Naval Missiles Encyclopedia

Naval Missiles – SAM, SSM, ASW, Airborne, Sub.

⚙ From the origins to these days: Naval Missiles

Very old attemps: Ancient rocketry

Illustration of the Huolongchushui, 14th century Chinese military treatise Huolongjing by Jiao Yu and Liu Bowen (Ming dynasty).
But well before that, there were ancient Chinese descriptions of such a “missile”, which were very large unguided rockets. This was the Huolongchushui, (“fire dragon issuing from the water”) 火龙出水, a very early multistage rocket and ballistic missile of post-classical China. Not really offensive as it had no warhead, but more to strike fear into enemy troops. It had a magazine of three rocket driven arrows, located within the mouth of the missile and thus was the world’s first “multistage rocket” used in naval battles. It had a hollow bamboo tube with a carved wooden dragon head and tail and was about five feet long (1.50 m). Both the forward and tail sections contained four rockets, packed with gunpowder for propulsion. The main idea was the long-burn fuses facing downwards from the forward rockets were ignited by the fuses of the rockets inside which shoot out those of its mouth. So the Huolongchushui itself was also a rocket carrier.

Ancient rocketry was used in the 14th-16th centuries by Asian powers, notably China and Korea, especially the latter.

Early missiles of WWI

The earliest recent attempt of a naval missile was a guided midsile, was the Liberty Eagle, made by Wright in 1918, designed by Orville and Fred Nash. It was a small unmanned biplane from the Dayton Wright Airplane Company called Liberty Eagle and nicknamed “the Bug” designed as a guided missile, using a gyroscopic stabilizer, and the first attempt ever. Several were built and tested in Pensacola, Florida, half damaging their target. src:

Guided missiles off WW2

German antiship Missiles


US Missiles

The trauma of Kamikaze attacks at the end of WW2 conducted the navy to a trusted AA defense against hostile aircraft, with better chances of eliminating the target than peppering rounds around. There was already a solution, pioneered by the Germans in WW2, although they were intermediate between future antiship missiles and guided bombs. Operation Bumblebee launched by the Navy help testing US Navy ramjet missiles in 1945, and the Applied Physics Lab PTV-N-4 Cobra/BTV first flew in October 1945. The program went on and eventually reached its critical point, the RIM-8 Talos missile.

The “Three T” (Talos, Terrier, and Tartar) were really at the base of the US Navy missile program in the 1950s. They were working in conjunction with the Navy’s carrier-based fighters, and point-defense systems. The most impressive one was the Talos, the “big one”, for long range interception, high altitude. This was the “soviet bomber killer”. At some point in its development it was defined as a universal missile. Its operational requirements were daunting, ever higher, faster, to be effective against equally capable targets. It became larger with a booster, at four tons. Therefore to cover the less demanding medium range, the Navy developed the smaller Terrier and Tartar.


RIM-8 Talos
RIM-8 talos and launcher; This was the standard long range, high altitude missile, with a ramjet and a rod-based warhead.
The RIM-8 Talos was first used on the freshly converted USS Galveston in 1958, operational in early 1959. The Talos homed in on the target semi-actively and as the development went one and upgrades allowed its final figures of 2.5 Mach, 100 nautical miles, 80,000 feet of ceiling. If fighters with long range air-to-air missiles failed, Talos was the last recourse.
To eliminate its target, the Talos used a continuous-rod warhead: Rods were wrapped around an explosive charge, which forced them apart when detonating, forming an expanding metal circle that could cut through the airframe and fuselage at great velocity.
It was costly, but the most capable first-generation SAM in the navy, but required a large dedicated space to operate, so a heavy cruiser hull was ideal. However to make it more common, the Navy pressed the development of the cheaper Terrier and Tartar to be used on smaller cruisers and destroyers, and deployed missiles at a larger scale, and quicker. During the Vietnam war, Talos claimed three MiGs and it remained in the inventory for long, converted into supersonic Vandal target drones.


RIM-2 Terrier onboard USS Boston in 1966
The RIM-2 Terrier concept was initially close to the Talos, but diverged as development went on, focusing on smaller targets, closer. Talos evolved to shot down Soviet bombers armed with antiship missiles, while Terrier would eliminate the antiship missiles themselves after launch. The type of warhead needed changed, to a trusted blast-fragmentation system. Its development started with a wing-controlled and beam-riding missile capable of 1.8 Mach over 10 nautical miles. At the end of the process, it was tail-controlled, with semi-active radar homing and capable of mach 3.0 over 40 nautical miles and a 80,000 feet ceiling. It became so successful it became the standard on all USN ships, on destroyers and cruisers, and 8,000 were built in all, deployed on twin launchers, quick reload with often 80 vectors in stock inside the hull. It was replaced by the RIM-67 Standard Missile in the 1980s but equipped the Albany, California and Virginia-class cruisers as well as the Charles F. Adams, Mitscher, Forrest Sherman and Kidd-class destroyers and Brooke class frigates.


