The Harpoon missile is an all-weather, over-the-horizon, anti-ship missile that can be launched from a variety of locations. It was designed for application in the Navy, with its goal to be a basic anti-ship missile for fleet-wide use. Its role was expanded when it was adapted for use in the Air Force and adopted by over 29 foreign military partners.
Keep reading to learn about Harpoon missile systems, including their history, specifications, benefits, components, and beyond.
The History of Harpoon Missiles
In 1965, the U.S. Navy began the development of a missile that was designed to target surfaced submarines. The Navy would often refer to submarines as “whales,” which is where the name for the Harpoon missile originated.
The final product was introduced in 1977 – an all-weather, over-the-horizon, anti-ship missile that the Navy uses for air and ship launches. It was known as model A/R/UGM-84. Over the years, these Harpoon missiles received many upgrades to their functionality and software. In 1998, the Block II version of the Harpoon missile was released and is still available today and ready to take on anti-ship missions.
Specifications of Harpoon Missiles, Launchers, and Other Components
With the developments and upgrades made, the Harpoon missile system is capable of striking targets more than 80 miles away, using both inertial guidance and active radar homing. It carries a 500-pound blast warhead that is powered by a lightweight turbojet and is capable of delivering lethal firepower against threats.
This system is equipped with the following characteristics that have contributed to its success since its inception:
- Propulsion – The propulsion is fueled by a Teledyne Turbojet, which is ideal for both surface and submarine launch
- Length – When it is launched in the air, it measures 12.6 feet; when surface or submarine launched, it measures 15 feet
- Diameter – The diameter of the Harpoon missile is 13.5 inches
- Wingspan – The wingspan measures 3 feet with booster fins and wings
- Weight – A Harpoon missile weighs 1,523 pounds with the booster included
- Guidance – The system is guided by active radar terminal homing and sea-skimming cruise monitored by radar altimeter
- Launcher capacity – Harpoon missile launchers can be utilized on naval vessels or on land
Benefits of Harpoon Missiles
The Harpoon missile has remarkable qualities and impressive versatility, which is why it is considered one of the most successful anti-ship systems. As an example of this versatility, Harpoon missile launchers can be used on surface ships, submarines, coastal defense batteries, or even fixed-wing aircraft (without a booster).
On top of its ability to defend from anywhere, the Harpoon missile system is designed with state-of-the-art technology. It is known for the following aspects:
- Active radar guidance
- Warhead design
- Low-level cruise trajectory
- Sea-skim or pop-up maneuvers
- High survivability and effectiveness
Variations and Upgrades of the Harpoon Missile System
There are several variants of the Harpoon missile system. As previously stated, these upgrades were developed to enhance the hardware and software. There have been so many upgrades that the Navy created a naming system that clarifies the capabilities of each Harpoon missile and its launcher. Below, you will find the system for naming variants:
- A – Air-launched
- R – Surface ship-launched
- U – Underwater-launched
- G – Surface-attack
- M – Guided missile
Now that we have established the designations for the Harpoon series, here are all of the variants that have been released, along with the code for each Harpoon missile:
- Block IA (RGM/UGM/AGM-84A)
- Block IB (RGM/UGM-84C)
- Block IC (RGM/UGM-84D)
- Block ID (RGM84-F)
- Block IE (AGM-84E/SLAM)
- Block IG (RGM/UGM-84G)
- Block IH (AGM-84K/SLAM-ER)
- Block II (RGM/UGM-84J/L)
- Block II + ER
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