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Top 10 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles



   The 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.

   The ICBMs 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?

   The key 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.

   Currently Top 10 intercontinental missiles in the the world are these:

 

 

Trident II ICBM

Nr.1 Trident II (USA)

 

   The Trident 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 Ohio class submarines, while the British missiles are carried by 4 Vanguard class submarines.

   The Trident 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.

   Each US 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.

   The Trident 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.

   The Triden 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.

   It is planned that upgraded versions of the Trident II missiles will remain in service until 2042.

 

 

Satan ICBM

Nr.2 R-36M2 Voyevoda (Russia)

 

   The Soviet 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.

   The SS-18 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.

    A 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.

 

 

Yars ICBM

Nr.3 RS-24 Yars (Russia)

 

   The Russian 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.

   This 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.

   The 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.

   A silo-based 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 post.

 

 

Minuteman III

Nr.4 LGM-30G Minuteman III (USA)

 

   The 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.

   The 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 nuclear trinity.

   There are 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.

   The 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.

   The 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.

   So the 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 ICBM

Nr.5 R-29RMU2.1 (Russia)

 

   The 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.

   This Russian 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.

   It is planned that the Delta IV class submarines will be operational until at least 2030.

 

 

M51 submarine-launched ballistic missile

Nr.6 M51 (France)

 

   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 French Le Triomphant class submarines. France operates 4 of these submarines.

   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.

   Each missile 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.

   These French 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.

   France 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 use.

   These 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.

   Upgraded version of the M51, the M51.3 is being developed. But it will enter service only in around 2025.

 

 

DF-31A

Nr.7 DF-31A (China)

 

   The DF-31A 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.

   The DF-31A reportedly has a range of 11 200 km. It can reach all areas of United States, Europe and Russia.

   This missile carries 3 MIRVs with 20, 90, or 150 kT yield each. Also it carries decoys in order to overcome missile defense systems.

   The DF-31A 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.

   China is 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.

 

 

JL-2 nuclear missile

Nr.8 JL-2 (China)

 

   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 Jin class submarines. For the first time China has a credible sea-based nuclear strike capability. The sole previous Xia class boat with short-ranged JL-1 missiles had little strategic value.

   It is 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.

   This missile 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.

   Each Jin class submarine carries 12 of these missiles. As of 2016 China operates 4 of these ballistic missile submarines.

   These 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 1970s.

   Currently new ballistic missile submarines, as well as new submarine launched ballistic missiles are being developed in China.

 

 

Bulava missile

Nr.9 Bulava (Russia)

 

   The Bulava 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 Topol-M. 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. In reality development of this missile still continues.

   Overall the 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 air defenses.

   Once the country has been attacked these submarine-based missiles have high chances of surviving the first strike.

    Each 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 missile

Nr.10 R-29RKU2 (Russia)

 

   The 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.

   The R-29RKU2 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.

   These submarine-based missiles have a high chances of surviving the first strike.

   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.

   Both the 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 Russian Borei class submarines, armed with Bulava missiles.

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