Exocet Countermeasures

Exocet Countermeasures (1982)

The command and warfare officers of British warships were trained in missile countermeasures. And each captain was ultimately free to manoeuvre his ship to avoid damage, except perhaps in the case of the ‘goalkeepers’.

All the British warships were equipped with chaff which could be launched in various ways. It could be fired in shells or rockets or dropped from helicopters. Chaff consists of fibres (the original chaff used in WWII was tinfoil) designed to interfere with radar signals and thereby confuse weapon targeting systems. Ships would set up clouds of chaff to try and hide themselves from search radar or as large false targets that missiles might lock on to instead of the ships themselves.

Another tactic was to turn the ship being attacked to the most favourable defensive posture. Factors included minimising the ship’s radar profile to try and escape detection and presenting the strongest part of the ship towards the missile in the hope of minimising damage if hit.

During the campaign, countermeasures advice was updated as analysts reviewed evidence from attacks. For example, the initial advice for the carriers was (similar to other warships) to fire chaff and present a quarter to incoming missiles. This was apparently updated to presenting the stern to missiles. And by 25th May, the advice was for the carriers to turn their bows to missiles to help preserve their engines.

Next: Minimising the Exocet threat