Actually the majority of US Navy missile launchers are vertical, mounted flush with the deck. Here’s a pic of an Arleigh Burke’s forward deck. That array of metal hatches behind the gun are 32 Vertical Launch System missile tubes. Arleigh Burkes have a total of 90 or 92 vertical tubes, depending on when they were last overhauled. Older ships often have a mix of launcher types added over the years, but for new ships it’s all VLS. I assume the one you saw was an older model where Harpoons were added after she was built. The Navy (and our other services) did that a lot. Once Harpoons and Tomahawks demonstrated how versatile and useful they were, they started appearing everywhere.
But no matter how the launcher’s oriented, all current US missiles can fire right now and then go wherever they’re needed, making U-turns as necessary. One of the features of the Aegis radar system is that the missile just has to go up, then the Aegis radar guides it to its target.
The Slava cruiser you mentioned actually has a mix of two different large launchers. The forward-facing tubes are for SS-N-12 missiles, but aft of the superstructure they have a group of vertical launch tubes for SA-N-6 missiles. See the two photos here. The vertical-launched SA-N-6s can definitely engage enemies in any direction. I don’t know whether the SS-N-12s can, but they’re the only real anti-ship weapon Slavas have, so I think it’s likely they can also make mid-air U-turns. Otherwise, from behind Slavas would be practically defenseless against other ships. I doubt the Soviets would have left such a hole in a capital ship’s defenses.
Incidentally, the biggest advantage of the US Navy VLS system is flexibility. Before, pretty much every missile had a custom launcher. But VLS missiles are all interchangeable. So each ship leaves port with a custom mix of missile types matching her expected mission. Anti-aircraft, anti-sub, anti-ship, ship-to-surface, recon drones, even anti-satellite missiles and more, all from the same launcher. Mix and match to suit today’s needs.
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