Harpoon is the long range lance of the Type 23 Frigate, capable of destroying enemy ships far beyond the horizon. Scheduled out of service date is 2018

The Harpoon surface to surface missile is described by the Royal Navy as;

Harpoon is the long range lance of the Type 23 Frigate, capable of destroying enemy ships far beyond the horizon. Fitted to all Type 23 Frigates the Harpoon is a sophisticated anti-ship missile capable of striking targets more than 80 miles away. Harpoon uses a combination of inertial guidance and active radar homing to attack it’s prey. Cruising at Mach 0.9 and carrying a large high explosive warhead it is powered by a lightweight turbojet, but is accelerated at launch by a booster rocket.

It is currently only fitted to the Type 23 Frigate although provision has been made on the Type 45 Destroyer.

harpoon missile

Harpoon is unlikely to be transferred to the Type 26 or Type 31 Frigates

Harpoon History

Development of the Harpoon missile for the US Navy goes back to the mid-sixties as a counter to surfaced submarines but for the Royal Navy, it first came into service as a submarine-launched weapon in the mid-seventies.

The Royal Navy had a requirement for an Under Surface Guided Weapon (UGSW). Choices were a new development from Hawker Siddeley, designated CR137, the McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Harpoon and an Anglo-French development called Sub Martel. Sub Martel was a modification of the already in service Matra Martel air to ground missile but compared to the already in service Harpoon, would require significant development funding.

Although Exocet was in service with both the UK and France, a submarine-launched development project was not considered for UGSW.

In September 1975, the MoD selected the Harpoon missile, the French went on to develop SM39 Exocet, the submarine launched variant. A $6m pre-development contract was awarded to McDonnell Douglas to investigate modifications to enable use by Royal navy submarines. Part of the deal was that British companies would design and develop the torpedo tube launch capsule

Whilst this was ongoing, Norway, the UK, USA, Germany and the Netherlands had embarked upon the Anti-Ship Supersonic Missile study that would eventually go nowhere.

For the next year or so there was a great deal of negotiation on UK subcontract components and other industrial issues. By 1981, the Royal Navy had commenced firing trials of UGM-84B Sub Harpoon from Trafalgar and Swiftsure attack submarines. Sub Harpoon was first deployed on HMS Courageous at the end of the Falklands Conflict in 1982. Also a short time after the conflict, some RAF Nimrod MR.2 aircraft were fitted with air launched Harpoon missiles. A small number were subsequently purchased.

In 1983, McDonnell Douglas offered the 120nm range RGM-84 Harpoon Block 1C for use on the Royal Navy’s Type 22 and Type 23 frigates. Block 1C offered various improvements including increased range (80nm), waypoint navigation and lower altitude flight. The surface-launched storage and launching canister was originally developed for hydrofoil deployment.

In competition with Harpoon was a surface-launched variant of Sea Eagle, the P5T. Sea Eagle was by then entering service with the RAF and Fleet Air Arm. The launch canister for Sea Eagle SL was adapted from a lightweight Sea Dart canister.

Whichever missile won, it was intended to equip the first Type 22 Batch III Frigates. Exocet was not considered suitable and neither was Otomat.

In 1984, Harpoon Block 1C won and a contract for £200 million was placed with McDonnell Douglas, to be designated GWS.60.


Sub Harpoon was withdrawn from Royal Navy service in 2003 with no direct replacement but a surface launched Harpoon Sustainment Programme was initiated to maintain Harpoon to its OSD.

Harpoon equipped Type 22 and now equips Type 23 Frigates. A small number of Type 45 Destroyers have also received the launching system from withdrawn Type 22 Frigates.

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Current Out of Service Date (OSD) for Harpoon is planned to be 2018, the In-Service Support contract with Devonport Royal Dockyard Ltd run to November 2018. Like all planned OSD’s though, this may change.

Harpoon Capabilities

After being launched through a torpedo tube the sub harpoon capsule is activated  by the snapping of a safety lanyard. Fins deploy to ensure the capsule assumes a vertical position and it then rises to the surface when the nose and tail caps blow off. The rocket booster ignites and the missile is propelled to a suitable altitude when the main propulsion motor fires.

For the surface-launched variant, currently in service, the missile is fired from an angled tube launcher with frangible front and base caps. The tubes are arranged in groups of four, with two groups arranged to fire port and starboard.

The missile is 4.6m long and weighs 691kg (with booster). The warhead weighs 221kg, approximately the same as a Paveway IV or half the weight of the Storm Shadow warhead. Maximum speed is 885kph.

