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French-made missile used by Argentina to sink British destroyer

LONDON -- The French-made Exocet anti-ship missile that sank the British destroyer Sheffield is one of the most lethal weapons in naval warfare, according to the authoritative Jane's Weapons Systems.

'It's a very nasty little weapon.

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The only way to counteract it is with close-range weapons and luck,' said British Rear Adm. Martin Wemyss.

It can be launched either from a ship or a plane and has a range of 20 miles, skimming just a few feet above the sea at almost the speed of sound.

The Exocet that struck the Sheffield was initially guided by the onboard computer of the plane that launched it. But in the final guiding phase, its active radar homing head controlled it, according to Jane's.

The high-explosive head is designed to spread fire throughout the ship and sink it with a single strike.

The Exocet is extremely difficult to defend against because it flies so close to the waves. It cannot be picked up on radar and its guidance system cannot easily be jammed.

Britain has developed a Sea Wolf anti-missile missile capable of intercepting incoming rockets and shells, but the Sheffield was not equipped with that weapon, said Jane's.

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