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British Warship Destroys Iraqi Anti-Ship Missiles

February 25, 1991

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ Iraq fired two Silkworm missiles at allied warships in the northern Persian Gulf today, but one rocket was destroyed by British missiles and the other fell into the sea, British officials said.

A Royal Navy commander said he could not identify the Silkworm missiles’ target, but he noted the HMS Gloucester - the destroyer that fired the interceptor rockets - was ″riding shot gun″ for the battleship USS Missouri.

The Silkworms, apparently launched from shore, appeared to be Iraq’s first use of the large, land-based, anti-ship missiles in the war and the first such missiles fired at the 31 British and U.S. warships shelling the Kuwaiti coast.

Royal Navy Commander John Tighe told reporters two Sea Dart missiles were fired by the Gloucester less than 50 seconds after the ship’s radar detected the incoming Iraqi missiles at about 5 a.m.

Tighe said one Sea Dart scored a direct hit, destroying the Iraqi missile. He said a second missile launched by the Iraqis veered into the sea.

The commander said allied airplanes subsequently attacked the Silkworm missile launch site. He said that while he had not received a battle damage assessment, he was ″fairly confident that site will not be used to launch missiles against the ships again.″

The Silkworm is a relatively old weapon with an unsophisticated homing mechanism and is a big target. It has a 50-mile range.

The Sea Dart is designed primarily as a medium-range defense against aircraft and was used by Britain in the 1982 Falklands war.

A number of Silkworm batteries have been destroyed by allied aircraft along Iraq’s short gulf coastline. In addition, several of the Iraqi patrol craft damaged or sunk by coalition forces were equipped to fire the missiles.

The Silkworm, a Chinese version of the 30-year-old Soviet Styx, is a radar- guided missile. Despite its age and relatively crude technology, military officers say it is considered a potent and effective threat to ships.

During the 8-year Iraq-Iran war, Iran maintained fixed and mobile Silkworm batteries along the coast of the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Persian Gulf, and in occupied areas of Iraq’s Fao peninsula at the head of the Gulf.

In October 1987, two Silkworms fired from Fao hit ships at Kuwait’s main Al-Ahmadi oil terminal on successive days.

The second attack severely damaged the oil products tanker Sea Isle City, a Kuwait-owned tanker that had been reflagged by the United States. The U.S. Navy retaliated by destroying some Iraqi oil rigs in the central Gulf.

While Iran never carried out a threat to use Silkworms against U.S. warships, according to the U.S. Defense Department, some U.S. officers contended that several Silkworms were launched during a one-day battle with Iranian naval forces in April 1988.