Guidance for Harpoon is performed initially by information provided by the launch platform, waypoints and mid-course changes can also be programmed into the inertial guidance system. Terminal guidance is carried out using the integral radar seeker. The attack profile is also selectable at launch.

Because of the lack of a data link and the radar terminal guidance feature Royal Navy Harpoon’s are often considered to be obsolete in a contemporary operating environment. Future developments, not currently in service with the Royal Navy, are planned to incorporate improved target discrimination and data links to enable its deployment in complex environments with civilian and military vessels in the same area.

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Harpoon Missile surface launch

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Harpoon Missile cutaway

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Type 23 Frigate Harpoon Launch

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Harpoon Missile

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Table of Contents

RN TLAM 4 Introduction
MBDA Brimstone layout on Tornado Brimstone
MBDA SPEAR 3 Image 2 SPEAR Capability 3
RAF Tornado GR4's at RAF Akrotiri Cyprus being armed with the Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb. Paveway IV
Tornado Storm Shadow Storm Shadow
Royal Navy Submarine HMS Astute Fires a Tomahawk Cruise Missile (TLAM) During Testing Near the USA Tomahawk
FASGW(H) Missile Sea Venom
Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) Martlet (Lightweight Multirole Missile)
HMS Montrose fires Harpoon Harpoon
F-35 UK Weapons Trials November 2014 ASRAAM & PAVEWAY IV shot 2 ASRAAM
RAF Typhoon Aircraft Carrying Meteor Missiles Meteor BVRAAM
Soldier Mans Starstreak HVM High Velocity Missile System During Exercise Olympic Guardian for London 2012 Starstreak HVM
Sea Ceptor missile system FLAADS(M) Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM)
Sea Viper HMS Defender Type 45 Live Fire Sea Viper/ASTER
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
The final pre-acceptance trial of the GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA. Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS)
Spike NLOS Tracked Vehicle Exactor (SPIKE NLOS)
Pictured are elements of the Manoeuvre Support Group MSG from 42 Commando Royal Marines, based at Bickleigh Barracks Plymouth, whilst conducting live firing of the new Light Forces Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (LFATGW) Javelin. 42 Commando Royal Marines were the first UK Armed Force to live fire the new Javelin system. The live fire demonstration was an early opportunity to see the Javelin being live fired in the UK. The future reliance on simulation,rather than live firing will mean that a demonstration such as this will be a rare event in the UK during the service life of the system. This image was submitted as part of the Peregrine 06 Photographic Competition. This image is available for non-commercial, high resolution download at www.defenceimages.mod.uk subject to terms and conditions. Search for image number 45145988.jpg ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Photographer: PO (PHOT) Sean Clee Image 45145988.jpg from www.defenceimages.mod.uk Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (ATGW)
NLAW Training Aid Next Generation Light Anti-Armour Weapon (NLAW)
Raytheon Defender Laser CIWS Lasers
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May 15, 2016 5:56 pm

Yes, but TD, what about the proposed block II* & block II*ER?

May 16, 2016 7:59 am

Harpoon is something of a cold war relic nowadays. Under the rules of engagment in say the Gulf area there is probable no senario bar a full on shooting war where you could safely fire it knowing you would hit what you where aiming at and not a neutral ship or oil rig.
Its replacement, whatever it may be will undoubtably have a man in the loop data link to ensure it hits what it is aimed at.
Not only that it makes a mess of the paintwork on the focsle and the part of ship dont like that.

May 16, 2016 8:41 am

Gun, that’s what midshipmen are for. And a scrub brush. :)
Though I agree with the context that fire and forget isn’t acceptable these days. Probably a new missile with a EO link to see what they are about to hit? That would give you a decent range and still ensure you hit the right ship.

In the past, I was taught to clear buildings by tossing in a grenade then/or spray with full automatic fire from a SAW. These days, the instructor will get a heart attack seeing you do that. Minimizing collateral damage is all the rage these days, but sometimes I really wonder if it’s practical.

May 16, 2016 10:55 am

Gun. The latest versions of Harpoon will have a data link, allowing for in flight retargeting. This is so you hit the right target against a cluttered background. The Americans have the choice, going forward, of LRASM, anti ship versions of Tomahawk or block II* / block II* ER Harpoon. If we get these advanced Harpoon, it will probably be through the RAF P-8 purchase first.

shark bait
May 16, 2016 12:26 pm

Harpoon isn’t really up to the task these days, slow, no data link and no survivability features.

