Harpoon Missile: A Powerful American Anti-Ship Missile

The Harpoon Missile is one of the most effective anti-ship missiles ever built.
Harpoon Missile

The Harpoon missile has a long and impressive history while serving the United States.

It has been the leading anti-ship missile of the Navy since 1970, and it continues in service today.

For over five decades, the missile has successfully performed in several battles. It has been an integral weapon for many NATO countries and American allies, including Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the UAE, and many more.

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How it works

harpoon launch system
USS Coronado (LCS 4) launches harpoon missile during RIMPAC by Michaela Garrison. Public Domain.

They are actual ship destroyers, and everything about them has been designed to be highly damaging to ships.

With torpedoes and mines, they are the main threat to any ship and the biggest concern for its crew when sailing in conflict zones. Now, this exceptional anti-ship weapon serves the armed forces of more than 30 countries.

These are devices designed to reach the ship and explode in its bowels, causing devastating damage.

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They use ultramodern technology and work in many different ways. Once launched, the missile is autonomous. It flies, skimming the waves using a very precise altimeter until it reaches the activation point, where it turns on its active search radar, carries out the tracking (searching for possible targets), and engages the target.

The most effective Harpoon variants

The McDonnell Douglas Company produced the magnificent Harpoon missile for the US Navy.

Since then, the Harpoon is a highly effective anti-ship weapon that enjoys great prestige. It can be launched from almost any platform. When used from ships (including light corvettes) they are versions called RGM, if from airplanes they are AGM and if launched from submarines they are UGM.

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And these are some of the most used Harpoons in history:


Block IH (AGM-84L/ SLAM-ER)

agm 84k slam er
AGM-84K is attached to VP-30 P-8A at NAS Jacksonville by Jason Kofonow. Public Domain.

The SLAM-ER (Extended Response) began its operations in 1999. This missile uses GPS and an inertial navigation system for midcourse assistance before switching into its Imaging InfraRed explorer during the terminal period. 

This pioneer weapon system has introduced the Automatic Targeting Acquisition technology and can precisely target mobile land targets and moving ships. 

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Block II (RGM/ UGM-84J/L)

harpoon missile type J
P-3 Orion Harpoon missile loading by Defense Imagery Management Operations Center. Public Domain.

The Navy bought the BIk II missile in 2009. Upgrades to the guidance technology empowered it to aim at the hidden targets that are hard to detect by radar. The improvements have also helped it perform well in the coastal waters.

Block II + ER

harpoon ship launch
USS Chosin Harpoon launch, RIMPAC 2014 by Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet. Public Domain.

Boeing delivered the Harpoon’s Next Generation missile BIk II+ Extended Range in 2015. To boost the range of Blk II, the projectile uses a lighter, more powerful weapon, along with an enhanced turbojet engine. It doubles the missile range to 248 km. 

The Harpoon Missile is crucial in the 21st century too

The interest in the Harpoon Missiles declined after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR. The US Navy had no real enemy at sea for many years, and the amount of Harpoons missiles diminished considerably.

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For this reason, these missiles were withdrawn from service by U.S. submarines for decades. In addition, U.S. destroyers also used to work without Harpoon anti-ship missiles on board.

However, the situation is now changing, and the Harpoon missile is returning to U.S. Navy submarines. The reason for the return of anti-ship missiles aboard U.S. submarines is a new arms race with China. So, the Harpoon is back and it will be relevant again.

The Harpoon Missile has exceptional performance and accuracy

The Harpoon missile and its variants have the Avant-Garde guidance and targeting technology, transforming it into a kickass weapon.

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According to Boeing, today, this potent weapon is incorporated in over 180 submarines, 600 ships, and 12 kinds of aircraft – and it will keep serving the US for the following years with several updates in its software and hardware.


Featured image credit: USS Antietam Harpoon Exercise by Marissa Tungjunyatham. Public Domain.