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Harpoon (missile)

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Harpoon (missile)

A Harpoon missile on static display at the USS Bowfin museum at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Type Anti-ship missile
Place of origin United States of America
Service history
In service 1977–present
Used by See operators
Production history
Manufacturer McDonnell Douglas
Boeing Defense, Space & Security
Unit cost US$1,200,000 for Harpoon Block II (2011)[1]
Number built


  • RGM-84A surface-launched
  • AGM-84A air-launched
  • UGM-84A submarine-launched
Weight 1,523 lb (691 kg) with booster
Length Air-launched: 12.6 ft (3.8 m); Surface- and submarine-launched: 15 ft (4.6 m)
Diameter 13.5 in (34 cm)
Warhead 488 pounds (221 kg)

Engine Teledyne CAE J402 Turbojet/solid propellant booster for surface and submarine launch; greater than 600 pounds (greater than 272.2 kg) of thrust
Wingspan 3 ft (0.91 m)
in excess of 67 nmi (124 km) depending on launch platform
Flight altitude Sea-skimming
Speed 537 miles per hour (864 km/h)(240 m/s)
Sea-skimming cruise monitored by radar altimeter / active radar terminal homing

The Harpoon is an all-weather, over-the-horizon, anti-ship missile system, developed and manufactured by McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing Defense, Space & Security). In 2004, Boeing delivered the 7,000th Harpoon unit since the weapon's introduction in 1977. The missile system has also been further developed into a land-strike weapon, the Standoff Land Attack Missile (SLAM).

The regular Harpoon uses active radar homing, and a low-level, sea-skimming cruise trajectory to improve survivability and lethality. The missile's launch platforms include:

  • Fixed-wing aircraft (the AGM-84, without the solid-fuel rocket booster)
  • Surface ships (the RGM-84, fitted with a solid-fuel rocket booster that detaches when expended, to allow the missile's main turbojet to maintain flight)
  • Submarines (the UGM-84, fitted with a solid-fuel rocket booster and encapsulated in a container to enable submerged launch through a torpedo tube);
  • Coastal defense batteries, from which it would be fired with a solid-fuel rocket booster.


In 1965 the U.S. Navy began studies for a missile in the 45 km (25 nm) range class for use against surfaced submarines. The name Harpoon was assigned to the project (i.e. a harpoon to kill "whales", a naval slang term for submarines). The sinking of the Israeli destroyer Eilat in 1967 by a Soviet-built Styx anti-ship missile shocked senior United States Navy officers, who until then had not been conscious of the threat posed by anti-ship missiles. In 1970 Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt accelerated the development of Harpoon as part of his "Project Sixty" initiative, hoping to add much needed striking power to US surface combatants. Harpoon was primarily developed for use on US Navy warships such as the Ticonderoga-class cruiser as their principal anti-ship weapon system.

The Harpoon has also been adapted for carriage on several aircraft, such as the P-3 Orion, the A-6 Intruder, the S-3 Viking, the AV-8B Harrier II, and the F/A-18 Hornet and U.S. Air Force B-52H bombers. Harpoon was purchased by many American allies, including Pakistan, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates and most NATO countries. It has been carried by several U.S. Air Force aircraft, including the B-52H bomber and F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The Royal Australian Air Force is capable of firing AGM-84 series missiles from its F/A-18F Super Hornets, F/A-18A/B Hornets, and AP-3C Orion aircraft, and previously from the now retired F-111C/Gs. The Royal Australian Navy deploys the Harpoon on major surface combatants and in the Collins-class submarines. The Spanish Air Force and the Chilean Navy are also AGM-84D customers, and they deploy the missiles on surface ships, and F/A-18s, F-16s, and P-3 Orion aircraft. The British Royal Navy deploys the Harpoon on several types of surface ship.

