Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, or ICBMs, are designed for
delivering nuclear weapons. These deadly missiles have a minimum
range of 5 500 km. Modern ICBMs typically carry more than one
nuclear warhead. Most modern design support Multiple Independently
targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs). So a single missile can carry
several warheads, each of which will strike a different target.
Furthermore ICBMs carry an array of decoys, that allow to overcome
hostile air defenses.
can be silo-based, road mobile, rail-based and submarine based.
Mobile ICBMs are typically more difficult to detect and to destroy
prior to their launch.
So which is
the best ICBM in the world? What are the greatest modern ballistic
missiles and why?
factors of this Top 10 list are range and payload of the missile,
number and yield of MIRVs, accuracy, type of basing, and various
technologies that allow to overcome enemy air defense systems. This
analysis is based on specifications and available date. Actually all
of the ICBMs mentioned here are extremely devastating and can wipe
out entire countries. This list does not include missiles that are
still under development or are not yet deployed operationally.
Top 10 intercontinental missiles in the the world are these:
Trident II (USA)
D5, or Trident II, is a submarine-launched ballistic missile. It is
an improved version of the previous Trident C4 with greater
payload, range and accuracy. It was first deployed in 1990. These
missile are deployed by the United States and the United Kingdom.
The US Trident II missiles are carried by 14
class submarines, while the British missiles are carried by 4
Vanguard class submarines.
II missile has a range of 7 800 km with full load and 12 000 km with
reduced load. So even though the Trident II does not have the
longest range comparing with other ICBMs, ballistic submarines armed
with these missiles can always approach their targets, to reduce
their flight range so to speak.
Trident II missiles can carry up to 14 warheads with a 475 kT yield
each. Though START I agreement reduced this number to 8. Re-entry
vehicles maneuver in order to avoid enemy air defenses. Each
re-entry vehicle is targeted independently. The British missiles use
different locally built re-entry vehicles. British missiles
reportedly can carry up to 12 warheads per missile.
II is a very accurate missile. It has a CEP of around 90 m. It is
guided on the target by astro-inertial navigation system, but can
also receive GPS updates.
II missile not only has impressive range, great payload and is very
accurate. Another major advantage of the Trident II over other
ballistic missiles is that it is submarine-launched. It is worth
noting that USA controls most of the water area with its fleet. It
allows these submarines to remain undetected on their ocean patrols.
It makes these ICMBs extremely deadly. At the same time positions of
stationary silo-based ballistic missiles are known and are targeted
by hostile nuclear missiles. So ballistic submarines with Trident II
missiles have a high probability of surviving the first strike, once
the country has been attacked.
planned that upgraded versions of the Trident II missiles will
remain in service until 2042.
R-36M2 Voyevoda (Russia)
R-36 (Western designation SS-9 Scarp) was first tested in 1971.
Eventually it evolved into an R-36M family, known in the West as
SS-18 Satan. A first batch of 56 missiles was deployed in 1977.
These were later replaced by more modern variants. The latest one is
the R-36M2 Voyevoda (SS-18 Mod 6). It was first deployed in 1988.
Satan is a very capable missile, mainly because of its high speed
and extremely high throw weight. Russia was and is still ahead of
the West in development of missile engines. The R-36M2 missile has a
range of 11 000 km and carry up to 10 MIRVs with a blast yield of
0.75-1 MT and up to 40 penetration aids. So its nuclear warheads are
hard to intercept by air defense systems. CEP is 220 m. So even
though it is not the most accurate missile it coupes in full with
its payload. Some sources report that a single SS-18 Satan missile
with MIRVs can completely destroy 3 US states, such as Maryland,
Vermont and Rhode Island.
The Satan is
a silo-based missile. Silos are located in dispersed locations
across Russia. The silo launcher and command point are hardened
against a nuclear explosion. However positions of these missiles are
known. That why this missile is ranked second
on this list. Though in terms of range and payload it is clearly
superior to the US Trident II.
number of operational Satan missiles are steadily decreasing due to
their age. Missiles that age past their designed operational
lifetime are being withdrawn. Currently there are a total of 58
R-36M2 missiles deployed by the Russian Strategic Missile Forces.
RS-24 Yars (Russia)
RS-24 Yars is a new intercontinental ballistic missile. It is known
in the West as SS-29. It is an improved version of the previous
RS-12M Topol-M. It was developed both as a road-mobile and
silo-based system, that would use the same missile. It was adopted
by Russian Strategic Missile Forces in 2010 and deployed during the
same year. As of 2016 Russian Strategic Missile Forces deployed 63 mobile and 10 silo-based
Yars ICBMs. It is planned that the Yars will become the mainstay of
the ground-based component of Russian nuclear triad.
solid-fuel missile is similar to that of the Topol-M. The Yars has a
range of 12 000 km. The main difference from the previous missile is
that Yars is MIRV-equipped and can carry at least 6 independently
targetable warheads with 100-300 kT yield. Other sources report that
this missile can carry up to 10 re-entry vehicles. It is very
likely, considering that the previous Topol-M could carry 10
warheads. CEP of the Yars is 150-200 m.
