Deadly precision: How Harpoon missiles revolutionized anti-ship warfare

The initial purpose of the Harpoon was to provide a high-subsonic, long-range, sea-skimming, over-the-horizon missile capable of striking enemy warships with lethal accuracy.
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The Harpoon missile system, originally developed by McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was designed to be a high-subsonic, long-range, sea-skimming, over-the-horizon weapon capable of delivering lethal blows to enemy warships. Since its inception, the Harpoon missile has undergone significant strategic advancements, elevating its combat capabilities and solidifying its position as a formidable naval weapon. This article delves into the evolution of the Harpoon missile system, highlighting its defining features and the recent advancements that have made it even more effective.

From its first deployment in 1977 to the present day, the Harpoon missile system has witnessed several noteworthy advancements that have enhanced its combat capabilities. Notably, the introduction of GPS (Global Positioning System) into the guidance systems of more recent versions, like the Block II+, has revolutionized the missile's navigation accuracy. With the integration of GPS/INS (Inertial Navigation System), the Harpoon missile is now capable of precisely navigating to the target area, even in challenging littoral environments with islands and land features that could otherwise disrupt its flight path.

A distinguishing characteristic of the Harpoon missile is its sea-skimming flight trajectory. Following launch, the missile descends to an extremely low altitude just above the sea's surface, thereby minimizing its radar cross-section and making it difficult for enemy radar systems to detect and track. This flight path is continuously adjusted by a radar altimeter, which constantly measures the missile's altitude above the sea surface. By maintaining this low-level flight, the Harpoon maximizes its stealth capabilities and significantly enhances its chances of reaching the target undetected.

At the heart of the Harpoon missile's destructive power lies its warhead. Designed to detonate upon impact, the Harpoon carries a blast/fragmentation warhead specifically engineered to generate extensive damage to the target. Upon reaching its intended destination, the warhead explodes, creating a devastating effect with a large amount of shrapnel, inflicting severe harm to enemy warships.

The Harpoon missile system has evolved over the years to become a highly capable naval weapon, providing long-range, sea-skimming, and lethal accuracy against enemy warships. With its incorporation of GPS/INS technology, the Harpoon's ability to navigate precisely to target areas has been greatly enhanced, even in complex littoral environments. Its sea-skimming flight trajectory ensures stealthy penetration, while its powerful warhead guarantees devastating impact upon reaching the target. 

As a result, the Harpoon remains a vital component of naval arsenals worldwide, playing a crucial role in maintaining maritime superiority and defending against potential threats on the open seas.