Monday, 30 April 2012

Flying Fish

Bob and I are having a 'quiet' week at Yeovilton with no flying. So I thought a primer on Exocet would be useful.  I've read so much ill informed rubbish on the internet about it; ranging from 'they were American missiles' to 'the British were surprised to find that the Argies had them' and as it plays more than just a little part in the story to come it might be worth just covering a few points.
Exocet means 'Flying Fish' in French.  So there's a clue then.  Yes it's a French Naval missile, developed from an earlier land based version. However money was also supplied the by the British government so it would be fair to say it was a bit of a joint effort.  Many of our ships had it fitted - including Andromeda.  There was also an air launched variant which we didn't have but the Argies did and was launched from the Super Etendard jet.  I suspect that we didn't bother with this version  because we had something similar in the pipeline called Sea Eagle for the Harriers and of course our Lynx had the shorter range Sea Skua system.
The missile is fired off towards a target that the parent has detected - be it ship or aircraft.  It then scoots off down a bearing under inertial navigation until at a preset point it turns on its own little radar in the nose.  It finds the target and homes in.  It flies extremely low, just a few metres (Sea Skimmer!) so is extremely hard to detect and even harder to do anything about.  Later on I was talking to a Weapons expert and he told me that missile seekers systems were designed by very clever people and the bloke 'wot done the Exocet' was a Grand Master.  As you can imagine having to go up against it was a real worry.  And of course we knew the Argies had it!  It was fitted to several of their ships even some of the older ones.  We even had their new Type 42 destroyers (just like Sheffield) at Portland doing a British work up the year before, ie we trained them to use it. Luckily for us they had only taken delivery of just 5 AM 39 air launched weapons before the war started because that was the real threat.  Frankly their navy did the right thing staying in port, with nuclear submarines, Harriers, Sea Skua armed Lynx, and Exocet armed ships they would have stood little chance in a traditional naval battle.  That they never got any more AM 39s  is a story in its own right.
Another rumour was that the French supported the Argies.  One of my readers kindly supplied me with an article from the BBC that indicates that a French technical team did stay in Argentina during the war and did have  some small technical input.  However it was apparently small beer and surprisingly we actually knew all about it at governmental level.  However what I do personally know is that they were also extremely helpful in providing detailed technical information down to individual weapon specifications and performance.  This would be of great help in the week to come....
I don't want to plug my books too much here especially with the adverts on one side but there is also the thing that has fascinated me for ages and formed the key plot element for my novel. Some if not all of the Argentinian warheads failed to detonate - why?
Anyway a lot more about Exocet to come but I seem to remember we managed to get a couple of days leave, so my next entry will be on the 4 May.

An Argentinian Super Etendard launching an AM39 Exocet.  Not to be confuse with:

A flying Fish

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