How an Exocet missile works

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The French-built Exocet MM38 began life back in 1967 as a surface-to-surface, ship-launched missile. In 1974 the air-to-surface Exocet AM39 was produced, and this was followed by the SM39 submarine-to-surface variant in 1979. Since its introduction, its inertial navigation system has been massively improved and it now contains a digital radar seeker to find its target, as well as systems to avoid electronic jamming.

When launched it uses its radar altimeter to skim over the sea at a height of ten metres (33 feet) and then descend to three metres (ten feet) as it closes in on its unfortunate target. On impact, the blast fragmentation warhead is capable of inflicting serious damage to huge warships such as destroyers and frigates.

Over 3,600 Exocets have been built and sold throughout the world since its inception. It proved a formidable weapon in the Eighties, when used in both the Falklands and the Iran-Iraq conflicts.

The latest MM40 Block 3 Exocet has a booster rocket and turbojet sustainer motor to reach a range of 180 kilometres (112 miles) and has a 3D navigation system with an active seeker capable of homing in on moving targets in complex situations from afar.