Its replacement is a tricky business, 3 different platforms, all with different launchers, and then P8 is thrown into the mix….

May 16, 2016 1:24 pm

Flightglobal has a news item on the block II* & block IIER versions of Harpoon.

May 16, 2016 2:44 pm

Further proof of my senility. It is not block II* , but block II+ . Sorry everyone. I am rubbish at posting links, but will give it a go.

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
May 16, 2016 3:42 pm

Boeing is updating the Harpoon Block II ER to incorporate a datalink radio as used in the Raytheon AGM-154 C-1 JSOW. It has a new lighter warhead and with improved turbojet to increase range from 67nm to 130nm. This is the Boeing response to the US Navy decision to arm the LCS class ships with an effective anti-ship missile after criticism of the current plan of using the 5 mile range Longbow. The USN weapon of choice appears to be the 100nm Kongsberg/Raytheon stealth Naval Strike Missile with a modern IIR seeker with an onboard target database rather than active RF seeker used in the Harpoon which understand is more susceptible to jamming with any modern ECM.

DARPA initiated the LRASM to replace the Harpoon, they choose the LM AGM-158 JASSM ER as the vehicle for the new generation seeker developed by BAE Systems (originally Sanders unit in Nashua, NH). It has RF apertures in the nose and wingtips and is passive so able to detect a ship target from outside the range of the ships radar and missile defenses and an IIR seeker to classify or identify the target, pick aimpoint and then LRASM drops to sea-skimming height for the attack.

shark bait
May 16, 2016 4:48 pm

The Kongsberg/Raytheon joint strike missile does look attractive, especially as it comes integrated on the F35!
As nick says, a much more modern missile that is making Boeing play catch up.

Peter Elliott
May 16, 2016 4:54 pm

Not sure where JSM/NSM fits into the SPEAR hierarchy of complex weapons though. Now that MBDA have Spear 3 sewn up and look good for future contracts for SPEAR 4/5 I don’t see Kongsberg getting a look in unless there is a UOR.

shark bait
May 16, 2016 5:05 pm

True there is some overlap, but will spear 3 make a credible anti shipping weapon?

May 16, 2016 5:53 pm


Is NSM survivable vs modern CIWS? Low kinematic performance. Not very steathly compared to something like LRASM.

Would you prefer 8 SPEAR3 or 2 NSM?

shark bait
May 16, 2016 6:48 pm

Well the NSM is suppose to be ‘stealth’, as well as being resident jamming, and hides behind hills around the coast, well suited to the norwegian fjords, so it certainly has survivability features.

Spear doesn’t look like it will be heavy enough to be credible against large ships.

Perhaps a well timed, high speed, saturated attack of 8 missiles that can pinpoint mission critical components, like radar, could disable a ship and make a credible package.

May 16, 2016 7:24 pm


I meant endgame survivability rather than platform.

Stealth isnt binary. NSM or JSM is rather different than LRASM or AGM-129


Warhead of NSM is a bit bigger than that of SPEAR3. Do you want 6-8x~90kg explosions or 0-2x125kg explosions?

shark bait
May 16, 2016 8:04 pm

No, the entire spear missile weighs 100kg ish. That means the warhead will be around 15kg so will struggle to be effective.

JSM packs a much bigger punch.

Spear would need to be clever to replace harpoon.

May 16, 2016 8:24 pm

15kg warhead seems unlikely

SDB is 93kg warhead in 125kg total weapon mass

shark bait
May 16, 2016 8:33 pm

Small diameter bomb doesn’t have a jet engine and fuel to carry.

May 17, 2016 4:32 am

The warhead being in the teens range fits with what I can recall from my admittedly patchwork memory.

Hannay, explosives work on an exponential ratio. It means that, for example, 50kg of explosives has a lot more destructive potential than 10 bags of 5kg each. Not to say Spear 3 can’t work, I suspect it’ll depend on the target and what is hit. Historically, a lot of hits on ships don’t hit anything more critical than air. But then, that was during a time when ships were not wired up like a christmas tree. No idea how it’ll play out these days.

IIRC, Harpoon sea-skims and has a “pop-up” mode to avoid last minute defences.

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 17, 2016 9:25 am

With their Harpoon out-of-service date approaching, I suppose the Royal Navy could get the block II upgrade as part of a refurbishment and life extension. The block II kit is offered by Boeing for retrofitting to older missiles.