The Yars was
designed to evade missile defense systems. This missile maneuvers
during the flight and carries both active and passive decoys. It is
estimated that it has at least 60-65% chance to penetrate defenses.
road-mobile Yars uses the same highly mobile 16x16 wheeled chassis
as the previous Topol-M. Externally both missiles look similar, but
the Yars is heavier and more capable. The mobile launcher has
autonomy on roads of 500 km. Once on high alert, the Yars leaves its
base and operates in remote forest areas to increase its
survivability. Its range allows the mobile launcher with missile to
operate undetected in an area equivalent to a small European
country. So such road-mobile ICBMs are harder to detect and
hit. These have a high probability of surviving the first strike,
once the country has been attacked.
version of the Yars is compatible with silo of older Russian ICBMs,
that were phased out of service. It uses complete infrastructure of
the previous missiles. It only takes to load the new missile into
the silo. A typical silo-based unit has 10 Yars missiles and command
LGM-30G Minuteman III (USA)
Minuteman III is the most numerous US ICBM. It entered service in
the 1970. During its introduction it was the first MIRV capable
missile. Despite its age these missiles were constantly. Various
improvement programs are being implemented to maintain combat
effectiveness. The Minuteman III is expected to stay in
service until 2030.
Minuteman III is a silo-based missile. With the removal of the
LGM-118 Peacemaker in 2005, the Minuteman III has become the only US
land-based ICBM in service, and is a very important member in the US
450 of these missiles in the US service. Another 50 to 75 missiles
are in reserve. That's the biggest number of ballistic missiles in
the world. These are managed by the United States Air Force Global
Strike Command. There are silos to fire the Minuteman III missile
all around the United States, like in Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming
and other US Air Force bases. However all of these missiles are
stationary and their positions are known.
Minuteman III missile has a maximum range of 13 000 km. The original
inertial navigation system provided it with an accuracy of about 200
m CEP, but an updated inertial guidance system gives it 120 m CEP.
Minuteman III carries a payload of three independently targetable
reentry vehicles. Each one of this MIRVs is armed with nuclear
warhead with a destructive power between 300 to 500 kT. It also
carries penetration aids to counter enemy missile defense systems.
Minuteman III is agile and has the longest range, but might not
be the best intercontinental missile in the world. However the
United States operates hundreds of these missiles, so quantity has
its own quality.
R-29RMU2.1 Layner is a recent Russian
submarine-launched ballistic missile. It is an improved version of
the previous R-29RMU2 Sineva. The R-29RMU2.1 Layner was adopted
in 2014. It is used on
Delta IV class submarines. Previous R-29RMU2 Sineva missiles have
reportedly been modified to the new standard.
submarine-launched missile has a maximum range of 8 300 km with full
load and 12 000 km with reduced load. Each missile can carry 12
low-yield warheads. Most likely that these have 100-300 kT capacity.
Unusual feature of this missile is that warheads can be of a mixed
set with various yields. This missile is equipped with improved
systems to overcome anti-ballistic missile shields. It carries
decoys. Furthermore it can be configured to can carry less nuclear
warheads, but more decoys.
As of 2016 a
total of 6 Delta IV class submarines, equipped with ballistic
missiles, are in service with the Russian Navy. Submarine basing of
the ICBMs allow to survive the first strike. However the Russian
Delta IV submarines are not as stealthy as the US or British
ballistic missiles. Still though these have a higher chances of
surviving than silo-based systems. Furthermore these missiles have
sufficient range to be fired straight from the pier, even without
need for the submarines to leave their well protected bases.
planned that the Delta IV class submarines will be operational
until at least 2030.
The M51 is a
French submarine-launched ballistic missile. Design work on this
missile started in 1992 and it was first deployed in
2010. These missiles are carried by
Le Triomphant class submarines. France operates 4 of these
The M51 has
a range of 8 000 km with reduced payload and 10 000 km with full
payload. Such range is sufficient to strike most areas in China,
Russia or the United States, firing straight from the pier.
carries 6-10 independently targetable warheads. Each has a blast
yield of 107 kT. Furthermore missile carries penetration aids in
order to overcome hostile air defenses. Newer version of this
missile, that appeared in 2015, the
M51.2, carries much more powerful 150 kT warheads.
