A missile boat or missile cutter is a small warship armed with anti-ship missiles. Being a small craft, missile boats are popular with nations interested in forming an inexpensive navy. They are similar in idea to the torpedo boats of World War II; in fact, the first missile boats were modified torpedo boats replacing two or more torpedo tubes with missile tubes. The doctrine behind the use of missile boats is based on the principle of mobility over defence and firepower. The advent of proper guided missile and electronic counter measure technologies gave birth to the idea that, because a guided missile (such as a guided artillery shell) is far more accurate than an unguided missile (such as an unguided artillery shell), warships should now be designed to outmaneuver their enemies and get to a better position first.
Moreover, increasing the potency of naval artillery requires employing larger projectiles, which necessitates larger (and thus heavier) naval guns and consequently, larger platforms to carry these guns and absorb their recoil. This trend culminated in the giant battleships of WWII. The ability to deploy anti-ship guided self-propelled warheads from small, maneuverable platforms partially negates the advantages that were provided by larger ships in the era before the advent of guided self-propelled warheads.
A small missile boat, when equipped with sophisticated guided anti-ship missiles can pose a negligible to moderate threat to even the largest of capital ships, and do so at much greater ranges than is possible with torpedoes.
Missile boats were invented and first manufactured in the Soviet Union. The significant characteristics of the boat were an extremely thin skinned 200 ton hull, propelled by very high power engines to give a high speed of 34 knots. Being small, the boat had a very small radar cross section. Its sophisticated radar was more advanced than any other known radar—it enabled the missile boat, with its low radar reflectivity, to detect a larger ship well before the latter was even aware of its presence, to fire its missiles and to speed away faster than any other ship.
The Russian naval architects had deliberately designed these characteristics, so as to give the small boats this advantage against much larger American naval ships should they attempt to attack the Russian coast. The boats were designed for, and only had limited endurance for, coastal operations.
The first combat use of missile boats was by the Egyptian Soviet-built Komar class craft, which fired four Styx missiles on the Israeli destroyer Eilat on October 20, 1967, shortly after the Six Day War, causing the latter's sinking with 47 dead.
The Indian Navy's 25th Missile Boat Squadron, consisting of vessels from the Vidyut class, played a crucial role in the highly devastating Indian attacks on Karachi in December 1971. The two key operations in which these vessels played an active role, were Operation Trident and Operation Python.The attacks destroyed half of the Pakistani Navy and most of Pakistan's fuel reserves in the port's fuel storage tanks which clearing way for decisive victory of Indian Armed Forces in the Western Theater during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.
The world's first naval missile battles between warships occurred between Israel Navy Sa'ar 3-class missile boats and Sa'ar 4-class missile boats (using indigenously-developed Gabriel missiles), and Syrian Osa class missile boats and Komar class missile boats during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. The first of these engagements became known as the Battle of Latakia. In these battles, some fifty Gabriels and a similar number of Styx missiles were fired, and seven Syrian craft were sunk.
- List of missile boat classes
- Fast attack craft
- Ballistic missile submarine (sometimes called a "missile boat")
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