For other uses, see Exocet (disambiguation).

An AM39 aircraft-launched Exocet
Type Anti-ship missile
Place of origin France
Service history
In service 1973
Used by See operators
Production history
Designer 1967–1970: Nord Aviation
1970–1974: Aérospatiale
Designed 1967
Manufacturer 1979–1999: Aérospatiale
1999–2001: Aérospatiale-Matra
2001–present: MBDA
Produced 1974
Weight 670 kilograms (1,480 lb)
Length 4.7 metres (15 ft 5 in)
Diameter 34.8 centimetres (1 ft 1.7 in)
Warhead 165 kilograms (364 lb)


solid propellant engine

turbojet (MM40 Block 3 version)
Wingspan 1.1 metres (3 ft 7 in)
70–180 kilometres (43–112 mi; 38–97 nmi)
Flight altitude Sea-skimming
Speed Mach 0.92
1,134 kilometres per hour (705 mph)
Inertial guidance and terminal active radar homing


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

The Exocet (French for "flying fish"[1]) is a French-built anti-ship missile whose various versions can be launched from surface vessels, submarines, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.


The missile's name was given by M. Guillot, then the technical director at Nord Aviation.[1] It is the French word for flying fish from the Latin name exocoetus, a transliteration of the Greek name for flying fish ἐξώκοιτος (exōkoitos), which literally means "lying down outside (ἒξω, κεῖμαι), sleeping outside", because it sometimes stranded itself in boats.[2]

Exocet missile launch


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.[3]

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.[4][5] 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–two m 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:

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.[8][9]

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.

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

Beside the French, the Block 3 has been ordered by several other navies including that of Greece, the UAE, Peru,[10] Qatar, Oman, Indonesia and Morocco.[11]

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

Operational History

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,[12] a technically challenging task which also required reprogramming.[13] 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.[14] 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.

Exocet impact

The Exocet that struck Glamorgan detonated, (a number of crew members witnessed this, as did the Argentines who fired it,[13] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17][18]

Lokata Company

Main article: Lokata Company

In about 1983, the Lokata Company (a maker of boat navigation equipment), independently duplicated part of the Exocet's navigation system; it caused official complications.[19]

Iran–Iraq War

Main article: USS Stark incident

During the Iran–Iraq War, on 17 May 1987, an Iraqi jet aircraft fired Exocet missiles at the American frigate USS Stark. 37 United States Navy personnel were killed and 21 others were wounded.


Map with Exocet operators in blue and former operators in red
MM38 onboard German Navy S74 Nerz, Type 143A Gepard-class fast attack craft
AM39 under a Dassault Rafale
External images
Aerospatiale EXOCET
AM 39 Exocet launched from French Navy Super Etendard
Alpha Jet Lancier multi-role with Exocet AM 39
AM 39 launched from Super Puma
Exocet MM 40 fired from French vessel
Test firing of SM 39 subsurface version of Exocet high resolution
Aerospatiale Media Relations Photo Sent Out Shortly After Falkland's War
Super Etendard taking off with test AM39 under wing. Note, electronic pod under fuselage and drop tank under other wing pylon.
Impact of a MM40 on a target ship
First test launch of Exocet MM40 Block 3

Current operators

Argentine Navy – MM38, MM40 and AM39
Royal Brunei Navy – MM38, MM40
Bulgarian Navy
Brazilian Navy – MM38, MM40 Block 2 and AM39, SM-39
Cameroon Navy – MM38, MM40 (on P-48S (Bakassi) craft)
Chilean Navy – MM38, AM39, MM40 and SM39 for the Scorpène-class submarine and modernized Type 209 submarine.
Cyprus Navy – MM40
AM39,[20] MM38 & MM40
French Navy – MM38, MM40, AM39, SM39
German Navy – To be replaced with the RBS 15.
Hellenic Navy – MM38, MM40 Block 2/3
Hellenic Air Force – AM39
MM38 on Fatahillah-class corvette,[21] MM40 Block 2 on Sigma-class corvette, MM40 Block 3 on Sigma-class frigate[22]
Indian Navy (on Scorpène-class submarines)
Iranian Air Force – Acquired ex-Iraqi AM39 from ex-Iraqi Mirage F1's; these aircraft sought sanctuary during the 2nd Persian Gulf War.
Royal Malaysian Navy – MM38, MM40 Block 2, MM40 Block 3 and SM39 (on Scorpène-class submarines)[23]
Royal Moroccan Navy – MM38, MM40 Block 2/3,
Moroccan Air Force – AM39
Pakistan Naval Air Arm – AM39 (on Mirage-5V naval support fighters)
Pakistan Navy – SM39 (on Agosta 90B (Khalid) class submarines), AM39 (on Breguet Atlantic patrol aircraft)
Peruvian Navy – MM38 on PR-72P-class corvettes, AM39 Block 1 on ASH-3D Sea Kings, MM40 Block 3? on Lupo-class frigates
 South Africa
South African Navy – MM40 Block 2 on Valour-class frigates.[24] The navy plans to upgrade to the Block 3 missile.[25]
 South Korea
Republic of Korea Navy
Royal Thai Navy – MM38
MM-40 Exocet for the Combattante-3 FACs[26]
Vietnam People's Navy MM40 Block 3 on Sigma-class corvette[29][30]
 United Arab Emirates
UAE Navy MM40 Block 3 on Baynunah-class corvette
National Navy of Uruguay – MM38 on João Belo-class frigates