ICBMs have astro-inertial guidance. Galileo satellite navigation
system is planned, but not yet fitted. So these missiles may not be
as accurate as contemporary missiles with satellite navigation
system. CEP of this missile is around 150-200 meters.
operates a total of 4 Le Triomphant class submarines. Each of them
carries 16 ballistic missile. So a total of 64 missiles are ready to
submarine-based missiles have a high probability of surviving the
first strike. Once on high alerts these submarines can leave their
bases and operate undetected in the Atlantic ocean.
version of the M51, the M51.3 is being developed. But it will enter
service only in around 2025.
is a Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile. It is an improved
version of the original DF-31. Its Western designation is CSS-10 Mod
2. It was deployed in 2007. It was estimated that by 2009
approximately 30 DF-31 and DF-31A missiles were in operational
service. Most likely that the number of operational DF-31A missiles
has increased since then.
reportedly has a range of 11 200 km. It can reach all areas of
United States, Europe and Russia.
carries 3 MIRVs with 20, 90, or 150 kT yield each. Also it carries
decoys in order to overcome missile defense systems.
has astro-inertial navigation system with indigenous Chinese BeiDou
satellite navigation system. It is estimated that this missiles has
a CEP of less than 100 m.
It has been
reported that there are both road-mobile and silo-based versions of
the DF-31A. Road-mobile version is based on a semi-trailer that also
acts as transporter erector launcher. It is towed by a
Hanyang HY4330 8x8 tractor truck. This combination has some
degree of cross-country mobility, however it is intended to operate
on hard surface roads. Once on high alert the road-mobile version
can leave its base and operate in remote areas. Such road-mobile ICBMs
are harder to intercept. These have a high probability
of surviving the first strike once the country has been attacked.
currently developing an improved version of the DF-31A - the DF-31B.
This missile is heavier and can carry more payload. It is based on
an 8-axle special wheeled chassis, that can travel off-road.
The JL-2 is
a new Chinese submarine-launched ballistic missile. It is a naval
variant of the land-based DF-31. It was first deployed in
2015. It is carried by
submarines. For the first time China has a credible sea-based
nuclear strike capability. The sole previous
boat with short-ranged JL-1 missiles had little strategic value.
estimated that the new JL-2 missile has a range of 7 400 - 8 000 km.
This range is sufficient to reach all areas of Europe, India,
Russia, and most areas of the United States. It carries a single
250-1 000 kT warhead, or up to 3-4 MIRVs with 90 kT each.
astro-inertial navigation system with indigenous Chinese BeiDou
satellite navigation system. It is estimated that this missiles has
a CEP of less than 100 m.
class submarine carries 12 of these
missiles. As of 2016 China operates 4 of these ballistic missile
submarine-based missiles have a high probability of surviving the
first strike. Once on high alert these submarines can leave their
bases and operate in China's coastal water, protected by the China's
fleet. However the Jin class submarines are not as advanced as the
Western ballistic missile submarines, and are inferior to the
Russian submarines. China was always dragging behind in terms of submarine technology. These submarines are not
as stealthy as the current Western and Russian submarines.
These are as noisy as the Russian
Delta III class submarines, that were adopted back in the mid
new ballistic missile submarines, as well as new submarine launched
ballistic missiles are being developed in China.
is a new Russian submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic
missile. It is carried by the new Russian
Borei class submarines. The Bulava
is a naval version of the
However development of this missile was plagued by setbacks, as
there were numerous failed test launches. It was first deployed and
declared operational in 2013. However as of 2017 out of 27
test launches 12 tests were failures.
development of this
missile still continues.
Bulava is much less capable than the US Trident D5. It has shorter
range, can carry significantly less payload and is not that
accurate. It has a declared range of 9 500 km. This missile can
carry 6 MIRVs with a yield of 150 kT each. It can also carry 10
MIRVs, though to a range of only 4 000 km. The Bulava has an astro-inertial
guidance with Russian GLONASS satellite navigation system update. It
has a CEP of 350 m. This missile was designed to overcome hostile
country has been attacked these submarine-based missiles have high
chances of surviving the first strike.
Borei class submarine can carry 16 missiles. As of 2017 there are 3
of these submarines in service with the Russian Navy. The Bulava
missile has potential to be road-mobile or rail-based.
On paper the
Bulava is more capable than some of the missiles on this Top 10
list. However it still has teething problems that need to be fixed.
It is planned that Borei class submarines with these missiles will
form a core of the Russian nuclear triad until 2040.
R-29RKU2, or R-29RKU-02, is a Russian submarine-launched ICBM. It is
known in the West as the SS-N-18. This missile was adopted by the
Russian Navy in 2006. It is carried by
Delta III class submarines.
has a range of around 9 000 km. It can reach all areas of China,
Europe and the United States. The previous R-29R was the first
Soviet sea-based missile with multiple warheads. Most likely that
this missile has Astro-inertial guidance with Russian GLONASS
satellite navigation system update. Also it it likely that it can
overcome enemy air defense systems.
submarine-based missiles have a high chances of surviving the first
As of 2017
only three Delta III class ballistic missile submarines remain in
service with the Russian Navy. Each carries 16 missiles. So a total
of 48 R-29RKU2 ICBMs are currently deployed by the Russian Navy.
R-29RKU2 missiles and the Delta III class submarines are very old and
are already exceeding their planned service lives. In the near
future these are due to be decommissioned and replaced in service by the new
Borei class submarines, armed with