There are a bewildering array of weapons systems optimised for the destruction of surface vessels. At the height of the Cold War, the RAF’s Blackburn Buccaneer aircraft had an arsenal that included TV- and radar-guided Matra Martel missiles, longer-range BAE (now MBDA) Sea Eagle anti-ship missiles, Texas Instruments (now Raytheon) Paveway laser-guided bombs and tactical nuclear weapons, while during the Falklands War, the courageous and highly skilled Argentinian pilots wreaked havoc on Britain’s naval task force – largely using unguided ‘iron bombs’. The Royal Navy (RN) was saved from disaster largely because some of these weapons had not fused by the time they hit their targets. During an engagement between the US Navy and Iranian forces in 1988 (Operation Praying Mantis), US aircraft attacked enemy vessels using AGM-84 Harpoon missiles, AGM-123 Skipper rocket-propelled bombs, Walleye TV-guided bombs, and unguided 1,000lb (453kg) bombs.
But with the increasing sophistication and lethality of today’s anti-aircraft defences, anti-ship attacks are better carried out without having to overfly the target, and ideally from significantly greater stand-off range, and to do this requires the use of (ideally guided) anti-ship missiles (AShMs).