Harpoon Missile vs Surface Ships

Being there . . . . to learn about the incredibly complex Harpoon missile, the most widely used
anti-ship missile (ASM) employed by the Allies. It enjoys that unique for two main reasons: it
was the first important Western ASM to exploit the then-new technology of the small, efficient
turbojet. That engine gave the Harpoon about twice the range of the French Exocet in the same
small package. Being small meant that adding the Harpoon to an existing surface ship was easy
in contrast to the big Soviet anti-ship missiles. Second, and even more importantly for the US
Navy, Harpoon benefited from brilliant adaption ordered in 1970. At that time, the US Naval Air
Systems Command was developing a missile that US Navy patrol aircraft could use against
surfaced Soviet submarines – – a “harpoon to hit whales.” The submarines were a major threat
to US surface vessels. They had to remain on the surface to guide their long-range SS-N-3 anti-
ship cruise missiles, which in turn made them vulnerable to attack. The patrol aircraft already
had shorter-range air-to-surface missiles, but they needed something with much greater reach
to catch the Soviet submarines while their own missiles were still in the air. When Harpoon was
conceived in 1965, the submarines and long-range Soviet missile bombers were the main
threats to the US fleet. Such is the Introduction’s introduction, cogent, no nonsense, crammed
with historical references letting the reader know he or she is about to about to engage in the
ride of his or her life.
“HARPOON MISSILE VS SURFACE SHIPS – – US Navy, Libya and Iran 1986 – 88”, by Lon Nordeen.
Osprey Publishing/ Bloomsbury Plc., OSPREY DUEL, Engage the Enemy: 2024, 80 pages, 7 ¼” x 9
¾”, softcover, $23. Visit, www.ospreypublishing.com.
Reviewed and recommended by Don DeNevi
The author of “Harpoon Missile” has more than 40 years of experience in the aerospace
industry, including working for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. In
addition, he managed marketing communications and business development for a variety of
McDonnell Douglas/Boeing products including the Harpoon/SLAM-ER missile. Lon knows the
field. Add his long-term interests in aerospace, defense technology, and military history have
allowed him to write on a range of related subjects. Osprey has 12 of his books available.
Thus, it’s hard to imagine this text of extremely complex machines fighting each other not be
accurate. The reading, as technically advanced as it is, if understood, is riveting. For example,
more than 7,000 Harpoons were produced, with at least 30 nations stockpiling them. We are
privy to Lon Nordeen’s details played by the Harpoon missile in two Cold War flare-ups in the
1980s when the US Navy employed cutting-edge weaponry in brief engagements with the
Libyan and Iranian navies.
Fascinating is the easy to understand accounts from the Naval aviators and sailors who used
the Harpoon in combat. Their reports contain technical analyses of the weapon. But the
essence, or core, of the text examines the role played by the Harpoon in battle during the Cold
War era, when tensions in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf saw the missile fired in
anger with horrendous results.

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