I think it will be too soon into the Anglo-french future cruise dialogue to expect Harpoon to be dumped in a couple of years time. The UK would want a better idea of what might come out of the future cruise idea before investing in a whole new anti-surface weapon system that could effectively kill off cooperation with the French.

Upgrading Harpoon to maintain relevance would probably be better than replacement for the time being.

The Royal Navy’s sub-launched Harpoon was probably killed off by a combination of Tomahawk entering service, and the lower perceived threat from the Russian navy.

Some number of Tomahawk were first fired from a Royal Navy submarine during the Kosovo campaign in 1999. Sub-launched Harpoon was formally withdrawn a few years later. There is obviously a limit to the number of weapons that can be carried, and there was a fairly low perceived risk of high-end naval warfare at that time.

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 17, 2016 9:49 am

Shark Bait, the UK seems to be doing ok without an air-launched anti-ship missile (excluding helicopters).

I think the fact that the JSM will be integrated onto the F35 will simply lower the risk of continuing with this deficiency once the UK has Lightning in service.

It will be quick and easy to introduce this weapon if a more well defined threat emerges while we tinker with our own programs.

May 17, 2016 11:01 am

Harpoon Block II+ is the most logical option on the table. The active radar seeker is still good – the addition of GPS and a datalink to what we currently operate (Block 1C) will keep this in the forefront of anti-ship missile capabilities. Harpoon has a very low cruise altitude making it hard to defeat, and it is still relatively immune to most active and passive decoy systems. Plus there are obvious efficiencies to be realised in retaining the bolt-on canister launchers rather than having to develop a whole new launching system, including Mk41 modification work or else buying and integrating a new weapon such as LRASM or NSM. Harpoon is also currently operated by a standalone console – integration into the current RN combat system is a software patch and has been done by other navies, thus further bolstering the low cost, low risk option this offers. Harpoon is still widely sold and used around the world – there will be a lot of interest in upgrading the missiles.

However, this work is unlikely to be achieved before the OSD in 2018 and a gap beckons. Perhaps it’s one we can live with.

shark bait
May 17, 2016 12:45 pm

@BB, the UK has is managing without an air-launched anti-ship missile because the UK is managing without MPA’s and carriers. I would suggest once those capabilities are regenerated they will become the primary anti shipping platforms, due to the line of sight limitations of surface platforms, and the need to increase our sphere of influence. That will requite the F35 and P8 to either have their own anti-ship missiles, or be able to guide a surface launched missile to the target, neither of which our harpoon can do.

The project with the french is a good thing, but it will be over two decades until it is integrated fleet wide, there has to be something in the interim. Upgraded harpoon could do it, but is that going to last 20 years? That’s what makes me think we need a new missile.

May 17, 2016 1:26 pm

Harpoon may be a Cold War relic, but so many developing/third world nations are still using or buying it, a good number for their diesel submarines.

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 17, 2016 2:51 pm

Shark, the lack of an air-launched missile is not entirely dependent on the MPA gap; there’s been options available for Tornado, including Harpoon, if the UK had enough desire for them. The RAF did use to have Tornado dedicated to maritime patrol and carrying anti-ship missiles.

I appreciate what you’re saying about the carriers; but realistically, looking at actual French and American carrier usage, the primary role for the RN ships will be land attack.

F35 would be able to provide targeting information for ship-launched Harpoon, and should be able to tie in with the in-flight update capability of block II or II+ if the ship-borne missile is upgraded.

As I said, the availability of JSM for Lightning will provide a fast-track to tie capability if required. In the meantime the UK can continue with the future cruise & anti-ship weapon studies. There just isn’t a pressing need to spend money on a new weapon as soon as the QE and F35 are unwrapped.

You could see results from the Anglo-french project a lot sooner than twenty years time. Also bear in mind that Harpoon block II has been around for fifteen years without British interest; block II/II+ may well satisfy surface fleet requirements for 10, 15 years or so.

May 17, 2016 3:09 pm

I’m pretty sure that AGM-84 Harpoon was withdrawn from service before the MR2 was. So we’ve managed the ASM gap for some time, even with carriers and MPA.

The Other Chris
May 17, 2016 3:42 pm

Buccaneer retirement in ’94?

The Other Chris
May 17, 2016 3:44 pm

Or did SHAR retain until ’98/’99?

May 17, 2016 4:00 pm

Pretty sure it was gone before 2000.

