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Exocet anti-shipping missiles are a French surface-to-surface missile that may be launched from aircraft, helicopters, ground platforms, ships, and submarines. they has inertial midcourse guidance coupled with active radar terminal guidance. While they are subsonic and much easier to intercept than more recent missiles, they still are a potent threat to merchant vessels.

They had a major combat role in the Falklands War; had the Argentines had more than five, they might well have fought off the British task force. As it was, they sank the destroyer HMS Sheffield and the chartered civilian ship MV Atlantic Conveyor, and damaged the destroyer HMS Glamorgan.

The Iraqis fired approximately 200 at Iranian shipping during the Iran-Iraq War, of which many failed to explode. See French support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.

Allegedly as an accident, Iraqi Mirage F-1 aircraft hit the frigate USS Stark, patrolling the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, on 17 May 1987. These badly damaged the ship, which saved itself from sinking but still suffered 37 dead and 21 injured. Investigation showed that air warning and defense systems were not properly used, which ended the careers of three of the Stark's senior officer.