The Canadian frigate HMCS Regina fires a Harpoon anti-ship missile during a Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) sinking exercise

The Royal Canadian Navy carries Harpoon missiles on its Halifax-class frigates. The Royal New Zealand Air Force is looking at adding the capability of carrying a stand-off missile, probably Harpoon or AGM-65 Maverick, on its six P-3 Orion patrol planes once they have all been upgraded to P3K2 standard.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force also operates five modified Fokker 50 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) which are fitted with the sensors needed to fire the Harpoon missile. The Pakistani Navy carries the Harpoon missile on its naval frigates and P-3C Orions. The Turkish Navy carries Harpoons on surface warships and Type 209 submarines. The Turkish Air Force will be armed with the SLAM-ER.

At least 339 Harpoon missiles were sold to the Republic of China Air Force (Taiwan) for its F-16 A/B Block 20 fleet and the Taiwanese Navy, which operates four guided-missile destroyers and eight guided-missile frigates with the capability of carrying the Harpoon, including the eight former U.S. Navy Knox-class frigates and the four former USN Kidd-class destroyers which have been sold to Taiwan. The two Zwaardvis/Hai Lung submarines and 12 P-3C Orion aircraft can also use the missile. The eight Cheng Kung-class frigate, despite being based on the US Oliver Hazard Perry-class class, have Harpoon capabilities deleted from their combat systems, and funding to restore it has so far been denied.

The Block 1 missiles were designated AGM/RGM/UGM-84A in US service and UGM-84B in the UK. Block 1B standard missiles were designated AGM/RGM/UGM-84C, Block 1C missiles were designated AGM/RGM/UGM-84D. Block 1 used a terminal attack mode that included a pop-up to approximately 1800m before diving on the target; Block 1B omitted the terminal pop-up; and Block 1C provided a selectable terminal attack mode.[2]

Harpoon Block 1D

This version featured a larger fuel tank and re-attack capability, but was not produced in large numbers because its intended mission (warfare with the Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe) was considered to be unlikely following the events of 1991–92. Range is 278 km. Block 1D missiles were designated RGM/AGM-84F.

SLAM ATA (Block 1G)

This version, under development, gives the SLAM a re-attack capability, as well as an image comparison capability similar to the Tomahawk cruise missile; that is, the weapon can compare the target scene in front of it with an image stored in its on-board computer during terminal phase target acquisition and lock on (this is known as DSMAC).[3] Block 1G missiles AGM/RGM/UGM-84G; the original SLAM-ER missiles were designated AGM-84H (2000-2002) and later ones the AGM-84K (2002 onwards).

Harpoon Block 1J

Block 1J was a proposal for a further upgrade, AGM/RGM/UGM-84J Harpoon (or Harpoon 2000), for use against both ship and land targets.

Harpoon Block II

Loading Mk 141 canister launcher

In production at Boeing facilities in Saint Charles, Missouri, is the Harpoon Block II, intended to offer an expanded engagement envelope, enhanced resistance to electronic countermeasures and improved targeting. Specifically, the Harpoon was initially designed as an open-ocean weapon. The Block II missiles continue progress begun with Block IE, and the Block II missile provides the Harpoon with a littoral-water anti-ship capability.

The key improvements of the Harpoon Block II are obtained by incorporating the inertial measurement unit from the Joint Direct Attack Munition program, and the software, computer, Global Positioning System (GPS)/inertial navigation system and GPS antenna/receiver from the SLAM Expanded Response (SLAM-ER), an upgrade to the SLAM.

The US Navy awarded a $120 million contract to Boeing in July 2011 for the production of about 60 Block II Harpoon missiles, including missiles for 6 foreign militaries.[1] Boeing lists 30 foreign navies as Block II customers.[1]

India acquired 24 Harpoon Block II missiles to arm its maritime strike Jaguar fighters in a deal worth $170 million through the Foreign Military Sales system.[4] In December 2010, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified U.S. Congress of a possible sale of 21 additional AGM-84L HARPOON Block II Missiles and associated equipment, parts and logistical support for a complete package worth approximately $200 million; the Indian government intends to use these missiles on its Indian Navy P-8I Neptune maritime patrol aircraft.[5] Indian Navy is also planning to upgrade the fleet of four submarines – Shishumar class submarine – with tube-launched Harpoon missiles.[6]

Harpoon Block 2 missiles are designated AGM/RGM/UGM-84L.

