Developed in the late 1960s to meet a French navy requirement, the Aerospatiale Exocet completed its first manufacturer's trials in mid-1972. In October of that year evaluation tests were undertaken by the French navy in conjunction with the Royal Navy and the West German Kriegsmarine. The results led to a missile improvement programme in 1973, the first production round being fired in the following year. Out of some 30 rounds fired the hit rate was 91 per cent. By early 1983 some 2,000 rounds of the various Exocet versions had been ordered by 27 customers.
The basic MM.38 round is a two stage solid-propellant missile fitted with four cruciform wings and four tail control surfaces. The missile is stored in a rectangular box-like container/launcher. Before firing the range and bearing of the target is determined bythe launch platform's own fire-control system and stored in the missile's guidance system. The missile is then launched towards the target, a low-altitude inertially-controlled profile being flown throughout the cruise phase. At around 10 km (6.2 miles) from the target's estimated location the ADAC active radar seeker is switched on and the target acquired by the missile; the seeker then locks on and the missile descends to one of three pre-set sea skimming altitudes, chosen according to the sea state and the target damage required. MM.38 operators include Argentina, Brazil, Brunei, Chile, Ecuador, France, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Thailand, the UK and West Germany.
Improvements to the sustainer motor and container-launcher have resulted in the evolution of the larger MM.4O variant. This has increasedrange, but also allows a larger number of rounds to be carried for the same space and weight occupied by the MM.38 system. Among operators of the MM.4O are Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Morocco, Qatar, 'Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. The first variant to see action, however, was the air-launched AM.39. This version evolved from a modified MM.38 (called the AM.38) that incorporated a one-second ignition delay on the motor to allow the weapon to clear of the launch aircraft. The first AM38 tests were conducted in April 1973. in l977 the first test rounds of the shorter and lighter AM.39 were fired, with production starting in that year for the French navy and for export to Abu Dhabi, Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Iraq, Kuwait, Pakistan and Peru. The AM.39 was then successfully used by Iraq in the current Gulf War from Aerospatiale Super Frelon helicopters, sinking at least three Iranian warships and damaging or destroying a number of merchant vessels and oil rig platforms. The Argentineans subsequently used the AM39 in the Falkland Islands war, together with the MM38. The missiles fired from Dassault-Breguet Super Etendard fighters and crude shore batteries resulted in the loss of the destroyer HMS Sheffield and the merchant vessel Atlantic Conveyor, plus severe damage to the destroyer HMS Glamorgan following the success of the SuperEtendard/AM.39 combination, Iraq has leased five such aircraft from the French Aeronavale to attack Iranian oil industry targets located in the Gulf.
In the mid-l970s the French navy requested the development of an encapsulated submarine-launched version, the AM.39.In this version the missile is encased in a 5.8-m ( 19-ft) long capsule that weighs 1350 kg (2,976 lb) when loaded and is capable of being launched from standard torpedo tubes Like the Sub-Harpoon the AM.39 is released from its capsule upon reaching the surface of the water, and then rapidly assumes the Exocet's sea-skimming flight profile.
Dimensions: length 8.21 m ( 17 ft 1. 1 in); diameter 38.0 cm ( 1 ft 1. 78 in); span1.004 m (3 ft 3.5 in)
Weights: total round 750 kg ( 1, 653 lb); warhead 165 kg (364 lb)
Performance: maximum speed Mach 0.93; range 42 km (26 miles)
Dimensions: length 4.69 m ( 15 ft4.65 in); diameter 35.0 cm ( 1 ft 1. 75 in); span 1.004 m (3 ft 3.5 in)
Weights: total round 652 kg ( 1, 437 lb); warhead 165 kg (364 lb)
Performance: maximum speed Mach 0.93; range 50-7O km (31-43.5 miles) depending on launch altitude
Dimensions: length 5.78 m ( 18 ft 11.55 in); diameter 35.0 cm ( 1 ft 1. 75 in); span 1.135 m (3 ft 8.66 in
Weight: total round 850 kg ( 1,874 lb); warhead 165 kg (364 lb)
Performance: maximum speed Mach 0.93; range 65 km (40.4 miles)