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 data. 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. In
around 2020 the R-36 series missiles will be replaced by the new
RS-28 Sarmat (SS-X-30 Satan 2) ICBM, that is currently being
developed in Russia.
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.
In 2019 an
Avangard hypersonic gliding re-entry vehicle was declared
operational. It is mounted on top of the missile, but unlike a
regular re-entry vehicle it can make sharp maneuvers. Some sources
report that the Avangard can reach speeds of 33 300 km/h (Mach 27).
Conventional interceptor missile have difficulty intercepting
targets traveling at 6 173 km/h (Mach 5). Furthermore gliding
extends its range and allows to approach a target on an
unpredictable ballistic trajectory. It was planned that in 2019 a total of 31 Yars
missiles will be equipped
with Avangard gliding re-entry vehicles and will be deployed
The Yars was
designed to overcome 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 500 km
autonomy on roads. Once on high alert, the Yars TELs can leave their
bases and operates in remote forest areas to increase their
survivability. Its autonomy 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 a total of 10 Yars missiles and
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 Peacekeeper 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 10 000 km with reduced payload and 8 000 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.
The DF-41 is currently
the most powerful Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM),
developed in China. It is one of the deadliest ICBMs in the world.
It is based on an 8-axle launcher vehicle and is similar in concept
road-mobile ICBMs such as
First test launch of this missile was made in 2013 and the second
followed in 2014. Some sources report that the DF-41A missile was
fielded in 2016 or 2017.
The DF-41 is a
solid-fuel missile. It has an estimated range of 12 000 km and
carries up to 10 Multiple Independently-targetable Reentry Vehicles
(MIRVs). Its range is sufficient to reach all areas of United
States, Europe and Russia. It will take roughly 20-25 minutes for
the DF-41 from launch to reach targets in the United States. This
missile is extremely devastating and can wipe out entire countries.
This missile has
internal navigation system with indigenous Chinese BeiDou satellite
navigation system update. It could be accurate to 150 meters, or
possibly, even more accurate is even more accurate.
The DF-41 is based on
Taian HTF5980 special wheeled chassis with 16x16 configuration. This
vehicle has some degree of cross-country mobility and can travel
over various terrain. Interestingly China has gained a number of
heavy high mobility vehicle chassis technology from Belarusian MZKT
company. A joint Chinese and Belarusian venture was established for
production of special wheeled chassis in China. Eventually a number
of Chinese multi-axle vehicles, designed to carry ballistic
missiles. emerged, that were based on the Belarusian MZKT designs
and technology. Furthermore China has quickly became the second
country after Belarus, capable of designing and producing launch
vehicles for ultra heavy intercontinental missiles. Even Russia,
that historically uses road-mobile ICBMs, lacks this technology and
expertise, and obtains launcher vehicles from Belarus.
A number of previous
Chinese road-mobile ICBMs are stored in tunnels. Hence the missiles
are well protected. Once on high alert the road-mobile launchers
leave the tunnels and fire their missiles from nearby launch
positions. Alternatively the launcher vehicles can leave their bases
and operate undetected in remote areas. Their autonomy allows the
vehicles to operate in an area equivalent to a small European
country. So mobile China's missiles are typically harder to
intercept and destroy than stationary silo-based missiles. These
have a high probability of surviving the first strike once the
country has been attacked.
is a new Chinese Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). First
images of this missile system appeared in 2013. It was reportedly
tested in 2015 and was
first publicly revealed in 2017. This system was previously refereed
as the DF-31B, however it appeared that its official name is the
DF-31AG. It made its public debut during a major military parade
marking the 90th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army. A
total of 16 DF-31AG launchers with missiles were publicly presented
during this parade. Such appearance of numerous missiles indicates
that the DF-31AG is already in service with Second Artillery
Corps, that are de facto strategic missile forces of Chinese army.
Currently it is among the deadliest ICBMs in the world. Though it is
smaller and less capable than the
is a modified and upgraded version of the
The previous DF-31A missile is silo based, while its road-mobile
version is based on a semi-trailer. On the other hand the new
DF-31AG is based on an 8-axle launcher vehicle and is more mobile.
This feature widens its deployment options and thus increases
survivability. In concept the DF-31AG is similar to Russian road-mobile ICBMs such as
is a solid-fuel missile. It has three stages. This missile has a
range of 11 200 km and can reach all areas of United States, Europe
older DF-31A carries a single warhead, the new DF-31AG reportedly carries
multiple independently-targetable warheads (MIRVs). There is a
version of the DF-31, that carries 3 MIRVs with 20, 90, or 150 kT
blast yield capacity each. Furthermore the DF-31AG has longer range and
internal navigation system with indigenous Chinese BeiDou satellite
navigation system. Some sources suggest that it has an accuracy of
150 meters, or is even more accurate.
carries decoys in order to overcome missile defense systems.
Erector Launcher (TEL) vehicle is based on 8-axle Taian special
wheeled chassis. The TEL vehicle has some degree of cross-country
mobility, though it is mainly intended to operate on hard surface
roads. Vehicle has autonomy on roads of around 500 km.
Once on high alert the
road-mobile DF-31AG missiles can leave their bases and operate in
remote areas. Its autonomy allows the vehicle to operate undetected
in an area equivalent to a small European country. Such mobile missiles are typically harder to intercept
than stationary silo-based missiles. As a result these have a high
probability of surviving the first strike once the country has been
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.
Such 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 update. It is estimated that this missiles has
a CEP of less than 100 m.
class submarine carries 12 of these
missiles. As of 2019 China operates at least 4 of these ballistic missile
submarines. Two more boats of this class are being constructed.
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
report that the next generation Type 096 class boats are being built
and should begin sea trials in the early 2020s. Also a new
ballistic missile is being developed for these boats.
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. There
there were numerous failed test launches. This ballistic missile was first deployed and
declared operational in 2013. However as of 2017 out of 27
test launches 12 tests were failures. It is still a very raw design,
that needs improvements.
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.