were used by Iraq mainly as part of the Tanker War, the Aérospatiale SA 321 Super Frelon, Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard and Dassault Mirage F1 were aircraft used by Iraq to launch the missiles.[38][39]

During the Iran–Iraq War, on 17 May 1987, an Iraqi aircraft identified as a Mirage F1[40] (but was in fact a modified Dassault Falcon 50) 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. Thirty-seven United States Navy personnel were killed and twenty-one were wounded.[41] The ship did not sink, and was eventually repaired.[42]


External images
Aerospatiale EXOCET
image icon AM 39 Exocet launched from French Navy Super Etendard
image icon Alpha Jet Lancier multi-role with Exocet AM 39
image icon AM 39 launched from Super Puma
image icon Exocet MM 40 fired from French vessel
image icon Test firing of SM 39 subsurface version of Exocet high resolution
image icon Aerospatiale Media Relations Photo Sent Out Shortly After Falkland's War
image icon Super Etendard taking off with test AM39 under wing. Note, electronic pod under fuselage and drop tank under other wing pylon.
image icon First test launch of Exocet MM40 Block 3

Current operators


Former operators


See also



  1. ^ a b "Exocet". Missile Threat. Center for Strategic and International Studies. 2 August 2021.
  2. ^ maximum range depends on the altitude and speed of the aircraft
  3. ^ a b "Exocet AM39". MBDA Systems.
  4. ^ a b c "Exocet SM39". MBDA Systems.
  5. ^ a b "Exocet MM40 Block 3". MBDA Systems.
  6. ^ a b "Exocet Mobile Coastal | Maritime Superiority". MBDA Systems.
  7. ^ Guillot, Jean; Estival, Bernard (1988). L'extraordinaire aventure de l'Exocet (in French). Brest: Les éditions de la Cité. ISBN 2-85186-039-9.
  8. ^ Harper, Douglas. "Exocet". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  9. ^ "Exocet AM.39 / MM.40". Federation of American Scientists. 10 August 1999. Archived from the original on 15 January 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  10. ^ Friedman, Norman (1994). The Naval Guide to World Weapons Systems (Updated ed.). Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-55750-259-9. In a recent study by the Russians on the effects of missile boat anti-ship missiles it took three hits to destroy a light cruiser and one to two hits for a destroyer or frigate. Russian missile boat anti-ship missiles have far larger warheads than the Exocet.
  11. ^ Friedman, Norman (1997). The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems, 1997–1998. Naval Institute Press. p. 227. ISBN 978-1-55750-268-1.
  12. ^ Based on the ship launched MM38. Only five tested in 1973 from a Super-Felon helicopter, further development then abandoned for the lighter and smaller AM39. – Pretty, Ronald T., ed. (1975). Jane's Weapon Systems 1976 (7th ed.). London, UK: MacDonald and Jane's. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-35400-527-2.
  13. ^ Bolkcom, Christopher; Pike, John (1 April 1993). "Cruise Missiles: The Other Air Breathing Threat". Attack Aircraft Proliferation: Issues For Concern. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2009. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  14. ^ "Naval Group starts renovation and upgrade of French Navy Courbet La Fayette-class frigate". Navy Recognition. October 2020. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  15. ^ Scott, Richard (28 September 2016). "Chile begins MM40 Block 3 Exocet retrofits". IHS Jane's 360. Archived from the original on 16 January 2017. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  16. ^ "Perú aprueba 41 millones de dólares para Defensa y se hará finalmente con misiles MM-40 Exocet". Foro Base Naval (in Spanish). 20 December 2010. Archived from the original on 9 December 2018. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  17. ^ "Premier tir de missile Exocet MM40 Block3 par la marine française". Mer et Marine (in French). 19 March 2010. Archived from the original on 22 March 2010. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  18. ^ a b Vavasseur, Xavier (17 October 2022). "First Exocet MM40 Block 3c Missiles set for December Delivery".
  19. ^ Groizeleau, Vincent (29 September 2023). "MBDA : le missile antinavire Exocet MM40 Block3c bon pour le service". Mer et Marine.
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  21. ^ Scheina, Robert L. (2003). Latin America's Wars Volume II: The Age of the Professional Soldier, 1900–2001. Potomac Books Inc. p. 316. ISBN 978-1-57488-452-4.