Harpoon Block III

Harpoon Block III was intended to be an upgrade package to the existing USN Block 1C missiles and Command Launch Systems (CLS) for guided-missile cruisers, guided-missile destroyers, and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter aircraft. After experiencing an increase in the scope of required government ship integration, test and evaluation, and a delay in development of a data-link, the Harpoon Block III program was canceled by the U.S. Navy in April 2009.

Harpoon Next Generation

In April 2015, Boeing unveiled a modified version of the RGM-84 it calls the Harpoon Next Generation. It increases the ship-launched Harpoon missile's range from the Block II's 70 nmi (81 mi; 130 km) to 130 nmi (150 mi; 240 km), along with a new lighter 300 lb (140 kg) warhead a more fuel-efficient engine with electronic fuel controls. Boeing is offering the missile as the U.S. Navy's Littoral Combat Ship frigate upgrade over-the-horizon anti-ship missile as a cost-effective missile upgrade option. The Harpoon Next Generation will likely compete against the Kongsberg/Raytheon Naval Strike Missile and could be ready for service by 2017.[7][8]

Operational history

In 1981 and 1982 there were two accidental launches of Harpoon missiles: one by the USN and the other by the Danish Navy, which destroyed and damaged buildings in the recreational housing area Lumsås. The Danish missile was later known as the hovsa-missile (hovsa being the Danish term for oops).

In November 1980 during Operation Morvarid Iranian missile boats attacked and sank two Iraqi Osa-class missile boats; one of the weapons used was the Harpoon missile.

In 1986, the United States Navy sank at least two Libyan patrol boats in the Gulf of Sidra. Two Harpoon missiles were launched from the USS Yorktown with no confirmed results and several others from A-6 Intruder aircraft that were said to have hit their targets.[9][10] Initial reports claimed that the USS Yorktown scored hits on a patrol boat, but action reports indicated that the target may have been a false one and that no ships were hit by those missiles.[11]

In 1988, Harpoon missiles were used to sink the Iranian frigate Sahand during Operation Praying Mantis. Another was fired at the Kaman-class missile boat Joshan, but failed to strike because the fast attack craft had already been mostly sunk by RIM-66 Standard missiles. An Iranian-owned Harpoon missile was also fired at the guided missile cruiser USS Wainwright. The missile was successfully lured away by chaff.[12]

In December 1988, a Harpoon launched by an F/A-18 Hornet fighter from the aircraft carrier USS Constellation[13] killed one sailor when it struck the merchant ship Jagvivek, a 250 ft (76 m) long Indian-owned ship, during an exercise at the Pacific Missile Range near Kauai, Hawaii. A Notice to Mariners had been issued warning of the danger, but Jagvivek left port before receiving the communication and subsequently strayed into the test range area, and the Harpoon missile, loaded just with an inert dummy warhead, locked onto it instead of its intended target.

In June 2009, it was reported by an American newspaper, citing unnamed officials from the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress, that the American government had accused Pakistan of illegally modifying some older Harpoon missiles to strike land targets. Pakistani officials denied this and they claimed that the US was referring to a new Pakistani-designed missile. Some international experts were also reported to be skeptical of the accusations. Robert Hewson, editor of Jane's Air Launched Weapons, pointed out that the Harpoon is not suitable for the land-attack role due to deficiency in range. He also stated that Pakistan was already armed with more sophisticated missiles of Pakistani or Chinese design and, therefore, "beyond the need to reverse-engineer old US kit." Hewson offered that the missile tested by Pakistan was part of an undertaking to develop conventionally armed missiles, capable of being air- or surface-launched, to counter its rival India's missile arsenal.[14][15][16] It was later stated that Pakistan and the US administration had reached some sort of agreement allowing US officials to inspect Pakistan's inventory of Harpoon missiles,[17][18] and the issue had been resolved.[19]


Map with Harpoon operators in blue
Australia Anzac-class frigate, HMAS Toowoomba

Current operators

  • German Navy
    • Sachsen class frigate (F124)
    • Bremen class frigate (F122)
  • Hellenic Navy
    • Elli class frigate
    • Hydra class frigate
    • Type 209 submarine, Glafkos class (1100) and Poseidon class (1200)
    • Papanikolis Type 214 class submarine
 Republic of Korea
 Saudi Arabia
 United Arab Emirates
 United Kingdom
 United States

