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Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

ICBMs are designed for nuclear weapons delivery at ranges of more than 5 500 km

 
 

   The Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) is the most potent and the most feared weapon in the world today. In less than an hour, it can strike almost any country on earth regardless of launch site with stunning accuracy and virtually unstoppable speed, leaving its foes decimated by multiple independently targeted nuclear warheads.

   The idea for the ICBM came from Nazi Germany. Their ambitious A9/10 project could potentially hit targets in the United States, though it was never completed. After World War II, both Russia and the United States proceeded with concepts of their own. Russia created the first in the R-7, a mammoth missile that successfully travelled 6 000 kilometers in 1957 and entered service in 1959. That same year, the United States declared the SM-65 Atlas, an ICBM of their own, operational.

   From there, technology steadily improved. The first missiles had Circular Error Probable (CEP) of several kilometers, meaning that they could get at least as close to their targets as a few kilometers. They carried just one warhead and were housed in massive silos. Their maximum range was only about 6 000 kilometers.

   Today, ICBMs have a CEP of 200 meters or less and a range upwards of 10 000 kilometers. Even more notably, they are virtually unstoppable. Upon launch, their rocket (either solid or liquid fuel) booster ignites for 3 to 5 minutes, powering the missile to a height of several hundred kilometers. Then the missile launches between one and ten Multiple Independently targeted Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV). These each have their own thermonuclear warhead. In the final stage, the MIRVs rush down upon their targets, attaining speeds as high as Mach 25 (30 870 km/h). This speed, when combined with “penetration aids” (including metallic balloons, full-scale decoys, and chaff), gives the target virtually no time to respond, meaning that a successful launch is almost certain. To put this in perspective, these missiles can travel a distance of 4 500 km in just 20 minutes.

   There is a chance that these titan missiles can be stopped. Other missiles or special forces soldiers can destroy launch platforms before launch, while certain counter missiles might be able to destroy the ICBM before it releases its MIRVs. However, it is doubtful as to how effective and reliable these countermeasures are.

   Modern ICBMs are also much smaller than their predecessors. The R-7 was a whopping 34 meters long, but the submarine-launched M51 is a mere 12 meters. This small size allows countries to fire ICBMs from not only silos but also trucks and submarines. These mobile platforms can both travel closer to targets and evade capture/destruction, unlike their static silo counterparts.

   Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) are carried by submarines. Ballistic missile submarines are much harder to detect and intercept than ground-based launch facilities. While positions of stationary silo-based ballistic missiles are known and these are targeted by hostile nuclear missiles already, the boats remain undetected on their ocean patrols. The submarine-based missiles have more chances of surviving the first strike, once the country has been attacked.

   Due to their nuclear warheads, massive price tags, and political indications, intercontinental ballistic missiles have never been used in combat and, hopefully, never will.

   Only a few countries possess ICBMs: China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States. The reason for this small number is the tremendous cost, labor, and skill required for the development of both the missile and its nuclear warhead. For example, a finished Trident II has a price tag of $37 million dollars, and this doesn’t even count the numerous development costs, which can reach 6 billion or more.

 

Important ICBMs

 

   LGM-30 Minuteman: a series of US ICBMs: the Minuteman I (1962), Minuteman II (1965), and the Minuteman III (1970). This class was the first to have MIRVs. The Minuteman III is still in service and is actually the only US land-based ICBM. It has 3 MIRVs (with 300-500 Kiloton warheads), a nearly unequalled range of 13 000 kilometers, and a CEP of 120 meters, making it a still-potent deterrent.

   R-36: designated the SS-18 Satan by the West, the R-36 is a Russian ICBM that entered service in 1988. Featuring 10 MIRVs each with 1 Megaton warheads and a range of 11 000 kilometers, it is one of the most feared in its class.

   Trident II: this US Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) is one of the deadliest missiles in the world, thanks to 8 MIRVs with 475 Kiloton warheads, a 12 000 km range, its elusive launch platform, and extreme accuracy (it has a CEP of 90 meters). It entered service in 1990.

 

The Tiger

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Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

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Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

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Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

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Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

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Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

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Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

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Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

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