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  23. ^ Loss of HMS Sheffield – Board of Inquiry (PDF) (Report). Northwood: Commander-in-Chief Fleet. 28 May 1982. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2012. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  24. ^ "The Atlantic Conveyor". www.thinkdefence.co.uk. Think Defence. 20 March 2016.
  25. ^ Chant, Christopher (2001). Air War in the Falklands 1982. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-84176-293-7.
  26. ^ "Board of Enquiry (Report) Loss of SS Atlantic Conveyor" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 October 2012. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  27. ^ "Prince Andrew talks of Falklands horror". Glasgow Herald. 14 November 1983. p. 2.
  28. ^ a b c d Freedman, Sir Lawrence (2005). Volume 2: War and diplomacy. Routledge. p. 545. ISBN 978-0-7146-5207-8 – via Google Books. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  29. ^ Jerry Pook (2008). RAF Harrier Ground Attack: Falklands. Pen and Sword. p. 132. ISBN 978-1-84884-556-5 – via Google Books.
  30. ^ a b David Morgan (2007). Hostile Skies. Phoenix. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-7538-2199-2 – via Google Books.
  31. ^ Southby-Tailyour, Ewen (2014). Exocet Falklands: The Untold Story of Special Forces Operations. Pen and Sword. p. 238. ISBN 978-1-4738-3513-9 – via Google Books.
  32. ^ a b Inskip, Ian (2002). Ordeal by Exocet: HMS Glamorgan and the Falklands War, 1982. Chatham. pp. 160–185. ISBN 1-86176-197-X.
  33. ^ Inskip, Ian (2002). Ordeal by Exocet: HMS Glamorgan and the Falklands War. Chatham. ISBN 186176197X.
  34. ^ "Royal Navy casualties, killed and died, 1980–89". Naval History Homepage. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  35. ^ Briley, Harold (May 2002). "John Nott's Story". Falkland Islands Newsletter (81). Archived from the original on 22 November 2010.
  36. ^ Freedman, Lawrence (2005). The Official History of the Falklands Campaign: War and Diplomacy. Routledge. p. 380. ISBN 978-0-7146-5207-8.
  37. ^ "A las Malvinas en subte". Página/12 (in Spanish). 25 March 2012. Archived from the original on 15 November 2018. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  38. ^ "Iraq and the war with iran" (PDF).
  39. ^ Silverstone, Paul H. (1984), "Naval Intelligence", Warship International, 21 (4), International Naval Research Organization: 396, JSTOR 44891106
  40. ^ "Formal Investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Attack of the USS Stark in 1987" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 March 2012.
  41. ^ "dead and wounded". Archived from the original on 2 March 2022. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  42. ^ "USS Stark Sails To Mississippi For Repairs". AP News. 4 November 1987. Retrieved 9 June 2022.
  43. ^ a b "Trade Registers". SIPRI. Archived from the original on 13 May 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  44. ^ "Malaysian Navy's 1st 'Scorpene' sub test fires Exocet missile". Brahmand.com. 4 August 2010. Archived from the original on 16 July 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  45. ^ "Pakistan Navy Sea King test-fires Exocet". KeyMilitary.
  46. ^ Chenel, Liébert & Moreau 2014, pp. 150, 157
  47. ^ Engelbrecht, Leon (9 October 2008). "Fact file: Valour-class frigates". DefenceWeb. Archived from the original on 20 March 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  48. ^ The Military Balance. International Institute for Strategic Studies. 2013. p. 531. ISBN 978-1-85743-680-8.
  49. ^ "Refakat Ve Karakol Fi̇losu Komutanliği". Turkish Naval Forces (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 23 March 2010. Retrieved 29 November 2009.
  50. ^ "World Navies Today: Turkey". Hazegray.org. 25 March 2002. Archived from the original on 19 December 2009. Retrieved 29 November 2009.
  51. ^ Cooper & Sipos 2019, pp. 46, 48, 58
  52. ^ Cooper & Sipos 2019, p. 41
  53. ^ Chenel, Liébert & Moreau 2014, p. 280
  • Chenel, Bernard; Liébert, Michel; Moreau, Eric (2014). Mirage III/5/50 en service à l'étranger. Le Vigen, France: Editions LELA Presse. ISBN 978-2-914017-76-3.
  • Cooper, Tom; Sipos, Milos (2019). Iraqi Mirages. The Dassault Mirage Family in Service with the Iraqi Air Force, 1981–1988. Helion & Company Publishing. ISBN 978-1-912-390311.