For quite some years now, western navies have been passionately dedicated to the evolution of anti-air missiles, providing them with some very interesting capabilities, most notoriously the anti-ship one.
But anti-ship specifically designed missiles like the HARPOON have not been subject of the same interest. This missile was originally designed to be used against the old Warsaw Pact navies. The threat no longer exists (apparently), so its final model as a full anti-ship missile, which is the Block-1D, was built in relatively small numbers, and its subsequent production concentrated on a number of modifications to allow it to be used in a SLAM mode. In short, while its anti-ship capabilities where deemed no longer necessary to evolve, the SLAM concept was added. And so the Block 1G was born, together with the 1J, Block II, Block III and Next Generation, which is still under development. New and fascinating capabilities indeed, but nothing to add to its anti-ship role.
So we now find ourselves with what seem to be excellent anti-air missiles with all sorts of additional capabilities such as the anti-ship one, and anti-ship missiles which have barely evolved over the last decade. It seems as if the western navies no longer perceive the need to potentially sink enemy ships. Ironically, however excellent the new seeker of the Standard RIM-66 may be for an anti-ship role….it still carries a warhead which is great for bringing down aircraft, but hardy for seriously damaging a well designed man´o´war. Certainly not compared to what a HARPOON or EXOCET carries under the hood (may I remind the reader that USS Stark took two! EXOCET impacts and still managed to reach port under her own steam). I for one would be very interested to see the comparison between the total cost invested in the RIM-66L in the anti-ship field, and what it would have cost to further evolve the Block-1D to add extended range capability, more porwerfull seeker, added functions (anti radiation capability and larger number of waypoints perhaps?), increased warhead and so on. In other words, what it would have cost to keep up to speed on what potential adversaries are currently doing as of today .
I still believe, in my naivety, that the use of anti-air missiles in an anti-ship mode (commonly known as SASS) should be regarded as a last resort, when the chips are down and no other alternative is available. But I perceive a tendency to make use of these weapons in this role as a rule, and somehow open water warfare will again make its way into future military naval history, and in this scenario something with a bigger punch will be more than necessary. Are we prepared for it?. Further more, are we even aware of it?.
Somewhere in my mind I´ve thought that a navy´s first mission was to guarantee the safety of the maritime lines of communication. And that the man´o´war is its main threat. Or perhaps I thought wrong…