May 17, 2016 6:20 pm

Mr. Quentin Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence for what reasons the Sea Eagle has been withdrawn from service. [128767]

Mr. Spellar: Work undertaken in the Strategic Defence Review showed that we needed less capability in the field of open ocean anti-surface ship warfare. To this end, it was decided to withdraw the Sea Eagle missile from both the Tornado GRIB and the Sea Harrier, as part of a coherent programme of reduced investment in this area of our maritime capability. Instead, our future investment will be in heavier weapons with larger ranges, such as Harpoon.

4 Jul 2000 : Column: 130W

The disappearance on any blue water ship threat probably has much to do with it

shark bait
May 18, 2016 8:53 pm

“You could see results from the Anglo-french project a lot sooner than twenty years time. Also bear in mind that Harpoon block II has been around for fifteen years without British interest; block II/II+ may well satisfy surface fleet requirements for 10, 15 years or so”

Contract in 2016
Demonstrator in 2019 (best case)
In service 2025 (guestimate)
Plus 10 years to penetrate through the fleet

What ever we decide to do in 2018 we’re going to have to live with it for a long time.

May 18, 2016 9:48 pm

Is there a case for making sea venom compatible with the F35 b?

shark bait
May 18, 2016 10:32 pm

Sea Venom is in a similar weight class to Spear 3.

Baring that in mind it makes the case for making sea venom compatible with the F35 weak. With a fairly similar class your spending funds to integrate largely duplicate capabilities, which is something the navy cannot afford to do.

For me it raises the point why bother with Sea Venom at all? but I guess that is a discussion for later on in TD’s project!

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 19, 2016 8:18 am

Sea Venom is bigger and heavier than Spear 3.

Sea Venom is intended to sink or damage corvettes and frigates; while Brimstone and Spear 3 may be useful against small patrol, landing, or attack craft, they’re not intended for use against vessels above about 500t.

An F35 launched Sea Venom could be useful against many likely naval targets that might otherwise require an unnecessarily heavyweight, externally carried cruise missile.

Spear 3 can fit end-to-end in the F35B weapons bay. The larger Sea Venom won’t do that, so you might instead be able to make it longer (about a metre) until you fill up the space and have yourself longer range / larger payload without a wholesale redesign (Sea Venom’s size was largely restricted by the requirement for Wildcat carriage. Lightning would presumably also be able to pick up targets at greater range).

shark bait
May 19, 2016 9:47 am

Yes, Sea Venom will no doubt be more capable, but I would question if the difference in capability is enough to warrant developing and supporting another class of missile.

Right now, I don’t think it is, hopefully the rest of this series will clear things up.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
May 20, 2016 9:04 pm

A few points. Firstly, an active radar missile tells the enemy it’s on its way. That gives the Red team the chance, when they’re sure they’re in its acquisition envelope, of turning on their own radar directed weapons and deploying countermeasures (other than towed radar reflectors which would already be deployed). NSM or Spear 3 give them the invidious choice of either keeping their sensors active all the time in the hope of detecting small, and in the case of NSM stealthy, missiles inbound, but telling the world where they were or of turning them off and relying on either not being found in the first place or of passive IR sensors detecting the inbound missile in time to crank up their defences.

Spear 3 and NSM both have a lot going for them and I would like to see both in service with NSM as an addition to and possible replacement for Storm Shadow. In combination, Spear could be used essentially as a decoy that the enemy could not afford to ignore, coming in near simultaneously from multiple axes (even in this day and age not that many warships could engage that many missiles simultaneously). You could shoot 8 Spear 3 (internal) and a couple of NSM (external) at the same combatant from one F-35B from a non line of sight location. The Spears could force the enemy to engage with expensive, scarce long range SAMs whilst the NSMs go in low. They could fly jinking pop up, pop down profiles to waste multiple defensive missiles before going in low themselves to use up PCMS and CIWS channels. Any that got through would hit specific key systems on the vessel.

Getting into not quite total fantasy here, you can throw MALD-J and AARGM, both of which will presumably be F-35B integrated by the Americans into the mix. This would be an interesting scenario to model on CMANO.

I read somewhere (here?) that Storm Shadow’s MLU will not now include the two-way data link and that the missile will not now be integrated with F-35B, the effort instead going into a hypersonic joint Anglo-French Spear Capability 5. I can’t for the life of me see how a passive IRR sensor is going to work on a hypersonic missile (the image published shows significant airframe heating), and the missile will, by the laws of physics, not be able to fly as low or in as devious a flightpath as something like NSM. I would like to know how such a high speed option won out in whatever options appraisal was undertaken.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
May 20, 2016 9:10 pm

Late edit: JSM, not NSM. Doh!

shark bait
May 21, 2016 8:45 am

I agree Chris, those two would create an effective system if both land and surface modes.