General characteristics

Harpoon Block II test firing from USS Thorn.
UGM-84 submarine launch
AGM-84D being prepared for P-3 Orion weapons pylon.
  • Primary function: Air-, surface-, or submarine-launched anti-surface (anti-ship) missile
  • Contractor: The McDonnell Douglas Astronautic Company – East
  • Power plant: Teledyne CAE J402 turbojet, 660 lb (300 kg)-force (2.9 kN) thrust, and a solid-propellant booster for surface and submarine launches
  • Length:
    • Air-launched: 3.8 metres (12 ft)
    • Surface and submarine-launched: 4.6 metres (15 ft)
  • Weight:
    • Air-launched: 519 kilograms (1,144 lb)
    • Submarine or ship launched from box or canister launcher: 628 kilograms (1,385 lb)
  • Diameter: 340 millimetres (13 in)
  • Wing span: 914 millimetres (36.0 in)
  • Maximum altitude: 910 metres (2,990 ft) with booster fins and wings
  • Range: Over-the-horizon (approx 50 nautical miles)
    • AGM-84D (Block 1C): 220 km (120 nmi)
    • RGM/UGM-84D (Block 1C): 140 km (75 nmi)
    • AGM-84E (Block 1E) : 93 km (50 nmi)
    • AGM-84F (Block 1D): : 315 km (170 nmi)
    • RGM-84F (Block 1D): 278 km (150 nmi).
    • RGM/AGM-84L (Block 2): 278 km (150 nmi)
    • AGM-84H/K (Block 1G / Block 1J): 280 km (150 nmi)
  • Speed: High subsonic, around 850 km/h (460 knots, 240 m/s, or 530 mph)
  • Guidance: Sea-skimming cruise monitored by radar altimeter, active radar terminal homing
  • Warhead: 221 kilograms (487 lb), penetration high-explosive blast
  • Unit cost: US$527,416
  • Date deployed:
    • Ship-launched (RGM-84A): 1977
    • Air-launched (AGM-84A): 1979
    • Submarine-launched (UGM-84A): 1981
    • SLAM (AGM-84E): 1990
    • SLAM-ER (AGM-84H): 1998 (delivery); 2000 (initial operational capability (IOC))
    • SLAM-ER ATA (AGM-84K): 2002 (IOC)

See also


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^
  3. ^ Global Security Harpoon article
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Boeing Will Offer Modified Harpoon Missile for Littoral Combat Ships -, 16 April 2015
  8. ^ Next-Generation Harpoon Missile Offered to Navy -, 12 May 2015
  9. ^ Time (magazine). High-Tech Firepower. April 7, 1986.
  10. ^ Ronald Reagan. Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate on the Gulf of Sidra Incident. March 26, 1986.
  11. ^ The New York Times. PENTAGON REVISES LIBYAN SHIP TOLL. March 27, 1986.
  13. ^ The New York Times / AP. U.S. Rocket Hits Indian Ship Accidentally, Killing Crewman. December 13, 1988.
  14. ^ The New York Times. US Says Pakistan Made Changes to Missiles Sold for Defense August 29, 2009
  15. ^ / PTI. Pakistan illegally modified Harpoon missile: Report. August 30, 2009.
  16. ^ The Times of India / PTI. Harpoon missile modification by Pak very serious: US. September 1, 2009.
  17. ^ Dawn News.
  18. ^ India TV News.
  19. ^
  20. ^

External links

  • Official Harpoon information – Boeing website
  • Detailed information of all Harpoon versions and upgrades – From Encyclopedia Astronautica
  • AGM-84 variants
  • McDonnell-Douglas AGM-84A Harpoon and AGM-84E SLAM
  • FAS Harpoon article
  • Global Security Harpoon article
  • Boeing Harpoon Block III Press Release
  • Boeing Harpoon Block II Backgrounder
  • Royal Netherlands Navy launches Harpoons from new frigate HMS De Ruyter (Defense-Aerospace)
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