300 N. Washington St.
Suite B-100
Alexandria, VA 22314

GlobalSecurity.org In the News

The Jerusalem Post October 14, 2003

Harpoon missile story said politically motivated

By Erik Schechter

A senior Israeli official accused The Los Angeles Times of deliberately running a phony story - which was quickly picked up by news outlets worldwide - in order to draw public pressure away from Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program.

On Sunday, the newspaper said that Israel had modified the US-made Harpoon anti-ship missile so it could deliver nuclear warheads to targets on land. This would give Israel the ability to deliver an unconventional blow from land, air, and sea - and therefore, a secure second-strike capability to deter a sneak attack.

"They knew it was technically impossible to fit the missile with a nuclear warhead,"said the official. "They are fishing for reasons why the US shouldn't do anything about Iran's program."

However, missile experts say that it is possible to modify the Harpoon for the mission described in the Times.

Raymond Wolfe, an ex-technical instructor for McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Co. who worked on the Harpoon system, argued the missile could hit land-based targets. "It doesn't literally skip over the water," he said. "It just flies low."

Of course, the missile would still require hardware changes in order to help it navigate over rough terrain, "but we have TERCOM Terrain Contour Mapping , which was used in early Tomahawk cruise missiles," said James Sentell, a retired guidance engineer who worked at Raytheon Missile Systems.

In addition, the radar seeker at the nose of the missile, though sufficient for plucking out a target on the vast empty sea, would have to be replaced by a more discriminating, satellite-driven global positioning system, said Sentell.

But there is still the problem of the mass of the warhead and whether it could fit into the required space. The Israeli source asserted that smallest nuclear warhead weighs a half-ton. The Harpoon's conventional warhead weighs in at 225 kilograms.

A heavier nuclear warhead would drastically cut down the range of the missile. Indeed, Ted Hooton, editor of Jane's Naval Weapon Systems, said a nuclear-loaded Harpoon would have a range of only 90 kilometers.

"Besides, a nuclear warhead just doesn't fit on the missile," said the official.

Mark Hutchenreuther, an electronics engineer who worked at the Harpoon Missile Handling Branch, would not rule out the possibility of a small enough nuclear warhead fitting on the missile.

John Pike, a defense analyst for GlobalSecurity.org, noted that the Tomahawk cruise missile has only a 51.82 centimeter (20.4 inch) diameter but can carry a 200-kiloton warhead that could incinerate hundreds of thousands of people.

"I can see the Harpoon, which has a 13.5 inch 34.29 cm. diameter, carrying a 10-20 kiloton warhead that could burn down a large town," he said.

But that is not exactly the sort of force Israel would require in an existential showdown.

Ultimately, the question is one of need. According to a spokesman at the Boeing Company, parent of McDonnell Douglas, it would be illegal for Israel to modify the US- made Harpoons without permission.

And Israel already has the submarine-launched Popeye Turbo, which the Federation of American Scientists puts conservatively at a range of 200-350 kilometers. Its diameter is 53.34 cm. (21 inches) - perfect for carrying a multi-kiloton warhead and for launching from a torpedo tube.

Copyright 2003, The Jerusalem Post