Necessary Evil
Necessary Evil
May 27, 2016 7:57 pm

There isn´t currently a good internal carriage ASM option for the f-35B, so it may best to concentrate on getting ASM onto other assets. If the p-8 gets LRASM I think we should go for this, since it is definitely not obsolete and can also be installed in a deck launcher like Harpoon. It should also have the stand-off range to keep the P-8 safe from SAMs. That would just leave the subs, which seem like they will do continue to do without whatever the solution.

El Sid
El Sid
May 27, 2016 9:39 pm

“LRASM won’t be obsolete”
It could be – certainly by F-35B FOC in 2023. Don’t forget that LRASM was always designed as a quick fix, so that the US had “something” that they could wave at the Chinese/Russians with some credibility after decades of neglect of ASuW. It’s being procured as OASuW Increment 1 – but the entire production run will only be 100 or so missiles, it’s more of a R&D project to fund Lockheed to get its software people up to speed at the bleeding edge of missile autonomy. The main event will be OASuW Increment 2, which will be a bit more organised, and pit LRASM up against JSM and the new Tomahawk. Even that is a bit of a holding pattern, the real question is what will be the state of hypersonics in 5 year’s time – if it’s looking promising then even OaSuW Increment 2 will probably be curtailed in favour of a hypersonic weapon.

“It should also have the stand-off range to keep the P-8 safe from SAMs. ”

That implies you’re going up against area SAMs, S-300 class weapons. But you tend not to get a few of those SAMs on ships – you get 48+. So you’d need to attack with a good number of LRASMs, but a P-8 would likely only carry a couple of them per aircraft. And we’d be unlikely to be sending most of our P-8 fleet in harm’s way. Something like SPEAR 3 would be good enough for P-8, they’re more likely to be knocking out the odd tattle-tail trawler or sub tender than going up against an S-300 armed cruiser.

OT – whilst we’re vaguely talking about big bomby things, I was glad to hear that Vulcan To The Sky’s next project will be Canberra WK163 : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-36335556

Oscar Zulu
Oscar Zulu
May 28, 2016 1:42 am

Just to add an antipodean perspective to the Harpoon debate. The Royal Australian Navy upgraded to Block II Harpoons some time ago, with the initial contract signed as far back as 2004 but becoming operational this decade.



The ADF is heavily invested in Harpoon which equips the RAN’s eight Anzac class FFHs, four Adelaide class FFG guided missile frigates, will be fitted from the get go to the Hobart AWDs and is in service with the six Collins class submarines. In addition the RAAF’s Harpoon capable platforms include FA-18 Hornets, Super Hornets, and AP-3C maritime patrol aircraft and will be a standard weapon on their replacement P8As. In all the ADF currently has 109 aircraft in inventory capable of launching Harpoon and 18 naval surface and subsurface platforms.


Maritime strike remains a core capability for the ADF, unlike what, to an outsider, seems to be the UK’s on-again, off-again commitment. I’m not persuaded by the view that the Harpoon is entirely “a cold war relic”. Certainly the Block II is a useful capability until something better comes along that is more than a paper missile.

Typically Harpoon benefits from the US spiral upgrade approach to weapons systems by ‘borrowing’ proven systems from other platforms. The Block II integrates the low-cost inertial measuring unit from the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) programme. It also uses a software package, mission computer, integrated GPS/INS, and GPS antenna and receiver from the AGM-84H SLAM-ER.

The Block II is incrementally more capable than its predecessors and still remains relevant in today’s EW environment. For example the guidance control unit (GCU) of Harpoon Block II integrates a selective availability anti-spoofing module (SAASM) GPS receiver. The GCU can also be incorporated with a data link for network centric operation. The GPS-aided inertial navigation system (INS) provides better discrimination of targets in littoral environments allow the Block II to strike targets on land and ships stationed in port – a new capability for the RAN.

The ADF is also keeping its future options open. Australia is partnering directly with the Norwegians and Kongsberg to integrate the JSM on the RAAFs 72 F35As and is a potential contender as a smarter, stealthier weapon system on the Super Hornet and P8As.



