Silkworm Missile Suspected in Kuwaiti Blast

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The "Silkworm" — believed to be the missile that exploded near a major shopping mall in Kuwait City early Saturday — is a Chinese-made version of the Soviet Styx, a crude but sometimes effective anti-ship missile.

The Silkworm has a 1-ton explosive warhead and a range of about 50 miles. It flies a sea-skimming horizontal course, using an on-board radar guidance system that homes in randomly on the first — or biggest — major ship, building or other target that it picks up.

Patriots — geared against aircraft and high-altitude missiles — probably could not pick a Silkworm up on radar.

Silkworms, or HY-1s, were used during the Iraq-Iran "tanker war" in the Persian Gulf in 1987-88 — but by Iran, not Iraq. An Iranian Silkworm was fired from a launcher in Iraq's Faw peninsula, then occupied by Iran. It hit one of the 11 Kuwaiti oil tankers that had been "reflagged" with the U.S. flag to qualify for U.S. Navy escort through the Gulf.

Kuwait was then backing Baghdad in the Iraq-Iran war that lasted from 1980 to 1988.

The tanker was moored at Kuwait's main coastal terminal, loading oil, when the Silkworm crashed into its bridge, causing massive damage and blinding the American captain. It was the only confirmed incident of a Silkworm hitting a target during the war, although Iran had numerous batteries along its coast, especially in the vital Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the Gulf.