Former operators

Belgian Navy operated Exocet on its Wielingen-class frigates. These warships were all sold in 2008 to Bulgaria
Iraqi Air Force – AM39 on 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 – AM39 (on Dassault Mirage 50)

See also


  1. 1 2 Guillot, Jean; Estival, Bernard (1988). L’extraordinaire aventure de l’Exocet. 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.
  2. Harper, Douglas. "Exocet". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  3. Exocet MM.40
  4. Norman Friedman, The Naval Guide to World Weapons Systems – 1994 Update, page 109 Naval Institute Press 1994
  5. "1994 Update" has a recent study by the Russians about the effect of missile boat anti-ship missiles. three hits to destroy a light cruiser, one to two hits for a destroyer or frigate. Russian missile boat anti-ship missile have far larger warheads than the Exocet
  6. Friedman, Norman (1997), The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems, 1997–1998, The US Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, ISBN 1-55750-268-4 (p.227)
  7. Based on the ship launched MM38. Only five tested in 1973 from a Super-Felon helicopter, further development then abandon for the lighter and smaller AM39. Ronald T. Pretty editor Jane's Weapon Systems 1976 page 133
  8. The Command of France Exocet Block 3
  9. "V - Cruise Missiles: The Other Air Breathing Threat". ATTACK AIRCRAFT PROLIFERATION: ISSUES FOR CONCERN. Christopher Bolkcom and John Pike. 1 April 1993. Retrieved 2009-02-10.
  10. Defensa.com: Perú aprueba 41 millones de dólares para Defensa y se hará finalmente con misiles MM-40 Exocet (Spanish)
  11. "Sea and Navy" 19 March 2010
  12. Latin America's Wars: The age of the professional soldier p.316
  13. 1 2 YouTube video discussing setting up the ITB and showing its firing, narrated in Spanish
  14. Loss of HMS Sheffield - Board of Inquiry from the MOD (page six)
  15. The Glamorgan was a 5,400tn destroyer of steel and compartment construction. It was designed with experience and lessons from WW2, including Japanese suicide attacks, which is probably what saved it from destruction.
  16. John, Nott (2002), Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, archived from the original on 22 November 2010, A remarkable world-wide 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. (John Nott, defence minister during the Falklands war)
  17. The Official History of the Falkland's War
  18. http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-190366-2012-03-25.html
  19. "Defence ministry 'Exocets' yacht radar". New Scientist: 803. 1983-03-24. ISSN 0262-4079. Retrieved 2015-04-15.
  20. SIPRI Arms Transfer Database trade_register gives 40 delivered in 1982-1983 at sipri.org
  21. Frigates : Fatahillah Class
  22. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 October 2006. Retrieved 2011-05-02.
  23. 'Malaysian Navys 1st Scorpene sub test fires Exocet missile' at brahmand.com/news
  24. Fact File on DefenceWeb
  25. The Military Balance 2013. International Institute for Strategic Studies. 2013. p. 531. ISBN 978-1857436808.
  26. armstrade/page/trade_register gives 50 delivered in 1985 at sipri.org
  27. "Türk Deniz Kuvvetleri" (in Turkish). www.dzkk.tsk.tr. Retrieved 2009-11-29.
  28. "World Navies Today: Turkey". www.hazegray.org. Retrieved 2009-11-29.
  29. http://defense-studies.blogspot.com/2013/11/france-selling-exocet-block-3-for-two.html
  30. http://www.defensenews.asia/france-sells-exocet-block-3-for-two-vietnamese-sigma-9814/
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