LRSAM is also in the future mix for the RAN with its donor missile the AGM-158 JASSM already in service with the RAAF as its stand-off cruise missile. Interestingly the 2016 Defence White Paper refers to the development of a, new to the ADF, shore based anti-ship missile capability. While it’s unclear if the proposed missiles would be a Navy or Army asset, both LRSAM and JSM would be in the frame and the Harpoon Block II+ could fill the role at a pinch.

At the pointy end of future technology Australia has been making quite progress in hypersonic research. The University of Queensland’s shoe-string funded Hyshot program has some success with innovative approaches that has attracted US attention.

This has led to the recent HIFiRE 5b tests, one of a series of 10 flight experiments under the Australia-US collaborative project Hypersonic International Flight Research and Experimentation program aimed at investigating physical phenomena of flight at more than five times the speed of sound. HIFiRE partners include the University of Queensland, Boeing, BAE Systems and DLR (German Aerospace Center).


Oscar Zulu
Oscar Zulu
May 28, 2016 1:47 am

@ Chris Werb
“Even in this day and age not that many warships could engage that many missiles simultaneously”

Unclassified sources suggest the ASMD upgraded Anzacs can do precisely that. The eighth and last of the RANs Anzacs has entered the upgrade program.


This from a Australian Defence Magazine January 2012:

“RAN Captain Robert Elliott, DMO’s Project Director, Anti-ship Missile Defence until late November 2011, told ADM that tests in the course of last year included Perth handling eight targets inbound or on top at the same time, travelling at 560 plus knots. This is a far cry from the single channel of fire provided by the existing CEROS200 fire control director, and a powerful endorsement of the selection in September 2005 of CEA Technologies’ Phased Array Radar (PAR) solution as the core of the SEA 1448 Phase 2 program to protect the Anzacs against current and future generations of anti-ship missile threats. The PAR solution involves the CEAFAR E/F band active PAR and, slaved to CEAFAR, the associated CEAMOUNT I/J band multichannel active phased array missile illuminator which produces electronically steered beams to provide target illumination and uplink support for the semi-active radar homing Evolved Seasparrow Missile (ESSM).

Project Sea 1448 Phase 2A was approved in 2003 and comprised enhancing the Saab Systems 9LV 453 combat management system (CMS) aboard the Anzacs to Mk3E standard and installing a SAGEM VAMPIR infrared search and tracking system (IRST) to improve situational awareness and threat alert in littoral environments. Phase 2B fuses together the CEAFAR and CEAMOUNT systems, VAMPIR, a new Kelvin Hughes SharpEye navigation radar, and the 9LV Mk3E CMS which integrates these capabilities into a single, flexible whole. Although Phase 2B’s original baseline was to provide one additional radar director for a second ESSM channel of fire along with the installation of two very short-range air defence systems (VSRADS), the combination of CEAFAR and CEAMOUNT has seen a startling increase in capability.”

And this on the ASMD’s proven ability to intercept multiple supersonic targets (GGM-163 Coyote missile) from Asia Pacific Defence Reporter 2013:

“A Coyote travels at speeds of Mach 2.5 (around 900 m/s) and as low as 16 feet (5 metres) and up to 50,000 feet(15,000 metres). It has a diameter of a mere 35 cm and a range of up to 110 km.

The performance of the Coyote is similar to that of several leading edge supersonic anti-ship missiles such as the Brahmos, SS-N-22 and a number of Chinese systems. To be able to detect, track and shoot down two of these with HMAS Perth’s RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM) is an extraordinary achievement. Given that the ESSM has a stated speed of greater than Mach 4, the closing velocity between it and the Coyote means that the entire engagement would have been very fast indeed.”

CEAFAR and CEAMOUNT will provide couple with the SAAB 9LV combat system will form the baseline for the future frigate replacement under SEA 5000.


Jeremy M H
May 28, 2016 11:21 am

I don’t generally buy hypersonic at this point and am not a fan of the faster anti ship missiles that do exist. The trade offs in my mind are at best a net even situation when you consider the number of comparable weapons and the range of the comparable weapons. Plus I don’t think that the highly fast weapons are that much harder to kill.

LRASM is effectively twice as rangy and weighs about 1/3rd or what Brahmos comes in at. When you add in other technical challenges that occur trying to say use a passive seeker on something cooking along at Mach 3 plus I just don’t see the return. I would rather carry a pair or three LRASM types than a single Brahmos honestly.

That speed has lots of trade offs. People often don’t see that.