The small, short range Tartar was deployed on three cruisers classes, USN destroyers and frigates, but also Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Australian destroyers.
The RIM-24 Tartar was the small, short, to very close range vector in the family, and could be deployed against all sorts of missiles. It was used not only by destroyers, but also Frigates and came with a simpler and lighter single Mk.13/22 launcher, after the initial Mk 11 twin-arm launcher. It was capable of Mach 1.8, with a 18 miles range and ceiling of 65,000 feet. The ambition was to replace all twin 5-inch/38 in service in the USN by these launchers on destroyers. However the program had lower priority so at some point in June 1955, CNO Admiral Arleigh Burke pressed the case and urged development. It became basically a RIM-2C Terrier without the secondary booster, to ease production and was otherwise known as the Mk 15.

In the end, the legacy of three Ts and operational capabilities were not only to focus the U.S. Navy attention of a standard system, providing stability, but also revealed limits on improving constantly the missiles themselves, and the Navy came to recognize that further advances would necessarily involved the technical environment surrounding the missile, like the fire-control systems, computing, radars and target management as a whole. It became more logical to focus on the overall performance and this was the impulse and inspiration for the future Aegis system.

RIM-50 Typhoon

SAM-N-8 Typhon
The RIM-50 Typhon was an alternative “universal” SAM missile project developed in the late 1950s. The SAM-N-8 Typhon LR (RIM-50A), SAM-N-9 Typhon MR -(RIM-55A) by Bendix Corp. were paired with the AN/SPG-59 radar system. These were tested on the USS USS Norton Sound from 1962 but around 1966 the program was terminated. It was a superb example of faster, higher “super-Talos” which cost was deemed too high, and replaced by the better all-round standard system, wich started to focus on the missile environment instead.


The standard, was the original idea of a universal missile that could be tailored with some modularity for various tasks. The first model became operational in 1968. It replaced the Tartar, using the same launcher and Fire Control System. First combat was in the early 1970s, Vietnam war. By the late 1970s the second model development started, and it became operational with the Aegis Combat System in 1983 (so with the Ticonderoga class cruisers). Standard 1 and 2 were in effect SAM/SSM and first combat use was during Operation Praying Mantis, 3 July 1988. USS Vincennes (CG-49) shot down by error an Iran Air Flight 655 with two SM-2MR missiles.


The characteristic RUR-5 “Matchbox” launcher of the 1960s.
Officially called RUR 5, Anti-Submarine ROCket, the famous acronym became the proverbial ASW weapon of choice during the cold war. It was not only used by the USN but a large variery of navies from major nations but France and UK. Although the concept was still inherited from the Hedgehog, rockets were replaced by missiles at the end of the program. It started with the RAT or Rocket Assisted Torpedo program by the Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake in the 1950s. The idea was to launch at great distances a torpedo delivered by parachute from the air, giving little notice to the attacked submarines, reached underwater in seconds.

The program ended with a derivative of the RAT-C, which became operational in 1960 on USN destroyer USS Norfolk. The system called for a distinctively orientable MK-112 “Matchbox” launcher, which lasted for 30 years and became a familiar feature of all USN ships of the Frigate size and above; It was replaced in 1990 by vertical launchers RUM-139/VLA. When the position was located, a rocket propelled an offensive payload which could be an acoustic homing torpedo or even a W44 Nuclear Depth Bomb. The Mark 46 torpedo carried a 96.8 pounds (43.9 kg) PBXN-103 HE payload. The use of a parachute allowed entering water at low speed, with minimum detectable noise.

The W44 lacked precision but of course the blast was a 100% kill even at a distance. Depending on the model, torpedoes were self-guided using an active or passive sonar. The W44 was a 10 kt model, retired in 1989 of all ships when the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed. The Soviet navy also made use of small nuclear depht charges, sometimes dropped by helicopters.

⚙ ASROC specifications

Design Year and introduction 1955 Naval Ordnance Test Station Pasadena
Manufacturer Honeywell
Cost (without payload) Approximately $350,000
Weight 1,073 pounds (487 kg)
Dimensions Length 14.75 ft (4.50 m), Diameter 16.6 inches (420 mm), Wingspan 26+7⁄8 inches (680 mm)
Propulsion Solid propellant rocket motor
Speed Subsonic
Range 6 mi (9.7 km)
Payload Mark 46 torpedo, 96.8 Ibs PBXN-103 high explosive or 10 kt W44 nuclear warhead
Associated Sensor

Soviet Missiles

The Japanese ‘human missile”, Yokosuka “Baka”

(Work in progress !)

Cold War Antiship Missiles

Cold War Surface to Air Missiles

Cold War ASW Missiles

Submarine-launched Missiles

Airborne antiship Missiles

(Work in progress !)

Airborne AA Missiles

US Navy AIM-9 Sidewinder (1975)
The standard cold war HS AA missile:
By all means, the AIM-9 Sidewinder was a huge success story in the history of missile development. Not only it became the premier AAM (Air to Air Missile), replacing guns as a primary weapon on planes in the US NAVY (where it started), but was adopted by the USAF and soon NATO and friendly countries. Soon copied by Soviet engineers it became also the premier AAM of the Soviet bloc and nearly all aviations around the world that could afford modern missile-armed jets. This post as for object the study of this amazing missile, from the very roots of its developments, the personal involved and locations, its variants and active deployments, and still used to this day in more than 45 countries.

Early developments

The ‘China Lake gang’


An amazing documentary by Technical Information Division NAVAIR Weapons Division, China Lake, 2002