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From: Paul F Austin <>
Newsgroups: sci.military.naval
Subject: Re: Why are our ASMs smaller than theirs?
Date: Sun, 13 Sep 1998 17:08:36 -0400

Andrew C. Toppan wrote:

> AlumsHubby ( was seen to write:
> > Why is it that we have smaller missiles?  Does smaller imply less
> > mission-capable, or is there a tradeoff in reliability, battleworthiness,
> > speed, etc.?
> The idea that "we have smaller missile [warheads]" is not entirely true.
> Yes, SOME foreign missiles - mainly Soviet/Russian types - have very large
> warheads.  But the vast majority of foreign missiles (i.e. the famous
> SS-N-2 Styx and Exocet) have warheads considerably smaller than that of US
> Harpoon.

Andrew, you miss an interesting question: _why_ are our ASMs smaller?

As you know, Harpoon was originally developed (in the late sixties) to give
P-3s the ability to kill surfaced Soviet SSGs. The USN at the time was wedded
to the idea that strike warfare was exclusively the province of carrier
aviation. Surface ships were intended for ASW and AAW defense _only_. Since
doctrine gave surface units no independent warfare mission, there was no
requirement for a surface launched ASM.

As you say, the Sovs fielded very large ASM from the late fifties. USN doctrine
was for carrier groups to kill the ASM carriers and that surface units would
never operate in the presence of an ASM threat without a carrier. The ASM's
effectiveness was "unproven", i.e., could be plausibly denied, until the '68
Arab-Israeli war. The Egyptians killed two Israeli destroyers and the USN could
no longer ignore either the threat or utility of ASMs.

Harpoon was sized for carriage by P-3s and for killing surfaced submarines,
which didn't need a large warhead. When Harpoon proved to be a success and
doctrine changed to have surface combatants operating independently, Harpoon
was pressed into service. Harpoon is marginal against frigate sized ships (as
is Exocet) and inadequate against armored ships of any kind. It has adequate
range for a surface ship launched missile but the size of the airframe limits
the warhead size.

The USN developed Tomahawk initially as the TLAM-N nuclear strike variant with
TLAM conventional and TASM anti-ship variants later. TASM has too long a range
to employ without an off-board midcourse update sensor. After the fall of the
Soviet Union, the ships that the TASM was designed to kill, cruisers of 6,000
tons and up, pretty much disapeared. Because TASM presents real problems at the
extreme end of its range envelope (the flight time is long enough that neutral
shipping can easily enter the search area) and because the targets that
absolutely needed the larger warhead were pretty much gone, TASM was withdrawn
from service.

Harpoon is what's left. The original block 1 Harpoon can perform mission kills
against destroyer type ships that lack the redundant weapon direction systems
and launchers that characterize cruisers but it's really too small to sink a
large warship. The latest block upgrades have improved warheads in consequence.

That's pretty much how we got to where we are: systems developed to one
mission, pressed into service in another. If we were designing an ASM from
scratch, it would probably be 50% bigger or (now) make its attack at M2.5+. In
fact FASTHAWK pretty much is that bird. A M4-5 missile really doesn't need any
ordinance at all, since the kinetic energy per pound is about 40% of RDX.

"people of means-decent folk-should be given more votes
than drifters, whores, criminals, degenerates, atheists
and indecent folks-people without means."

Paul F Austin

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