Necessary Evil
Necessary Evil
May 28, 2016 3:48 pm

El Sid, everything you said would be even more true of Harpoon. LRASM at least is supposed to be fairly stealthy. With regards to hypersonic weapons, there won´t be any Western ones available in the near future, as the hypersonic part of the LRASM program was cancelled. If we wait for whatever Perseus will become there will be a gap where we don´t have any credible anti-ship weapons.

Necessary Evil
Necessary Evil
May 28, 2016 3:54 pm

Also, SPEAR 3 might be more appropriate for the P-8 but we would have to integrate it ourselves.

El Sid
El Sid
May 28, 2016 5:49 pm

“With regards to hypersonic weapons, there won´t be any Western ones available in the near future, as the hypersonic part of the LRASM program was cancelled.”

You’re looking in the wrong place. Yes, the USN cancelled LRASM-B – but all the funding has moved to the USAF with the X-51 and now the High Speed Strike Weapon. Original plan was 500-600nm range weapon that could be carried by B-2 and F-35 in the mid-20’s, more recently they’ve been talking about 1000nm range with first flight in 2019 and in service by 2023.

So you can see why they’re being less than wholehearted with OaSuW Increment 1 and possibly 2, if OaSuW Increment 3 is going to be a USN purchase of HSSW. But they’re giving themselves the option of seeing how HSSW goes, with a Plan B if it doesn’t work out.

As for LRASM vs Harpoon – where did I argue for Harpoon over LRASM? Of course they are quite similar in many ways. It just bugs me when people think that fitting a few Harpoons or LRASMs to a big, slow platform that we will only have a handful of, means our ASuW box is ticked. The odd P-8 is never going to be attacking Pyotr Veliky, you need a proper strike package for that. Or a submarine of course, which is the One True ASuW platform…

Necessary Evil
Necessary Evil
May 28, 2016 8:06 pm

I really hope we don´t go down the same path as the USA with regards to hypersonic weapons – only this week China has said that it will now deploy nukes on its submarines for the first time because of the hypersonic threat negating its nuclear deterrent. We should come to the same conclusion that we did about ABM, namely that this will undermine the nuclear deterrent.


Necessary Evil
Necessary Evil
May 28, 2016 8:09 pm

Also, on the practical side, Wikipedia says it might enter service in the mid 2020s, so there is still a gap between the Harpoon OSD and bringing such a weapon into service, if the USA allows us to by them, which I doubt it will.

Necessary Evil
Necessary Evil
May 28, 2016 8:15 pm

The scariest thing about the China story is that the Communist Party apparently did not trust its submarine crews with nuclear weapons in peacetime, but the USA seems to have forced their arm.

El Sid
El Sid
May 28, 2016 11:35 pm

Wikipedia may not be accurate… They seem to have brought forward the NASSW timetable a bit judging by recent media comments. Obviously that kind of bleeding-edge stuff may well go wrong, but both the UK and US have a Plan B in the form of FCASW and OaSuW Increment 2 respectively, both of which should be flying in 2019-ish. So then by the next election we should have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t, and we should have something – FCASW at the very least – in time for F-35 FOC in 2023.

On the Chinese thing – you don’t seriously believe them do you? They’re leading the proliferation of hypersonics with the WU-14/DF-ZF, they’re just playing games. It’s less to do with Western hypersonics and more to do with the fact they now have enough Type 094’s to sustain a proper CASD.

Necessary Evil
Necessary Evil
May 29, 2016 9:39 am

Yes, as TD says, you have got the FCASW dates wrong, at least – SPEAR 3 will only just be entering service by 2023 if all goes to plan, and FCASW is behind it in the queue.

I don´t know if I believe the Chinese or not, but I do not think the US should get into a nuclear arms race (and hypersonics would seem to be part of that equation because of their first strike capability) with China, and the same goes for both us and the US with Russia. China won´t achieve nuclear parity with the US nuclear triad anytime in the near future, so they do not need to react to every new Chinese development with one of their own – it will be ´the Missile Gap´ all over again.

stephen duckworth
May 29, 2016 5:47 pm

On the Harpoon nearing its OSD (at least the version we use) could we not use the MBDA Exocet MM40 Block 3 which will be used by the French Navy until their/our new missile is ready? Granted they don’t fit in Sylver/Mk41 silos but is that such a problem. The spots for the Harpoons ( fitted for but not with lol) on the T45 could be used I would think and as T26/31 are still very much paper projects ( i.e. a long way from steel being cut) provision could be made …simples!

The Other Chris
May 29, 2016 7:12 pm

The latest incarnation of the weapon system synonymous with British casualties throughout 1982 in the public mind?

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