How Effective are modern Naval Missiles?

NGB is proud to present a new article written by our very own JohnPJones! Look forward to more excellent posts by him in the future!


How Effective are modern Naval Missiles?

By: JohnPJones



First I would like to thank the moderator for agreeing to publish this article on his site. Secondly, this article is the first in a two part post/series.

Are missiles the wonder weapons that so many have made them out to be for so many decades now?

It is my opinion in the case of the anti-ship missile that they most certainly are not. First the easiest argument to make, the cost of each missile when compared to each round fired by gun and the amount of damage that each does. Dollar for dollar the gun provides more bang for the buck. That is however supposing that each gun round hits it’s target. The difference between the accuracy of the missile and the gun is very obvious from the numerous Sink-Exes that various navies have held, with missiles not only achieving first round hits, but hits with nearly every single launch, while the various guns all have much lower hit ratios. However is a Sink-Ex really a good metric to judge the effectiveness of a missile?

As it turns out, it is not.

A study (linked at the end of the article) done of all combat missile launches up to 1990 shows an admittedly high hit ratio, but one of the things that must be kept in mind about that ratio is that nearly every ship struck by a missile was unprepared to defend itself or did not have appropriate missile counter measures of any sort available to defend itself. The study found that soft kill measures, counter measures such as chaff or decoys had a 100% success rate when utilized, and that is my second argument.

All major surface combatants now have soft kill measures on board. During most of the studied time period there were no hard kill measures for missiles and for much of it very few ships even had soft kill measures for missiles at the time most SAMs onboard ships were designed and intended to be used against the aircraft that were believed to be the biggest threat to ships, and as such the study did find only one confirmed missile hard kill by an AA missile that occurred in 1990. (Though they do relate the tale of a lucky hard kill as a result of spray and pray tactics from every single crew served weapon and major and minor caliber naval gun the vessel had onboard.) Now nearly every major surface combatant has hard kill measures that are dedicated to shooting down missiles.

A supplement to Missiles?

Missiles did have an era of pure dominance, but only because it was a weapon that no one had devised a counter to. Multiple counters now exist. ASMs rely completely on radar which can be spoofed or jammed, guns however can still be used in the pre-radar manner should the fire control system for the guns become useless for whatever reason, and with nearly every warship sailing the surface of the world’s oceans now carrying aircraft of their own the pilots can spot shell fall to help gunners get on target which is where the cheapness of gun rounds really shines.

Without radar, missiles are at best million dollar rockets playing the world’s most expensive game of ‘Battleship’.

I view missiles to be the modern equivalent of the WWII torpedo. A weapon that allows aircraft and smaller vessels to punch well about their weight class, but it is my opinion that the dominance of the missile is over and we are now in an era where guns and missiles stand essentially as equals in the domain of surface-surface warfare.

The 2009 study used to as reference in this article.

Chris Knupp